Held in the historic Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles, Nisei Week is an annual festival for Japanese Americans dating back to 1934. The Nisei Showoff custom car show, launched during the height of the import tuning craze, is now a big part of that tradition.
Nisei is Japanese for “second generation.” That’s second-generation people, not cars. Though nisei technically applies to those born in America to immigrant parents, in this case the word’s an umbrella term comprising sansei, yonsei, and beyond. Derek Takeshita‘s mint MX83 Cressida was passed down to him by his grandfather. Now what was once “Your Father’s Toyota” is a shakotan sled.
Back when Nisei Showoff began back in 2000, Janet Fujimoto and Duane Tomono‘s cherry 1993 MR2 Turbo was likely to be the kinds of car one would see at the event.
Now, ironically, even though it’s 12 years later, there’s more old school cars than ever. The show welcomes cars owned by anyone, Japanese American or not. With its wild color and TOSCO wheels Noriel Cruz‘s KP61 Starlet is more Filipino than nisei style.
There’s something about cars in the Japanese blood. Long before anyone in the US even knew Japan made cars, the 1953 Hirohata Merc kicked off the entire chopped lead sled craze. In the 60s a typical nisei petrolhead would be sporting a raked muscle car; in the 70s a V8 Vega. You can still see examples of Detroit Iron at Nisei Showoff, but once Datsuns, Toyotas and Mazdas came along the scene was forever changed.
Michael Samehima‘s Datsun 200SX is the epitome of what a period-correct nisei ride looked like back in the day. The more exotic, ninja-star rims were simply not available in the pre-internet US, so a choice wheel would be an Epsilon mesh. Before the concept of JDM was invented, USDM bumpers, engine and mirrors were kept as is. The trim would be blacked out and a crankin’ stereo installed in the trunk.
Nowadays, the nisei style cars have given way to more authentic JDM style cars. Or in the case of this 610 Bluebird, an actual RHD car from Japan, complete with fender mirrors, skinny bumpers and Wats.
We saw Mike Muniz‘s TE27 earlier this year car at Toyotafest, it’s looking much cleaner with its ’69 Boss 302 Shinoda Stripes removed. Interesting side note: Larry Shinoda, father of the Boss Mustang, incidentally, was nisei.
So early nisei cars actually looked more American than Japanese. It was really the 90s import movement that mainstreamed the idea of JDM. Then import fans began accumulating all sorts of cool Nihon goodies like this 20th Anniversary JAF badge.
Nisei Week is all about family, and it was good to see a father-and-son team bring out a pair of matching hachiroku. Father Robert Rosales drives the zenki GT-S hatch while son Eric rocks a clean SR-5 automatic. Yes an automatic. But it’s still cool.
A strong showing of Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ was expected, and it was good to see the next generation of Japanese sport coupes continue the tradition. What will the cars at Nisei Week 2024 look like?
For more photos from Nisei Week, peep the gallery below and stay tuned for Part 02.
That is my favorite hilux! Do want!! Also the 610 is secks! And that 200sx lift back!! In fact, all those cars are rad!!!!
520 and a cool Starlet.
Looking forward to part II.
(Maybe a 620 or two).
I think I can see a red one behind that Bre 510. Looks clean too!
lil mango looks a lil’ cherry in that pic, lol
+1 on that hilux.. I’d like one for a parts getter
Hey Dan, Thanks for posting my car. I was really unsure if I was going to even do this show or not since it was going to be an all day event and mostly covered Hondas. 15 minutes after parking my car I wanted to leave…It was damn to hot!, but then I started talking to the old school Datsun and Toyota guys, so I decided to stay. I’m glad I did…Picked up a second place Trophy! I don’t know for what class or category since I was far away from the stage not expecting to win anything. I still can’t find any info online for the list of winners for this show. Maybe I’ll do the show again next year and bring my 12A Monster port powered TE27 road race car.
Glad you came out, the car looked great!
Congrats on the win Big Mike. it was a pleasure to meet you and see your car again. My girlfriend and I talked about our favorite cars at the show and yours was our top pick. Please bring your road race car to next years show, Ill have to bring my 71 240Z. Niseiweek needs more Old J tin. Hopefully it wont be as hot next year.
Thank you for the compliment…I do remember talking to you and your girlfriend. It was a pleasure talking to you both. I’m still trying to decide which car to bring next year. Most likely it would be my Rotary powered road race mango or I may bring my Jet Car.
Congrats Mike! You coming out to JCCS?
Thanks Dan, yes I’ll be at JCCS with my loud rotary TE27 road race car. I’m driving the car to the show this year so I’m playing around with different exhaust set up to quiet the beast down for the drive to Long Beach. I should be parked with the RaceToys crew this year.
Make sure to stop buy and say hello. -Big Mike
what’s that x8 packing under the hood? haven’t seen it around so i’m assuming it’s the 7M. hope he brought enough jugs of oil and coolant for the trip home!
Love the Hachiroku twins with BMX’s on the roof racks. Now I know I need to get roof racks for my RA64 so I can bring my bikes around in style.
Mike, You won for best corolla. Super cool car. I remember you telling us that it was not show quality. Yeah right!!!!That thing is way to cool. And for you to drive it daily is just amazing.
Thanks brotha…I guess I’m just to hard on myself when it comes to what I expect my cars should look like for a car show. I picked this particular car for 2 reasons…1st; it really is my dream car since I was a little kid. When most kids dreamt of one day owning a Lamborghini Countach, I dreamt of owning a TE27 (that’s why I have owned about 25 of them all in different configurations). The second reason is I like to make people smile…That is why I drive this thing daily so people can see it outside of the Toyota community. The smiles and thumbs up I get everyday more than makes up for not having air conditioning, or a plush comfortable suspension. I use to just build cars, race them, take them to show, and let them sit in the garage. Those days are over. You have to enjoy you build. God forbid something horrible happens where your car is garaged (a fire, burglary, etc, etc) then you did all that hard work for nothing. John thanks again for the compliment.
Sorry to say but that X8 is no shakotan sled.. that car can sit on the ground if you do it right… thats technically what shakotan is right??