No matter where you are or what genre of car culture you follow, you’re bound to find a few pioneers. I’m talking about the guys (or gals) that build and drive the coolest cars, break down barriers and inspire others to do the same. Legends, if you will.
I’ve written a lot about the hot rod and custom scene in Japan, and if you ask around about the leaders in the community you’ll likely hear two names. One of them is Shige Suganuma, the owner of Mooneyes and a man responsible for bringing American custom culture to Japan, and bridging the gap between the two countries. It’s hard to understate Shige’s contributions to the scene.
The other name? Junichi Shimodaira. He’s the owner of a shop called Paradise Road in Nagoya and he was building hot rods, lowriders and custom cars in Japan before many of you were born. As a youth, Junichi was obsessed with cars and motorcycles, and like many of his peers found himself taking part in activities you might associate with a group whose name starts in boso and ends in zoku.
But as he grew older, he started to take an interest in car culture from the US. After visiting America for the first time in the mid ’80s he decided to take the risk and open a shop with the idea of bringing this style to his native land. Paradise Road opened in 1987, and at the time there wasn’t much of a custom scene in Japan. Junichi started off with simple stuff – importing cars and parts and doing basic mechanical work. He also became the Mooneyes dealer for the Nagoya area, thanks to a relationship with Shige that goes way back.
Even as Japan’s economy went bust during the 1990s, Paradise Road continued to grow and soon the shop had developed a name for itself among the small, but growing community of custom car fans in Japan.
Junichi would make many trips to California to pick up parts from swap meets and junkyards, study build techniques and establish friendships. He also honed his mechanical skills, and aside from being an ambassador of American car culture in Japan, he also became an extremely talented builder in his own right.
By the end of the ’90s, his efforts began to earn recognition not just in Japan, but abroad as well. Paradise Road became a must-see spot for foreign visitors looking to discover the Japanese take on hot rod and custom car building. Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth himself is among the list of high profile names that have visited the shop at some point.
Once you see some of the cars that Junichi has built over the years, it’s easy to understand why he’s earned so many accolades. In the early 2000s he built a wild ’30 Ford Model A called Rod Riguez which truly put the Japanese scene on the map. He ended up bringing the Model A to California and sold it to an American hot rodder named Chuck who still shows the car to this day.
He followed up that build with Galaxian, the bitchin’ ’27 Model T roadster that I featured here on Speedhunters last year. Junichi’s tastes are wide-ranging, and both Rod Riguez and Galaxian contain elements from several different genres, including hot rods, ’60s show cars, and lowriders. But that just scratches the surface of what Paradise Road is about.Step Inside
The name ‘Paradise Road’ comes from the film American Graffiti and the stretch of country two-lane where the movie’s climactic drag race between John Milner and Bob Falfa takes place. Like many people in Japan, it was through movies like American Graffiti that Junichi got his first exposure to this strange world. The car club that Junichi belongs to is even called the Pharaohs, after the Mercury-driving bad boys from the film.
Junichi recently moved Paradise Road to a much larger location and there are times the place feels more like a museum than a normal workshop. From the moment you roll up, you can’t help but feel both the history and the passion that this man has for custom cars and the culture that surrounds them.
Before you even go inside you’ll encounter a number of vintage American machines, some that belong to customers and others that are part of Junichi’s incredible collection of cars, parts and related artifacts.
There are stacks of parts stored outside – everything from bumpers and differentials to entire roof sections and quarter panels that have been removed from project cars.
Once you walk into the building, you’ll be greeted by a long stair case that takes you to Paradise Road’s retail showroom.
It’s not huge, but in typical Japanese fashion it’s packed floor to ceiling with stuff – everything from rare auto parts to t-shirts, magazines and collectables.
Some of the items are brand new reproduction parts, while others are things that Junichi has acquired during his many trips to the US. The Pomona Swap Meet in SoCal is one of his favorite destinations, as is the annual West Coast Kustoms Cruisin’ Nationals.
One could easily kill hours digging through all the display cases and checking out all the goodies – many of which are rare even by American standards.
Then there’s Junichi’s amazing collection of vintage toy cars from the 1950s and 60s. You could almost call the place ‘Paradise Road Toy Museum’.
Head back downstairs and you’ll find the corner of the shop where Junichi keeps Galaxian and a whole bunch of other cool stuff.
For example, there’s a custom ’46 Triumph known as Psychedelico that Junichi built to match the nostalgic aesthetics of his four-wheeled vehicles.
The walls are covered in old hubcaps, and there are enough posters and signs on the wall that he could open up an art gallery to compliment the aforementioned toy museum.
Then there are the wheels – a massive collection of the things that span entire eras of custom car and lowrider building. Daytons, Roadsters, Cragars, Supremes and more.
Paradise Road is also home to the biggest collection of chain steering wheels I’ve ever seen. Don’t forget the Cheech & Chong figures either.OG Master
While Paradise Road certainly has the vibe of a museum or clubhouse, let’s not forget that a lot of serious building also happens here.
It’s in the workshop area where Junichi spends most of his time – wrenching, fabricating and applying his touch to all manner of American customs. From basic maintenance and repairs to ground-up builds, Junichi is truly a master of his craft.
While his tastes span everything from stripped-down to hot rods to outrageous ’70s show cars, Paradise Road might be best known for its ’30s and ’40s-era customs and lowriders, which are more commonly referred to as ‘bombs’.
At any given time there’ll be any number of partially completed projects kicking about the shop, like this flathead-powered ’36 Ford coupe for example.
I also caught a glimpse of a radical Chevy convertible project that should be mind-blowing when it’s finished. At this point, I wouldn’t expect anything less from Paradise Road.
Perhaps best of all, despite the legendary reputation that Junichi has, he’s one of the nicest, funniest and most easy-going guys you’ll ever meet.
Not only has he built amazing cars and helped put Japan’s custom scene on the map, he’s also served as mentor of sorts, inspiring countless others in Japan to discover the world of American-style custom car building. Many of the builders and shop owners I’ve spoken to directly credit Junichi for getting them started in their car building careers.
To put it simply, if it weren’t for the contributions of Junichi Shimodaira and Paradise Road it’s unlikely that Nagoya – or even Japan itself – would be the hot spot of custom cars that we love so much. And if that’s not enough to earn the title ‘car culture legend’, I don’t know what is.