When recent travels took us to Yokohama, our resident illustrator and Japan native San Mamiya suggested that we meet up and go to Mooneyes Area 1. It had been a few years since we’d visited the Japanese headquarters of Mooneyes, and there’s always something different parked around the shop, so we headed to the Honmoku neighborhood where the famed brand is based.
Though Mooneyes Area One holds a lot of shows and gatherings with varying themes, there weren’t any on this day. Still, there’s no shortage interesting cars on display, whether it’s J-tin or A-tin that floats your boat.
Mooneyes Area 1 isn’t easily accessible by train, so you have to take a bus from Motomachi-Chukagai Station. Japan’s buses are a bit less English-friendly than its trains, but you’ll know when you’re getting close because you’ll see a row of classic cars parked right on the sidewalk.
The last time we visited, it was a row of Toyota Crowns lining the street. On this particular afternoon, we were greeted by a lineup of foreign (to the Japanese, that is) jobs, including a gorgeous 1963 Ford Country Squire wagon.
In many ways Japan is more into American cars than Americans themselves. While in the US a Chevy Nomad from the Tri-Five years, a 1959-60 Chevy, or an Olds Vista Cruiser would be the most revered wagons, Mooneyes bucks the trend with not just a rarely considered “second tier” car like the Country Squire, but one with a safari roof rack, unique-to-period seafoam green paint, and the most bizarre faux wood-grain panel ever conceived.
Also in the lineup was a VW Type 2 panel van, a perfect white Thunderbird — but an oddball 1960 model rather than the 1955-57 or 1961-63 generations typically found in at US shows — and an absolutely drop-dead gorgeous 1968 Mercury Cougar (a Mustang would be too obvious). This last one was Mooneyes owner Shige Suganuma’s personal car, which he says he found and purchased in Japan.
Inside, the shop is loaded to the rafters with merchandise, everything from clothing to car accessories. Over 50 percent of the items are in the trademark Mooneyes yellow, of course. There’s even a Moon Café adjacent to the shop, which serves just about the most authentic American food — burgers, fries, tacos, and more — in Japan.
The shop passes through to the back, where there’s customer parking and even more cars on display. The last time we were here the back lot was filled with Detroit Iron, but this time it was packed with Nihon Steel. Perhaps most endearing was a Daihatsu Midget shop truck, which Mooneyes acquired in 2015.
As is the tradition, Mooneyes customized it with plenty of bits from their own parts catalog, including matte black trim paint on the front bumper, headlight visors, and 10-inch Moon Discs all around — including the front-mounted spare!
The coolest was definitely the 1970 Crown Hardtop Coupe that we profiled back in 2013. Though the MS51 looks classic, it’s been completely modernized under its skin, with suspension, brakes, and 1JZ motor swapped from an S130-generation Crown.
Or, was the coolest the Toyota Hilux Dually finished in Mooneyes’ signature yellow? It’s certainly no ordinary Toyota pickup. No, it’s a Double Cab with four full-size doors, a body style that wasn’t available in the US.
What’s even crazier is that Double Cabs all came with short beds, half the size of the long bed. However, Mooneyes extended the chassis to fit the long bed and created the dually fenders out of fiberglass. The whole thing is bagged and comes with American-style visual touches like overhead cab lights and big rig-style wheels. And the whole thing is on air suspension, naturally.
“I built the Dually as a tow vehicle for race cars back in 1996,” Shige-san told us. “Now we’ve been using it mostly to haul motorcycles.”
The garage in the back is also full of treasures. This time it was the Moon Buggy and the Orange Krate motorcycle lurking inside.
Taking a look in the customer parking area, we noticed a Nissan Elgrand VIP van and a hachiroku that, judging from the many rock chips on the front spoiler, has seen its share of touge runs.
Another customer rolled up in a very clean, slammed Honda Accord wagon. It was quite fitting, since the Accord Wagon was built in Ohio, and even versions sold in Japan were US-built and shipped over. In fact, for the types of Japanese car nuts that would visit Mooneyes, those US origins are a big reason why they’re attracted to this model.
Across a small street in the back is a large parking lot, which is used for hosting Mooneyes’ many car gatherings at the shop. It also functions as overflow parking for shop cars like their 1981 Toyota SR-5.
With its trailer mirrors, camper top and tape stripes, you don’t even have to look at its LHD steering wheel to know that it came from the US. Mooneyes purchased it off of Craigslist Los Angeles and imported back to Japan in 2013. According to the shop, it’s used exclusively for Wildman Ishii’s pinstriping duties.
Nearby was a 1993 R32 Skyline GT-R in Black Pearl Metallic belonging to Steve Sare, one of Mooneyes’s employees. Next to it was some kind of souped up Alfa 156 — a wagon, of course — and the 2-door 1954 Plymouth wagon that we rode in on a cruise night back in 2009.
In the same lot was another customer AE86, this time a Levin hatch. A few years ago, hachiroku drivers wouldn’t have really mixed with the Mooneyes crowd, opting to spend their time at D1GP or in the touge instead. Nowadays though, there’s huge interest from hachi-heads in USDM style cars, as evidenced by the “GT-S Twin-Cam 16” decals on the doors, a cue that only came on the US-spec Corolla GT-S.
In total, there were no less than three customer AE86s on the day we visited. They didn’t seem to be related, either, based on how far apart they parked from one another. Beside this one was a 2002 Toyota Town Ace, fantastically pinstriped and gold leafed like a 1970s-style custom van. Mooneyes acquired it in 2013 “very cheap” as a shop van.
Coming back from the parking lot, we had a great view of the shop. The two-tone H200 HiAce lowered on black steelies with dog dish hubcaps is another perfect expression of the Mooneyes brand, even if it’s not yellow.
Returning to the shop, we noticed a 1973 Kawasaki 350 “Big Horn” parked outside the door, right beneath a window that said “Moon Custom Cycle Shop”. We had walked right by it before. The space we’ve covered isn’t huge but there is, without fail, something interesting around every corner at Mooneyes. You could spend days here without seeing everything.
As it happens, less than two weeks later we were at the Mooneyes Open House at their historic US location in Santa Fe Springs, California. We saw our buddy Brian Omatsu driving his friend’s stunning Buick Riv’, a great complement to the covered-headlight Cougar we saw in Japan.
Under Shige-san’s leadership, Mooneyes in Japan has expanded beyond its roots in hot rods, kustoms, and muscle cars. Mooneyes in the US, that’s still what they’re primarily known for. Of course, those who visit JCCS and Toyotafest are the few Americans who are savvy to Mooneyes’ presence in Japan. But then we saw this Toyota Stout at Mooneyes USA! Hopefully it’s an indicator of more crossover from Japan on this side of the Pacific.
Mooneyes Yokohama, June 26, 2016.
Mooneyes SoCal, July 9, 2016.