If it was the year 2010 and I asked what Fukushima meant to you, there’s a good chance you’d string out a long list of drift-related things to do, events you could check out, shops to visit, and of course Ebisu Circuit, which sits at the very center of it all.
These days though, it’s impossible think about Fukushima without recalling what the region and its people went through in March 2011. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, initially brought about by the Tōhoku earthquake, affected so many lives – and it still does today. So when I decided to spend some time up there a couple of months back, my to-do list included visiting a couple of shops that I’d never managed to get to before.
The first one was Racing Garage Fastest, which we’ve seen already, now it’s Agent K.
A 30 minute drive from Ebisu Circuit on the outskirts of Fukushima city, this is a shop I’ve known about since I started covering the D1 Grand Prix back in the day.
Agent K is the epitome of a local tuning shop in Japan, with a heavy leaning towards drifting. That’s not surprising given its geographical location, and the expertise of the man behind the operation.
Sakuma Kazuhiro has been a familiar face around the Team Orange pits, always a part of the team that supported Kumakubo and his other drivers over the 20 years or so that he drifted professionally.
With Formula D Japan driver Andy Gray needing to pick up the latest addition to his fleet at Agent K, it was the perfect time for me to tag along and check out the shop.
That addition is this – the Powervehicles Wald Land Cruiser, which Sakuma-san had picked up from auction, put through shaken, and plated with Andy’s signature ‘100’ license plate.
Just like Team Orange and K-Style, Powervehicles regularly works with Agent K. It’s a friendly relationship that benefits both businesses and the huge number of customers that pass through the gates of Ebisu Circuit during the triennial Drift Matsuri events.
In fact, parked up outside the shop is one of Andy’s future projects, a super-clean silver JZX100 which will soon be built to a street specification.
Within minutes of pacing through the front yard, the memory of Japan’s golden years of tuning came rushing back. It’s these sorts of hashiriya outfits that were at the core of it all, friendly local garages that were able to handle anything you wanted to do to your car, from a simple fix to a full engine rebuild.
Around the big cities this has all but vanished. The shops that have survived have had to move upmarket; they try to emulate boutique outfits from Europe to build on brand strength, and with it the cost to modify cars has gone a little crazy.
Call it a sign of the times, but that magic – while still there – has become a little harder to find.
At Agent K, however, you get the sense that nothing has really changed. This is a car shop run by a car guy that continues to cater to the local culture, be it street, grip or drift.
OK, more drift than anything, but that’s what Agent K built their name on, and this is where local drifters come to pick up parts and have them fitted, get their cars tuned, and eventually repaired when the inevitable happens on one of Ebisu’s courses.
Physically speaking, the shop is pretty big – especially by Japanese standards. There are two main workshops and a large yard outside, where on the day I visited at least 40 cars were parked up. These are either cars that customers are storing, are waiting to be worked on, are looking for new owners, or simply there to supply spare parts.
As you’d imagine, there’s also a cemetery of parts that might come in handy one day.
Maybe this is where you could find the RB of your six-cylinder swap dreams…
Hard to miss was this E92 Team Orange project. I remember seeing it briefly years ago, but then it vanished before I ever found out much about it. Amazingly, it looks like it’s still in one piece.
A locked area next to the second workshop is where some of the more valuable cars are stored away. This BNR34 Nissan Skyline GT-R V-Spec II had just passed its shaken inspection and was waiting to be picked up by its owner.
It’s very common in Japan to have shops or dealers take care of the shaken, a roadworthiness test you need to do every two years so the government has an excuse to charge you a few more taxes. You can do it yourself – and I almost always have with my cars – but since it generally requires you to take a whole day off work, most people prefer to have shops do it for them. It keeps the system oiled and businesses in business.
You’d be surprised how many famous tuning shops have told me that if they didn’t have the shaken side of the business, they would be forced to close up.
As you can see by the car next to the BNR34, Agent K also maintains pro-spec drift cars. This FD Japan RPS13 belongs to the Car Guy team.
There was another Car Guy machine parked outside, a practice RPS13 that is used at Ebisu every now and again.
Let’s take a peek inside the workshop…
Looking around, it’s easy to see that they are set up to tackle pretty much any task, with plenty of projects on the go.
At the back is where all welding and fabrication is taken care of.
I spotted another Team Orange car in the main pit, something a little bit more current. This is Masanori Kohashi’s LS3-powered S15 Silvia that he used in last year’s D1 season. It looks like he may have to remove that ‘V8 inside’ sticker on the side window…
I guess the supercharged 6.7-liter LS wasn’t to his liking, so now it’s 2JZ time. I’m interested to see what this car will look like when the season kicks off next month.
Next to the Silvia was a JZX90 getting some TLC.
Places like Agent K are much more than just shops; they’re somewhere you drop by for a chat, somewhere to meet your fellow car friends, and somewhere you can spend a winter afternoon sitting around a kerosene heater sipping hot canned coffee talking about suspension geometry.
It’s a reminder that car culture is as alive as ever in Japan. Sure, it’s shifted and changed in the fashion-led cities, but in the rural areas of the country, where there’s still a bit of freedom left, it’s alive and well.
Considering what Fukushima and its people have been put through, it’s even more special to see shops like Agent K and RGF, and facilities like Ebisu Circuit doing well.
May the JDM hashiriya live on.
Dino Dalle Carbonare