Welcome to Part 4 of our Going to Japan series! So far, we’ve covered the basics of how to get around, feed yourself, find a place to stay, see car shows, meet tuners and buy parts without JDM Tax (phew!). So the next few instalments will be a bit of a wrap-up of all the little things we wanted to include in the earlier articles (which can be found here, here and here) but couldn’t because of a lack of space or other reasons.
One of the glaring questions that we haven’t answered yet is….where do you go to see the street drifting?
It’s an obvious question to ask, but one that is easy to answer…you can’t.
You can still find street and mountain drift in Japan, but it’s now clear that it’s really the reserve of the hardcore fringe. To be involved, you have to be at one of many staging areas (usually in the middle of nowhere). Then the whole drifting show moves from place to place a few times a night to avoid outstaying their welcome. Just in case, spotters will warn of incoming police and everyone scatters to the next staging area to await instructions. And even then the cops might crash the party, forcing everyone to scatter again, to regroup at yet another pre-arranged staging point (usually one of the ubiquitous JDM convenience stores).
When we went to Japan in early 2007, we were lucky enough to be invited to tag along to check out the drifting. But it became abundantly clear that unless you were invited, or unless you had the vital mobile phone numbers of the right people who could tell you where the whole show was heading next, then you’d miss it all (now, I don’t pretend to be an “insider” in Japan, I was just lucky enough to bump into people who were).
So efficient are the Tokyo cops at stamping out street drifting, that the bunch of Tokyo drifters we were with had to travel 2hrs outside of Tokyo to find deserted mountain roads in the countryside. Quite literally in the middle of nowhere and even then the party was busted twice in the one night by the cops.
However, it wasn’t always this way. Let’s take a step back in time….
All the pics we’ve posted here are from around 10yrs ago, in the heyday of wangan battle and street drift in Japan. The scene is very much a typical truckstop/convenience store on the side of a freeway somewhere, and there is a healthy gathering of nice cars, the usual Daikoku Futo-esque JDM cliche. But if you look closely, you’ll notice that most of the cars have a distinct absence of bling.
A lot of these cars look pretty tough, and in terms of looks they are quite plain, the owner’s money having been mostly spent under the bonnet. What you see here, is a staging area for highway battle racing. Cars will pair up and head out into the surrounding freeway to race along a predetermined “circuit” that brings you right back to the truckstop.
This is a regular meet, and this was back in the day when the local cops would turn a blind eye to your gearhead fun. Back in those days, a wandering foreigner with a big goofy grin could ask for a “navi ride”. One of the friendly local gearheads would offer you the shotgun seat in his Skyline, and then you sit in the passenger seat during a highway race, bewildered that you are weaving between the regular traffic at 248km/h, and we know this for sure, because that’s what it said on the digital Apex Rev/Speed Meter! We’re not making this up!
Of course whether this is actually a smart thing to do with respect to your own mortality is another question!
It was just so open back then….just ask anyone at a parts store or a tuner, and you’d be told where everything is going down. The freedom with which this information is given is a sure sign that the authorities know full well what is going on. In Tokyo, the street drifting went down in the Odaiba area and then later moved to the docks/warehouse area near the Tokyo Disneyland. But no longer.
But at some point, the street racers did cross the line, people got hurt, and normally picturesque Japanese mountain roads would start to resemble junkyards as piles of old drifted out tyres and the odd hulk of a crashed and stripped drift car began to blight the view. So the police reacted in the only way they could, and cracked down on the street racers in a big way in the past 2~3 yrs, to the point where it’s almost extinct. The only surprise (to our western minds) is that the party lasted for so long.
Here at Grand JDM we don’t condone street racing…and yet we’d be the first to admit that it is part of the mystique that makes normally-straitlaced Japan such a fascinating place. And to stand by the side of a deserted mountain road, with 400+hp cars screaming past broadside, only inches away, so close you could reach out and touch them….well, however politically incorrect it may be, they are very special experiences that will stay with you for a long time.
The fact of the matter is, the tide is turning against the street racers in Japan and slowly but surely, street racing meets like the one we’ve posted here will only be found in the past.
Hmmm….well it seems that we’ve run out of space yet again, and so we will be continuing this series.
In the next instalment, we’ll mop up some of the other things that we wanted to cover, but if you have any questions, post them up in the comments section and we’ll do our best to answer them in the upcoming articles.