Things To Do Before You Die>> Will Japan Change You?

We’re just over the halfway point of our Things To Do Before You Die series and we hope you’re enjoying it! As you’ve probably noticed, our bucket list isn’t about material objects you must own. Instead, we’ve tried to focus on experiences that will enrich your car life. Experiences that will hopefully prove rewarding. Experiences that will be memorable; ever-lasting and something you’ll cherish for a long time. And while visiting Japan might seem like an obvious inclusion in our list of things to do, I think it offers a deeper reward for enthusiasts like you and I. 

I’m one of the lucky ones who has been able to travel to Japan on a regular basis. While the shoot-all-day-write-all-night job description can get quite exhausting when you mix in long haul flights and jet lag, Japan is one of the destinations that makes it all worthwhile.

I don’t remember my first trip to Japan very well, mainly because I was four years old at the time. The memories I do have from that holiday are of being bewildered by the bright, flashing neon lights and the overcrowded sidewalks. 18 years passed before I was able to revisit Tokyo, and the first thing that struck me was how accurate my childhood recollection was.

Tokyo is, without doubt, a city unlike any other. It’s a futuristic wonderland. You can't help but feed off the energy of this place.

But there are many, many layers to Japan. On the surface its major cities can look like something out of Bladerunner, but as you delve deeper you discover a country steeped in history. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition between technology and tradition, and this filters through to their car scene as well.

Both the old…

…And new, are equally appreciated.

It might not be the most comfortable of places in terms of accommodation (Linhbergh’s hotel room is a palace compared to some of the hotels I’ve stayed at!), but that adds to the adventure…

…As does your first experience with their electric toilet seats. Hopefully you won’t jump three feet in the air like I did when curiousity got the better of me.

Japan is a truly wonderful place, and even the small things that are part of every day life for the Japanese will cause amusement and fascination to tourists.

If you do go to Japan, it's worth doing some research into what you want to see and how you'll get there. It’s impossible for us to cram every must-visit place into this article, but I'm sure many of you will want to stop by a few parts stores. Some of them, like Crystal Auto, provide shopping trolleys for those who want to go a little bit crazy.

Browse forums, ask questions, and even try shooting an email off to your favourite tuner. Although English isn't commonly spoken, you may just luck into a tour of their facilities.

While many tuning houses are out in the middle of nowhere, some are located close to public transport, like Spoon Sports and Type One.

For first timers, I always recommend going in January, as the annual Tokyo Auto Salon is an amazing experience in itself. If you don't have the confidence to travel around Japan, then TAS is a great way to get your automotive fix.

In Japan, you'll see the toy cars you played with as a child up close and personal. And maybe you'll hear them fire into life.

Even if you aren't a fan of drifting, you'll likely enjoy seeing some sideways action. You can time your trip to coincide with a D1GP or Drift Muscle event, or you can head to Ebisu – perhaps for a matsuri – to see grassroots drifting at its finest. The latter is a personal favourite of Casey Dhnaram. "Try to head to the smaller meets" he said after his recent trip. "Preferably a grassroots event as you never know what to expect."

If drag racing is your thing, then you can visit Central Circuit and Sendai Highland. I still remember those scratchy VHS tapes of the HKS GT-R bouncing its way to a 7-second pass.

If circuit is your preference, well, where do I begin? There's Tsukuba, Suzuka, Fuji Speedway, Okoyama (Aida), and Twin Ring Motegi to name just a few…

Japan will truly blow your mind. If you've never been, imagine what it would be like to walk past these hachis at Tsukuba.

If you have access to a car, then the possibilities open up ten-fold. With a little bit of research, you can find the famous roads that you've seen in old Japanese videos. Like the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line, a 6 mile (9.6km) underwater tunnel that was the scene of some rather well-known high speed runs. The light at the end of the tunnel (bad pun), is the Umihotaru rest area, where many car meets are held. 

In the early hours, with the rest of Japan sleeping, you might find some activity in industrial areas and up in the mountains.


While in Japan you won't want to take a nap on the bus. Because blink and you might miss it… 


And if you're lucky, you might hear a wastegate crack open in a tunnel or on the expressway.

No matter where you look, there's a good chance you'll spot a car prowling the streets that in any other country would likely be locked up and pampered in a garage. 

Cars form a big part of Japanese culture.

…And even if you don't have the cash (or luggage space) to buy some parts for your ride, you'll still be able to pick up some cool trinkets.

Mike Garrett summed it up pretty well when we were discussing Japan recently: "You don't see 'half-assed' cars in Japan. Whether it's a GT-R or a '32 Ford hot rod, Japanese enthusiasts take their cars seriously."

Even if your preference is for the quirky, Japan will likely have an insane monster for you to salivate over. I'm not a diehard Cap' fan, but I'd be on my hands and knees inspecting this wild creation in a heart beat.

Whatever you're poison, Japan will have you covered. 

The first time I walked through the halls of the Makuhari Messe, I was overwhelmed by what I saw. Row after row of demo cars, all comprehensively modified. Often when the Japanese decide to build a car, they won’t focus solely on power; they’ll strive to improve its braking, handling and driveability as well. While every country has hardcore cars, to see a few hundred side by side was sensory overload for me.

You can't help but be mesmerised. Because there’s simply so much to see, so much to take in and absorb, it’s easy to overlook the real beauty of Japan’s car culture.

It took me a couple of visits to realise what that true beauty really was. And it had been staring me in the face the whole time.

I think Linhbergh once said that Japan is the land of rice and, in a round about way, this is exactly why you must visit this place.

You see, the thing that really makes Japan so special is its diversity.

If you look back at the style of cars I’ve shown in this post, you’ll see an eclectic selection that covers a variety of tastes. And in Japan all these styles are embraced.

For me, the realisation came during a freezing winter night at Daikoku Futo. Para para dancers were doing their thing, moving in unison behind their vans packed full of PA speakers. Bosozoku bikes were revving against their limiters. A few feet away, a group of GT-Rs were parked alongside lowriders.

I think there are very few places where so many different sub cultures can co-exist in relative harmony. 

Where else in the world could two diametrically opposed cars rub shoulders with one another?

Everyone is different. Some people have mohawks, some prefer mullets. Some people have eccentric tastes in clothes while others, well, they might not have any fashion sense at all. And while we, as a society, accept these differences without even a raise of the eyebrow, when it comes to car enthusiasts, why is being an individual frowned upon?

It saddens me to see the type of negative reaction – sometimes even unbridled hatred – that is often leveled at one another, purely based on what someone’s car might look like. I'm sure we've all seen people get flamed and vilified because their car doesn't acquiesce to a particular style or modifying philosophy.

Don’t get me wrong, not for one moment do I think Japanese enthusiasts like every car style. But I think there is a mutual respect – an 'each to their own' mentality – that seems to be lacking elsewhere, particularly in some internet communities.

Of course, we are all entitled to our opinion. But does our opinion allow us to hate on someone because their car is not low enough, has too much or too little offset, or is painted the wrong hue? 

One of the reasons why Japan’s scene is held in such high esteem is because they continually roll out new cars and new parts that rewrite the rulebook. I remember the excitement of seeing new parts unveiled like Tein's EDFC, HKS' V Cam, Defi's BF gauges.

Although Japan’s aftermarket has slowed down over the past couple of years, this push to innovate is borne from their desire to constantly try something new. To them being different was OK. That experimenting, even if the end results aren't stellar, was actually a good thing.

(Photo by Miguel Varella-Cid)

If no one pushes the boundaries, then the car scene would be pretty damn boring don't you think?

In one of my columns for ASM I raised a thought on people having forgotten one of the simple joys of modifying cars: that you are building a car that reflects you. Modifying is all about taking our car and changing whatever we don't like about it. 

Japan really changed me. It made me realise that just because someone might have a different car, taste or tuning philosophy, doesn't mean I'm right and they're wrong. It also made me realise that I have no right to put them down.

This is why visiting Japan should be on your list of things to do before you die. The insane cars, amazing race tracks, and parts stores are just the cream on top. The real gift is the privilege of witnessing a car culture that we should all be envious of.

- Charles Kha

Photos by Dino Dalle Carbonare, Mike Garrett, Linhbergh Nguyen, Casey Dhnaram, Charles Kha, Mark Pakula and Miguel Varella-Cid



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this is the best speedhunters article EVER!!!!!!!!!!111111111111


Amazing article. I hope to visit Japan one day and experience it for myself. Thank you for showing us a critical part of the global car culture.


Still on my list :)


this has been the best article on speedhunters! love it! i want to go japan right this second!!


Awesome work. Japan will change you, probably for the better. And you've hit the nail on the head. The car scene is so diverse, so out there, you can see every kind of modification imaginable. In the years I've spent going to Japan, I've never seen 'the haters'. Everyone has the "each to their own" mentality, the 'bring the other guy/girl down because they're better/different' is so rare it's non-existent. If only all the world was like that :P

Bring on some Kei!


Good God, Charles! Nicely stated, presentation is top class brass and you are right in what Japan has to offer. I had a few Japanese friends in college that encouraged me to spend time with them in Nagano. Not the most car-centric places of Japan, but much much more so than many places in America. I was taken aback by the daring modifications, the technique on the touge, the comraderie among the enthusiasts from Honda to Subaru to Suzukis. That's what NorthWest All Wheel Drive (as in All Cars) tries to embody and spread.

Excellent job!!!! :) :) :) :)


so true

i just became 18 when i visited japan for "only" two months

it really changed my life!

my guestfather is working in mazda development

i bought a miata when i returned and still own it.



I just watched the movie " Lost in translation " last week and after reading your article I whant even more to go there.


One day, some day.


Amazing write-up Charles! This makes me want to go back to Japan again, and again, and again...only been there 4 times...and none are for automotive related events, such a shame!


Great coverage! I want to go!


hmmm although i enjoyed this article to a massive degree.. i wouldn't have put this one on my 'list' - i do want ot visit Japan, but naaah, not list-worthy - great write up none-the-less.


i always say the one problem with car culture is people putting down others cause its not what they like.. so i really liked the end to this!


One of the best articles on here; on the bucket list 100%


this is the best speedhunters article EVER!!!!!!!!!!111111111111



Great article. I agree that there are too many "haters" when it comes to the Japanese car scene ... mainly because they don't understand it.

You're absolutly right in saying that we can learn alot about the way the Japanese car scene has respect for all the different groups. :thumbsup:


Amen son, theres way too much hate in the scene today. To each his own.


Wow... great article. And VERY true... there's too much hate between auto cultures. I wish the sense of community among the car scene was as strong throughout the rest of the world (and among the rest of the world) as it is in Japan. And one more thing... what kind of kit is on that white...ummm... I want to say FD3S RX-7? Kinda looks like the front off of the ABFlug S900 Supra...


I like the things before you die series of columns, they are absolutely great! Idk if I can agree with believing the japanese don't criticize other groups. Take initial D for example there are guys in that very series that criticize other groups lol. It's a japanese cartoon but goes to show that it happens over there. I think people embrace there place more fully over there though. In the states a hellaflush person will defend that there car is at it's full potential despite it's handling drawbacks. Everyone wants to be everything, and never accepts what they have done to there car. I'm modest about my car every single time I get compliments and have never once been flamed because I don't advertise or try to show my car off as something it isn't. Lots of others want to be in that spotlight and we see that more in the states because they are all fighting for that light by sometimes claiming things that they are not I guess. Like I said though, great articles, all of them! Keep up the good work speedhunters, really given me a reason to come back to the site.


This is definatly one of the greatest articals ive read. it is a litteral translation about how i feel the car culture in the US is turning and why we should change. people forget their roots and this article is a good reminder to not hate on those who dare to be different


Need to go to Japan soooooooooooooo much!


Best article i have read so far! Compliments to the writer!


Been there, done that three times... but everytime I see something new and interesting... like going to Super Autobacs after spending the whole day at Tokyo Disney and seeing pristine AE86's getting sold from the little dealership next to it for more than they were brand new.

Go, try and see. Just leave your prejudices and preconceptions at the door.


my favorite post ever


Everything written in this article I feel is true. It truely does change your point of view in life. The culture there is so different from the States. Everybody there does there own thing, but when they do it, it has a sense of being done for the community. Be it building a car to demo for the public, to cleaning up the area around their house. They take pride in everything they do no matter how menial the job may be.


This was an epic write up! Totally agree. I've always wanted to travel to Japan, especially during the TAS tours. However, after reading this, it sheds so much truth on why Japan's "scene," if you want to call it that, is purist in spirit and in sport. I'll be there someday in the near future. Ramen diet....meh.


this has been on my list since i started reading mike garretts auto otaku blog. And i have wanterd to go see spoon sports and 5zigen since i have seen them on here.


I will do this before I die


I was lucky enough to spend a measly 7 nights in Japan (went over as a guest for a traditional wedding, in itself an amazing experience).I didnt go over specifically for speedhunting, but just walking around the streets of the cities, the speedhunting comes to you! Amazing place and I am going back for sure.



I dont know if there is already one but a "what to visit when you are in Japan" post would be awesome


Merci pour cet article qui me met des étoiles dans les yeux...

Ott, from France.


Thats it im moving to j-pan!!!! i love all the sights!!


I was stationed in Yokosuka Japan 2000-03, it was the greatest 3 years of my Naval Career. I loved living there and yearn to return again someday soon. I did all the great cars things when I worked there. I drove a R32 Skyline that was one the best cars I have ever owned. I loved driving there even if you have to pay tolls. I rarely used the train because I loved driving so much. Looking at the picturecs brought back great memories.


Yes. Great Article. I LOVE JAPAN. It changed me both in terms of how i viewed the car culture, and also how i live. I moved there, teach english, and LOVE the people. the People there make everything. the culture of auto enthusiasts will change how you think about modifying and racing cars. The people will make you rethink about how you live. Can not say enough about this country. Anyone who is here considering it, do it. do it even if it will almost leave you broke. Would not be surprised if many of you decide to just stay there. I did. No regret what so ever. Oh yah, plus the girls are hot as all hell.


This makes me wanna go again! I didn't do enough automotive related events (Daikoku Futo is still on my list)


Wow.. say it like it is brotha! this is one of the best articles ever. made my day!


Making me want to go japan great article great great .. I really enjoy reading this... I think this is the only site I visit that I actually read ...


Amen, Charles. You hit the nail right on the head.


Just got back from a trip to Japan.

It was my 6th trip there, and now is a great time to go Hella good deals on hotels right now!


awesome article!


Rad. I ticked that one off a bit ago and never wanted to leave! Hope to move there after university!


Charles, please, a wallpaper of the R32 GTR doing the burnout at Sendai Highland dragway!!!!


it already has..and ive never been to Japan!!! But one day i WILL go to one of the 100s of car events that they have such as TAS!! even if it would be on my own..this one will deffinately be done in the furture sometime...


The aqua-line is sweet . And along with the yokohama wangun a must for anyone who is a fan of fast street cars . There is nothing like doing 180kph on the limiter in a rental and being passed like you are standing still .


Very, very well put! Japan has a pretty rich culture, and I'm sure it's a place which most of us want to go and experience. If I ever get to visit this country, I think I would go crazy once I was roaming the first streets after exiting the airport.

Excellent write-up!


The Land of the Rising Sun.........amazing stuff!


Best article ever read on speedhunters!!! I have been blessed of visiting and seeing many of the things shown here & was even lucky enough to have Keiichi Tsuchiya autograph my driving shoes at FSW. Japan is the best place I have ever traveled to, and the layers from its culture to pretty much anything is astonishing!


My 1st ever comment on SH but my god this is amazing! If there is ever a write up that will beat this i will be in shock! I seriously need to go to Japan! I love my JDM Civic :D


100% you hit the Japanese car culture scene right on the head of the nail. One of the best things about the culture here is that anybody that loves cars will be totally willing to chat with you about whatever you drive and will answer any question you have about their car and they'll just enjoy the fact that they're meeting someone new that's interested in driving too. Hitting up the touges here is one of the best places to see the diversity of Japanese car culture. On one in particular, on just about any given night, you can see everything from grip cars, drift cars all the way to insanely modded out audio/visual heaven vans and, if you're nice, they'll be happy to show off what they've got. When I first started going out there, a random guy gave me a ride in his S14 that solidified my love for everything Japanese more than anything I had experienced before. That's just the kind of people that are out here.

Sick article man, looking forward to more!



WILL JAPAN CHANGE YOU? For me I think Japan will change my lifestyle and my whole life !


Things to do before you die- Drive in the Nürburgring!


Bravo! I liked your closing statement that our cars become an extension of individuality that should have no boundaries. Good show my friend!



I am Rose Anderson.

I have found your site not so long ago, but try to read every new article as i see your

site as one of those interesting places online (it's not such an usual case nowadays).

This week i had an interesting discussion about your travel article ( with my colleagues and i'm

going to write about it. Your site looks a perfect place for an article on different travel spots of world.

So if you would like that, it would be great if you could post it on your site.

And that's absolutely free ofcause.

Let me know here if you are interested.


Rose Anderson


Great article Charles. Well written.


Definitely the best article EVER!!!


Flattering article. Living in Japan I guess you come to take it all for granted; I think I should be more grateful to have been able to be in the Japan car scene for so long and experience so much.


i love the new things to do b4 you die category. keep up the good work!


best speedhunters post ever!!! love it!!


Good article indeed. They are to do lists for me too.


I hear you loud and clear Charles mate.


Great article!!


Awesome read!

Would be cool to organise a trip with other speedhunters!


One of the best speedhunters, if not any car blog posts, I've ever read.


Things to do before you die- Drive in the Nürburgring!


Awesome article, I really need to visit Japan someday. Not just for the car culture but prett much everything I spend my spare time on is influenced by or directly dependent on Japanese culture.

And as for the whole hate thing, I think people hate on other people's taste because it makes them feel better about themselves. It's simple tribalistic psychology. It's the same thought processes that racism is based on, among other things. People put other people in to groups. They perceive themselves as being in the "in" group and perceive others as being in the "out" group. They place emphasis on the good parts of their in group and on the bad parts of the out group so they can feel like they are better than other people, and that they belong. Humans are cognitive misers, we like to pigeon-hole and simplify people and things. We can explain why we like the things we do because of our complex tastes and life experiences, and in relation to our values of how something should be, When we look at other people we assume that their taste is different not because they have different but equally intricate values, we think they are stupid becasue they don't agree with your values. But the thing is, if you hate someone or think you are superior to them because you're in a different crowd than you, then you need to realise that they are probably thinking the exact same thing about you.

People need to realise that differences should be embraced. You may never understand why someone decides to give their car an exhaust pipe that shoots up 10 feet in to the sky, or have neon lights shining out of every possible hole, but you should always respect that they have their own reasons for doing it. You don't have to like it, just respect the person who does. If they don't do the same in return than you can be safe in the knowledge that you are a better person.


Absolutely loved this post! Its given me the enthusiasm to go to japan ten fold. But if you want to see such a diverse selection of scenes and cars come to the retro rides gathering at prescott hill climb. The show with the most diverse choice of cars you will ever see, old classics to low riders to track cars to drift cars to boso cars to euro cars and everything in between.


visiting Japan is on my to do things, and after reading this article i put it on the first place o nthe list, best article EVER


Yet another amazing blog ! This website is so diverse.

You guys cover ever base out there

Thank you for another fantastic read.


I completely agree that judging someone by their car iis just plain wrong and just arrgant. I personally want to get a Mazda Miata Roadster but that is apparently shined upon as a girl car. But after reading this article I suddenly gained the confidence to get a Miata!



ALL online car forums (even # of viewers here on SH) should read this and get their head straight and have some respect for all car culture/passion/individuality and stop bashing every car that doesn't fit their cookie cutter view.

ie. so many people bashing on honda's past month and about eibach meet, saying how "FWD is the worst, hondas suck, all stance etc etc.."

seriously... America grow up!

i hope people see the bigger picture of this article, not just about visiting japan but adapting the car culture they have!!!!!


Amazing an accurate description of the Japanese car culture.

In the US, most people hate on each other and create division for example even within the drifting community.

One of those being the infamous ZIPTIED forum, where if you arent cool enough or your car isnt "baller" enough you wont be accepted as a member and rediculed.

Ironically the site is run by Society Mike from the Grip Video days, and the guy

Spent years in Japan.

He didnt learn anything from Japanese car culture it seems.



"It made me realise that just because someone might have a different car, taste or tuning philosophy, doesn't mean I'm right and they're wrong. It also made me realise that I have no right to put them down. " - I LOVE this.


It will change me without a doubt!


what manga/comics is that....?


I love Japan. It's my second home.


What manga is that BH Legacy in?????


That is the Sunroute Plaza Hotel you stayed at in Shinjuku. Small rooms but the location is GREAT!


Charles has just hit the nail perfectly on the head! An awesome article, one of the best and beautifully photographed! I just moved back from Japan after more than a year there (sorry Dino for not getting that pizza/beer sorted) and I can honestly say NOTHING compares to the shear jaw dropping wonder that is Japan in all aspects of life. You must all go!!!!! Ganbate Nihon...


dude these pic are the coolist and yes i got to go to jpan before i die






I am a Japanese junior high student and love cars.

Including attending school and friend and time to play watch tuning car well.

It may be surely said that Japan is a sacred place for car enthusiasts than foreign countries.

I think that surely I can spend the splendid life if I come to Japan!

Because I converted it in a translation site, it becomes a strange sentence.

I'm sorry.


a wastegate slam shut*


i would love to go to japan. great write up!


Determined to see japan someday, car stuff of course, but also want to see the history checking out the temples and mt fuji!


does anyone have any info or more pics of the white datsun 1200 ute .. i am actually rebuilding one myself :)


Fantastic article, Charles. This is why you remain one of my favourite writers and journalists of all time. Love your work :)


The month of May is drawing to a close, and that means that our "Things to Do Before You Die"


Another car that blew me away at the Meister Cup was the red GP Sports RPS13 which arrived unexpectedly


Best post! Please post more like it!