The annual Nisei Festival in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles is a celebration of Japanese American culture. Nisei means “second generation” in Japanese, but with its 84 years since the inaugural festival, the event has already been passed down to the third, fourth, and fifth generation and beyond. Aside from the time during World War II when Americans of Japanese descent were placed in internment camps, it has taken place every year, and the Nisei Week car show has become an integral part of the week-long festivities.
The event has had its ups and downs, and in recent years it has grown smaller. For a while, it seemed to perpetually announce that it would be the “last ever” Nisei Week car show, due to the gentrification of Little Tokyo. Each year, more and more high-rise condos sprout up, taking away another parking area that might be suitable for a vehicular gathering. This year, they set up camp at the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, which explains Japan-esque backdrop behind many of the cars.
The show has also changed with the times, having adopted many of the popular automotive trends that have defined the era. A few years ago, it billed itself as a stance show. This year, they rebranded as the Super Sugoi x Dekocar Nisei Car and Anime Art Show, adding a heap of itasha wrapped in scenes and characters from popular anime.
Itasha originated among hard core anime and video game fans as a way to show allegiance to their favorite characters. Why would you want a giant cartoon gracing the side of your car? Itasha owners are fully aware that their creations make traditional car enthusiasts cringe: the word is translated literally as “painful car,” a self-deprecating and self-aware moniker that simultaneously describes the pain of embarrassment, the pain generated in the eyes of the observer, and the pain of how much money one can spend for the other two pains.
We honestly had never seen so many itasha in one place, especially in the States. Admittedly, we were somewhat surprised to see such a niche corner of the automotie world gain traction here. You know the craze had fully transcended when there are Mustangs getting in on the action.
In the same vein, we never thought we’d see the day when there was a JNC inkan on an itasha, either. Nevertheless, thanks to hearbeat.la for the love.
Even cars that didn’t have a giant anime-themed wrap exhibited subtle nods to the colorful world of itasha’s ground zero, the neon-lit “electric town” of Akihabara. This Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI, for example, cleverly replaced all its name decals with colorful stickers while keeping the rest of the car clean.
While not an itasha, another cleverly decorated EG Honda Civic hatchback imagined a touring car sponsored by the popular Pocari Sweat soft drink.
A familiar Infiniti M30 paid tribute to the police drama Abunai Deka and SSR Wheels.
Beyond the decorated cars, there were plenty of others to be admired as well. You couldn’t miss the imported RHD JZA80 Supra in pearl yellow, for example.
One of the cleanest S13s we’ve seen in a while rocked a Silvia front-end conversion and cute Rilakkuma license plate bolt adornments.
A V12 Toyota Century commanded respect, despite quite possibly being the only bone-stock car at the show.
A purple Infiniti Q45 revealed something unexpected under the hood — a Toyota 1JZ.
Famous builds includd Janet Fujimoto and Duane Tomono’s award-winning 2JZ-powered Toyota Crown, and Allan Lugue’s Y2K snapshot Run Free AE86.
A TE72 Corolla Sport Coupe and box-type Mitsubishi Lancer Turbo exemplified Manila-style builds.
From itasha to drift cars, slammed VIP sedans to JDM imports, many styles of Japanese car were represented.
However, the one car most likely to have been seen at Nisei Week during its heyday was the ultra-clean DA Integra with Mugen MR5 wheels.
Upon leaving the show, we stumbled across a very well-preserved V20 Camry, a top-of-the-line V6 LE model. It probably belonged to a little old lady who went to this temple once a week and rarely drove it elsewhere. Heavily Japanese American areas of Los Angeles used to be full of cars like these, but as rents go up and developers move in, the owners will disappear and so will their cars. Hopefully, the Nisei Week car show will continue to find a a home.