NATS: Inside A Different Kind Of College
Welcome Freshmen

It seems like only yesterday that I decided to quit my job, sell most of my worldly possessions, and move halfway across the world from the USA to Japan. Soon after relocating here, I attended my very first Tokyo Auto Salon and discovered the Nihon Automotive College, otherwise known NATS, an acronym for Nihon Automotive Technology School.

The NATS cars on display at the Makuhari Messe were nothing like those from the big-name Japanese tuners. Sure, from afar everything seemed to be normal (or as normal as things get at TAS), but as I got close to the NATS builds I quickly realized that all was not as it first seemed.

They were either JDM sized (read: small) or various cars put together to make a new one. As if the creativity wasn’t enough to pique my curiosity, I soon discovered that these NATS cars were in fact projects that students had to complete in order to graduate from the technical institute. That sure as hell beats submitting a dissertation.


Ever since that first introduction, I’ve remained in touch with a few of the alumni to see what projects current NATS students are creating for TAS, and this year’s theme of The Fast and the Furious Supra and GT-R absolutely crushed it. But spotlighting the cars on the NATS booth at Tokyo Auto Salon would have done them no justice. They needed to be shot out in the open.


So I made a plan to visit the campus near Narita International Airport in Chiba. There I’d be able to take a look around the place, and also feature the Supra and GT-R once students had finished the final part of their examination – having the cars pass their shaken inspections.

Stay tuned for that story as a follow up to this one.

Class Is In Session

A few weeks ago I made the 100km (62mi) trip to the campus, which really is in the middle of nowhere.


Passing by Narita airport, the scenery quickly turned to rice fields and traditional Japanese minka houses. I was beginning to think my navigation system had gone haywire, but then various projects from previous TAS events began to show themselves. The community might be small, but you can sense the pride it has in the local college.


Inside the campus, former projects could be seen everywhere. Besides showcasing creativity from the past, I thought it was a brilliant way to welcome and excite incoming NATS students.

When was the last time you saw a Toyota 86 turned into an Audi R8 parked near your campus vending machine?


The ‘Lightning’ was one of the more unique cars that I found outside. Based on a 1986 Ferrari 328 GTS, the graduating class of 2006 used the parts from three other cars to create this unique machine. The butterfly doors came from a Toyota Sera, the mid-mounted 1UZ engine from a Toyota Crown Majesta, and the 6-speed transmission along with various other components to get the power to the wheels from a Subaru Impreza WRX STI.


You may remember the Suzuki ‘Jimny Adventure’ from TAS 2019. A few cosmetic changes have been made since then, but I have to say, it looked so much better out in the wild than on the show floor.


For the 2020 event, students went the opposite way and created a lowrider-style Jimny dubbed the ‘Easy Camper’.


NATS might be well known for its crazy customization, but the school focuses on a lot more than just creating one-off vehicles. It has various courses/majors, which split time between theory in the class and practical learning in the workshop, that students can choose from.

Given the current situation, I wasn’t able to see the institute operating in its normal state as originally planned, but you should still be able to get a good idea of what goes on behind the scenes at NATS.


Maintenance courses, ranging from a basic two-year curriculum up to a four-year professional certification level are offered here.


And if your passion lies specifically in motorsports, NATS has students covered there as well.


The popular Formula SAE program is a great gateway for this, and NATS has claimed Japan’s number one spot year after year in the automotive college category.


With engine displacement being capped at 710cc and a carbon fiber monocoque chassis currently falling in the too expensive basket, the team has been looking into more creative ways to shed weight. By decreasing the wheel size, a little more than 2kg per corner can be saved. They’re also hoping a switch to smaller brakes will help achieve their goals.


Essentially, when it comes to hands-on automotive technologies, pretty much everything can be learned at NATS, and the nurturing environment has helped foster a lot of talent all throughout Japan. Remember Omomuki’s carbon fiber Porsche 930? The man behind the build at Studio Allica is a NATS graduate.

I wonder if they’ll let me sign up for a few courses?

Ron Celestine
Instagram: celestinephotography



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And here I am stuck at Universal Technical Institute when I should be over there :(


I thought UTI was supposed to be great? Have Powerblock commercials lied to me all this time?


I went, can't say it wasn't good at times but for the most part the "CUSTOMS/HOTROD" courses were kind of a joke. Learned a hell of a lot more in the elective NISSAN NATT program that was an add on. If you can get into the elective courses like AUDI, NISSAN NATT, FORD, PORSCHE it makes the whole rest of the training worth it.


UTI is alright. Graduated 13 years ago and I'm still working in the automotive industry (we make boost where I work). Who you know goes a lot further than what you know, though.

But ugh...NATS. I'd love to visit that place someday, that's for sure!


Man if this is college, I would be very happy to sign up and take classes at NATS
Must have been so lit!


Man if this is college, I would be very happy to sign up and take classes at NATS
Must have been so lit!


Cool, the best classroom;)


Maintenance courses like these are EXACTLY what mainstream BSME students need.

I'm sick of automotive engineers designing cars that are intended to be assembled ONCE, on a production line, and never taken apart to be repaired.


I cannot agree with this enough.....However, instead of having shop/welding/repair/etc-type classes count as college credits good for their engineering major, they are forced by the system to pick among "social-science" type classes. I am facing this right now. Instead of having a class that teaching TIG-welding (not just the act, but also the science behind it), I've been forced to choose Sociology or Human Sexuality. This type of problem needs to get fixed before we dilute the Engineering education system even more. I asked an administrator as to why engineering majors were not encouraged to take these classes and was told that engineering had a high-drop out rate and these social-science type classes would better help dropouts ease into "other majors".


I know what you mean.

When I was getting my Industrial Design degree, instead of courses in SolidWorks or basic structural engineering, we had to take Gen Ed garbage like sociology and English literature.

Look, I can study Shakespeare on my own time, but I need skills employers will pay for.


I don’t know anything about cars really and would still be interested in going to a hands on school like this!

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

Whoa, to see that many stock ER34 sedans together must be heaven for you Ron. Hahaha!

What are they for anyway?


Hahaha I was shocked at first. They are used in the general maintenance courses. Apparently they have had them for a while now o.o

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

Did you, by chance, ask them if they have any spare parts for them lying around? LOL!


They may be used for classes with groupings, being all similar


Well they got the right idea with the A90 by putting a 2J into it.

André Edelslund

Any info on that yellow car with s2000 headlights? Think it’s a rx7. That looks so good!!


Agree, the doorhandles being behind the side windows rather than in the metal is a signature FD3S point, plus the general shape of the doors and A-pillar/roof join. The license plate 'REvolution' suggests a rotary engine of some kind, too.


Hi Ron, yes they take foreign students. At least, they did a few years back. The main difficulty for most is that the student will need to be proficient in Japanese. Shouldn't be a problem for you??


They still so take foreign students (seen a lot more since the first time I bumped into the college at TAS ^^)

And no, the language wouldn't be so much a problem. It's the "how do I find time to go back to college / do I reallllllllllly want to move to the middle of nowhere for classes ?" I know 1st world problems lol.


The a90 is actually a Lexus SC430,

Thilina Piumantha

Fun fact; Max Orido is from NATS. as far as I know, he was a student there. and now he teaches there too. So you'll might remember his Red MK4 supra with the nats logo alongside. arghhh! <3




coudnt tell if it was an r8 or brz in those crazy cars,especially the r34