The Streets Of Saitama: Finding Loopholes In Lockdown

Last year, on an unremarkable day just like any other, I made a decision to act on a dream many years in the making.

I listed my JDM Subaru Forester STi for sale (after a brief moment of madness where I considered shipping it back to Japan), and went about securing a job to support myself in the Land of the Rising Sun. I packed a suitcase full of camera equipment and a few clothes (a ratio greatly favoring the former), and set off.


As the United Kingdom sat on a knife edge over the impending war against COVID-19, it felt as though I was fleeing the badlands to the land of the pure and free.


In my first week, I had to spend five days in a training facility for my new job. Needless to say, my mind was out the window chasing Supras and Imprezas through mountain passes, and eating perfectly preserved tofu at the summit. So after each day of training, I grabbed my camera and set out to do some unicorn spotting on the streets of Saitama.


While the rest of the world prepared to enter an enforced lockdown, Japan was experiencing a carefree spring of free movement and little restrictions or closures. This meant people were still going out for drives, making street spotting a breeze.


What I found soon overtook expectations; car culture was oozing from every corner of the city, even on a school night. From decaying Fairlady Zs to custom VW workshops, and from dinky Honda Beats to R34 Skyline GT-Rs – every corner had some tasty treat to eat up.


However, all of this soon started to feel like a last hoorah, as impending social restrictions loomed on the horizon.


Contrary to urban myth, Japanese people do not share DNA with Godzilla, and are not, in fact, invincible. The country soon entered its own form of lockdown.


Unfortunately, this meant all major motorsport events were cancelled and any chance of meeting up with fellow petrol-heads (especially for the new kid) have all but disappeared.


For me, staying away from the general population is welcomed easily, but staying away from cars is another story. So, during this lockdown, whilst I may not be able to go to events, I have found my own way to keep a distance from other people and still get up close and personal with cars.


In a way, it means I’ve found cars I wouldn’t normally have found, parked up or abandoned on the back streets of Saitama. I’m literally getting on my bike, and Speedhunting for cars everywhere. While so much has been exported to the west, there are still plenty of classics left on home soil.


While it’s been great to get some exercise and explore the back streets of this fascinating country, I can’t wait for COVID-19 to abide so I can buy my own historic JDM turbo nugget.

Toby Thyer
Instagram _tobinsta_


How To join the IATS program: We have always welcomed readers to contact us with examples of their work and believe that the best Speedhunter is always the person closest to the culture itself, right there on the street or local parking lot. If you think you have what it takes and would like to share your work with us then you should apply to become part of the IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER program. Read how to get involved here.



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I love those cherries and sunnies, wish those were easier to get in Europe!


You're literally living out my dream future.


did i spy a BUICK CENTURY wagon with the wood panel trim??

Travis Stewart

I feel bad for that rotting Fairlady.


Man you must have really enjoy your job!
You get to see cool cars quite often!


Great story and amazing photos. Looking forward to the next installment of your adventures in the land of the rising sun


So much to like about this story. The photography is excellent, I love how ordinary cars are featured, the use of ‘whilst’...I hope to see more from your experiences in Japan Toby.

What always strikes me every time I go to Japan is how well they look after their cars. Very rarely do they look dirty, and they always seemed to be so well preserved for the most part. The Volvo station wagon, the Jag XJS, the WRX all left stock and seemingly loved just as they are.


Street spotting in Japan is next level x 1000


Great Pictures.


Some great composition in your photos there. It's making me (second) home sick!


Great idea of continuing to practice your car photography and hunt!

Not sure what it is about red cars but those aways draw to me the most. That first red one is really cool!


i miss the streets of Japan.
thank you for this.

Wesley Spencer

That fairlady with what i assume is Watanabes is on the borderline of being a basketcase. She needs saving soon!