Welcome to part 3 of our Going To Japan series! By now you’ll be well sorted for the basics of survival in JDM-land and now we get down to business. Cars.
Let’s face it, when it comes to cars, everyone’s expectations of Japan are pretty damn high. You expect to walk down the street, see schoolbusses drifting and grandmothers pulling burnouts in Supras, you expect to see mint C10 Skyline GT-Rs parked on every street corner, bosozouku car parades on every block, you expect that every corner grocery store will have a special aisle for turbochargers, and they’re on sale, too! Free delivery!
Well….it’s not quite like that. But we can make sure that you get to see some car shows, visit some tuners and buy the cool JDM parts you want. Read on…
Car shows. If you’ve been paying attention to the previous two instalments in this series (here and here) then by now you will have figured out that say, a cool “Hot Olds” classic car meet by the sea in the countryside will not be very easy to get to. But that still leaves plenty of options. There are many car shows which take place in the Tokyo area each year.
The big daddy of Japanese car shows is by far the Tokyo Autosalon. Usually held in mid January, it is Japan’s SEMA (except that it’s open to the public). Expect to see hundreds and hundreds of drool worthy modified cars, which are mostly modern late models, but there are usually some classics thrown into the mix too. There is actually very little hardware that you can buy, but if you like your JDM tuner souvenirs, there is simply no better place to buy T shirts, jackets, hats, keychains, you name it. Bring your camera, but we have to warn you that the crowds are absolutely HUGE (as you can see!)
Pretty much every tuner, from smaller, lesser known niche brands to big brands like HKS and Mazdaspeed have big stalls at the Autosalon, with plenty of cars on show and souvenirs for you to buy. It is impossible not to put down at least a little coin on something. Autosalon is a good reason to visit Tokyo in January all by itself, but in January you will usually also be lucky enough to find a Tokyo classic car event.
Keep an eye on the Japan Classic Car Association site and the events calendar from Old Timer Magazine for dates of 2008 events. But in 2007 the JCCA Tokyo event was the second weekend after the Autosalon. Also keep an eye out on the BP Nostalgic Car Show site, in 2007 the Tokyo show was held in May in Odaiba, which is in the Tokyo Bay area and is only 15mins on the train from central Tokyo.
One of the cool things about JDM car shows is that once you’re finished with the official car show…there is then the unofficial car show in the car park outside. This is often where you see the classic JDM cars all parked together, and of course the boso guys too. The Autosalon is at Makuhari (near Tokyo Disneyland) and is easily accessible by train.
Tuners. This is one thing which might actually disappoint. The big tuner names like RE Amemiya, Top Secret, et al are so legendary in our enthusiast circles that there is an expectation that their workshops will be like theme parks. Nothing could be further from the truth. Japan is a crowded, dense place and space is at a premium. Hence even big-name tuners might only operate out of a small workshop with only a few bays.
In most cases, even the well known tuners will turn out to be basic, busy workshops working on customer cars, with very little (if any) in the way of a showroom of things for you to browse. Much like any tuner workshop in the west, if you want say a coilover kit for your car, they will have to order one in, and it’s unlikely that they will have one in stock. You will usually find some hot customer cars parked outside that you can drool over, but paying a visit to your favourite tuner is something that can end up as a bit of an anticlimax.
Bigger tuners will have a small office, with some parts on display that you can buy, but generally speaking most of the parts carried are for the more popular tuner cars in Japan like the Silvia and the Lancer Evolution. So if you were looking for parts for your older JDM car, then you will usually be out of luck. But don’t let us put you off, however. We’ve had some awesome experiences in Japan with tuners, and in one especially memorable instance, the man himself (ie the guy you see introducing the car on Best Motoring videos!) dropped what he was doing and spent a few hours talking cars with us in his office over coffee. Take it from us, bring a picture of your car, and if you’re a racer, then a picture of yourself in action on the track is a good idea too. It can establish your credentials as an enthusiast and is a great conversation starter. Be respectful, but just be warned that that JDM tuner workshops are busy working places and that you might actually be in the way.
So if buying parts is your plan and visiting a tuner might not net what you want, then where do you go? You need to find yourself a parts store. A hell of a lot of aftermarket parts in Japan are sold on the internet, and very often these distributors will have the biggest range of parts on offer. In Tokyo, we would recommend Carshop Nagano and Crystal Auto, both of which have a very large selection of parts on hand. As we said above though, the great majority of parts in stock will be for popular JDM cars, especially Nissan turbos. So even if you have a popular car like a Roadster, you might not find very many parts at all in stock. And certainly if you want anything “big” like an LSD or coilovers then it will have to be ordered in.
So here’s what you need to do. In most cases the shop will be able to get your parts in 2 working days. So visit the shop early in your trip and order and pay for your parts. In some cases the store will offer free delivery, so bring details of your hotel, and ask (it doesn’t hurt to ask) if delivery to your hotel can be arranged. That means you don’t have to come back to pick them up. Other things you should remember is that while the staff may be helpful, they may not actually speak any English. So before your trip, figure out what you want and print out the website pages or catalogs with the parts you want. Also be aware that some shops will not accept foreign credit cards. So hit that ATM and cash yourself up before heading for the store.
In terms of prices, a big-volume parts store will be able to offer you prices that are much lower than JDM retail. It’s not unusual to find that in many cases, parts are 10~20% off catalog prices. You’re probably paying a hefty JDM Tax on top of the regular retail price in Japan, so that is a big saving over what you are paying to have the stuff imported now. If you pay in cash you may get a modest discount but not always. If you use your credit card (assuming the shop accepts foreign cards) then there is usually a 3~5% processing fee. So cash is cheaper, even if they don’t give you any more of a break on the price.
While you’re in Tokyo, it’s always a good idea to visit the Super Autobacs at Tokyo Bay. It’s an enormous parts supermarket which has a little of everything. It’s a little pricey however but if all you wanted to do is to look and touch, rather then buy, then this is a (damn) good place to visit.
Autobacs also has a superb rare book and video section upstairs, run by Lindbergh, so that makes it a very worthwhile destination all by itself. It’s at Shinonome station on the Rinkai Line, and is open until 10pm every night, so is a great after-dinner stop.
While you are at the Super Autobacs, take the train a few mins west to Tokyo Teleport and pay the Toyota Historic Garage a visit. It’s a modest little car museum, but it has a huge book and model car shop and also a cool glass-fronted workshop where during the day, you can see mechanics working on restoration projects for the museum. It’s at the Venus Fort shopping centre.
Just across from the Historic Garage is the Toyota Mega Web, which is basically a very elaborate showroom of Toyota models, with some (modest) rides and a design studio pavillion where you might see some concept cars. The other cool thing about the Mega Web is that they have a small test track outside where you can drive any car from the current Toyota lineup (at speeds of up to only 40km/h). There’s a small fee, you will need an international driver’s license, and you also have to book a few hours in advance.
Luckily for us, one of the very cool Japanese traits is for tuners or shops to specialise in one model only. Needless to say, if your ride is say something rare in Japan like say a Starion then you may not be any model-specific tuners. But in many cases there are. You may need to buy a few JDM magazines and scour www.google.co.jp a lot to find them, but if you need to buy hardware, then these shops will have the best selection for your car.
If there is a Roadster enthusiast looking over your shoulder right now, you may need to administer CPR in a few moments…many of the Roadster-specific parts on these shelves are rare and out of production
Incidentally, it isn’t unusual to find a shop that is actually a dealer in your model of car and nothing else. If you need to find all those cool little rare-groove parts for your car (ie if you get off on having JDM parts which have brands that none of your friends recognise) then these niche model shops are the only way to go. You do pay a price for the convenience however, in that the prices are somewhat higher than the bigger parts stores. But if say a wheel manufacturer makes a wheel with a special offset just for your model of car, then very often these special pieces won’t be available to general-purpose shops and you will have to visit a specialised place.
So there you have it…
We didn’t have enough space to cover everything we wanted, so we’ll keep this series going….in the next instalment we’ll cover some of the cool and random stuff we’ve come across in Japan, and we talk a bit about what has become of the street drifting and racing scene.