Car Life>>the Auto Otaku Pt.1

Since we are focusing on photography and the "behind the lens" side of things this month, Rod asked that we put together posts highlighting our journeys automotive photographers.

At times I still have trouble calling myself a "photographer", seeing myself more as a guy who just likes to capture cool cars. The love for automobiles is something I was pretty much born with, but the photography side of things didn't start until much later in my life – the spring of 2006 when I was a college kid living in beautiful Fresno, California.

My girlfriend (now wife) and I were planning a trip to Japan to visit her family, and I had planned to do as much car-related stuff as possible during the few weeks we'd be there. I wanted to capture my experiences to share with friends, and figured I should invest in a decent camera.

A few weeks before we left, I bit the bullet on a Nikon D50 with a cheap 28-80mm kit lens. The DSLR was a giant step from anything I'd ever used before and I was pumped to play with the new toy. The first event I took the camera to was an SCCA autocross event at the Fresno Fairgrounds, just a few days prior to the trip. Quite frankly I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but it sure was fun.

By chance there was a guy there autocrossing an imported Hakosuka Skyline – the first time I'd ever seen such a car in the flesh.

A few days later I was in Japan for the first time – and overwhelmed with the scope of things. I spent time doing what a lot of people do during trips to Japan, visiting parts shops and ogling at random cars on that street. That first drive in from Narita Airport is forever etched in my mind…

We spent some time doing normal tourist stuff, like visiting the monkey park. Seriously, who doesn't like monkeys?

But by and large, automotive trips dominated my itinerary – such as visiting Twin Ring Motegi and the Honda Collection Hall. I am forever grateful to my wife and her family for helping me venture into this magnificent world. It would not have been possible without them…

We were in Japan for just under a month, and I was able to sample all sorts of car culture during my time there. From an MSC drift event in Odaiba…

…to the Tokyo Nostalgic Car Show. It was incredible to look at machines previously only seen in Japanese magazines or obscure threads on car forums. The "JDM Car Blogosphere" didn't really exist at this point.

I also caught a glimpse of the VIP/Vanning scene at another Odaiba gathering. I was finding that Japan had even more to offer than I thought.

However, there was no place that impacted me as much as Tsukuba Circuit. My wife's family lives a short drive away from the famous track, and I randomly stumbled across an incredible track day one humid weekday in June.

Just being in the place I'd seen on countless Option and Best Motoring
videos, and driven in video games was amazing.

I still didn't know anything about photography, but was slowly beginning to experiment. Ahh…so slowing down the shutter speed adds movement to the photo.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the trip was over and it was back to California to focus on finishing school. The trip to Japan had changed me, and I wanted to experience more. Looking back on the pictures from that first trip, I'm amazed that I took every single one with only the cheapo 28-80mm kit lens.

I showed the photos to my friends back home, and posted them on a few forums with a positive response. Hmm, could I make something out of this picture taking thing?

After coming back, I decided I'd try to get some more experience with the camera. I remember buying a $150 Sigma 70-300 telephoto lens to take to the Super Lap Battle at Buttonwillow in 2006.

I also headed down to Irwindale that fall to try my hand at drift photography during the '06 D1GP finale. Around this time I began to think about the future. I was due to graduate from college the following year, and why not move over to Japan to experience living there for a bit?

With my future plans somewhat set, I continued to take the camera out whenever I had time.

I figured I should probably do something with my photos besides just storing them on my hard drive and posting them in random spots. Why not start a blog? It'd give me a place to keep my stuff organized, and more importantly to share  with others. The name I came up with "Auto Otaku" essentially means car freak. It fits, right? There weren't many car blogs out there, and I thought it'd be cool to post my car photos, as well as other random stuff found online.

I started the blog in May of 2007, posting pictures with a few comments. It was simple and fun. In June of that year I headed to Willow Springs for the very the first All Star Bash – one of the coolest events in the history of cars.

I also headed up to NorCal to check out the first Motoring J-Style event. What ever happened to that show anyway?

At a drift event at Buttonwillow I came across this fellow from San Diego named Matthew Powers. As you can see, my skill with camera was starting to improve…

As summer became fall, it was time to start preparing for the move to Japan – along with graduating college and marrying my lovely wife. This meant selling off a lot of possessions, such as my beloved Honda Accord Wagon.

Still, I found time to get out to events like the '07 JCCS in Long Beach…

…and some vintage races at Buttonwillow.

The last event I shot before heading for Japan was the '07 D1 All Star match at Irwindale, which Vaughn Gittin Jr. won.

And so on December 26th, 2007, newly married and just a few days out of college, we left for Japan with no idea what to expect. One life was life behind and another one was started.

We'll see how this worked out in part two.

-Mike Garrett



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Oh, how I miss regular trackday coverage from the Auto-Otaku blog!


i've always been a fan of your shit.


Realmente impresionante, jamás penes que (yo en flickr te tenia agregado a mis contactos, es mi galería, dudo que la conozcas) iba a ver las fotos de Auto Otaku en Speed Hunters, ahora asocio, eres un grande, un verdadero grande, se me caen las lagrimas, eres un experto arriesgado, casi un ídolo, porque casi, no sé pero eres un genio! sigue así! yo con 15 años, alucino con tus fotos (y las de Dino jeje)

Transale this please


Great story Mike! From humble beginnings to being apart of the Speedhunters crew. I'm looking forward to part 2.


wicked story so far Mike! you're the reason i even came to Speedhunters in the first place, and you're a great inspiration to me and my (at least for now) amateur pursuit of car photography as a way of life


Ahh. So THIS is how it all happened. I loved Auto Otaku, it was one of my main blogs I followed. It's a shame to see that blog neglected, but it's also great to see what you're doing with/for Speedhunters. Keep it up!


One word: jealous. Waiting for pt.2


Those old Skylines are pure porn. That monkey looks like my ex.

Any MIVW pics would be appreciated.


Amazing Story Mike,

It's good to see people take chances and get out there and try things out!


We miss you Mike TT_TT


i can't believe someone had a 2nd gen camaro with te37's, and i think there was a corvet in there somewhere. can't wait for part 2!


I would have never expected to see a Macaque on speedhunters..


Japan is my "dream" destination.


Mike, I Miss the Otaku blog dearly and you are a huge reason I made the trip over to Speedhunters. Your work and material is always mind boggling. Keep it up!!!


Mike's da best! Hey man the best part about your photography is that you don't add in flare for flare's sake. I mean, moody lighting and "evocative" photos are cool if the focus is on marketing effectiveness or whatever but OTAKU like us really appreciate the simplistic way you present the subject. The photo of the vans is a perfect example, clear subject but also a very interesting background!


A nice insight on how you started photography Mike. Always wondered what you were doing previously, hahaha. But I never guessed that you started photography at that stage lol. Would like to know about you a lot more, hope you will tell us all more about yourself in pt.2!!

I'm thankful for following you Mike, I wouldn't be here if I didn't stumble on Auto Otaku on that one random day. Has been an almost life changing experience for me since that day onwards... =)


Mike rulez #1


p.s. thanks for putting a photo of my car.



Mike is the author of auto-otaku??

I've always followed that blog until suddenly it stopped getting updates..


I'm simply amazed. I'm really excited to see pt.2


Just a quick note to say how proud of Mike we are. We really questioned his investment in a camera at the time but it was the best investment of his life, other than marrying Kaori. What an amazing journey MIke has been on. The car disease came from his Dad. Luckily he grabbed some creative genes along the way. Keep up the good work!!!


Man I used to look at Auto-Otaku practically everyday. One of the greatest blogs ever! Seriously.


Thanks a lot for all the comments guys. Really means a lot.


heh, Auto-Otaku is what led me to Speedhunters. Thanks Mike.

and that was your Accord?! Pretty badass.


Nice bro! Sick pics! Good write-up, Jolly would be proud hahaha. Keep up the excellent work!


some nice pics in here.. you've been around for while now. you've done well and still put out good quality pics..


geez everyone has been to the zoo and seen a monkey...HE'S WEARING A JACKET!!!??? O.O!

great stuff here!


Epic.... your photos are truly famous in the JDM world.