When it comes to tuning shows, the Tokyo Auto Salon is a global institution. That’s not surprising given the fact it’s been around since 1983 and in recent (non-Covid) times has attracted more than 300,000 people through the gates of the Makuhari Messe events center in Chiba every January. But it’s not the only major show on the Japanese tuning calendar.
The Osaka Auto Messe is an event we’ve previously covered on Speedhunters, but it had been more than few years since anyone had made a visit. Given that 2022 marked the show’s 25th anniversary – a huge milestone – I decided to take a trip down to Kansai to see what automotive delights the region had to offer.
Although it’s only around a quarter of the size of TAS, the Osaka Auto Messe still attracts a huge number of cars. Yes, a few of these were unveiled at the Tokyo show last month, but one thing I’d heard the Auto Messe can always be counted on for are wilder creations. The sort of builds I had hoped to see at TAS, but sadly did not.
I’ve got a few stories coming from the event, today’s being a bit of an overview of the different styles on show. Let’s get into it!
The Auto Messe is held at Intex Osaka, an exhibition center with only slightly less overall floorspace than the Makuhari Messe, situated in the Cosmosquare business district. I booked my accommodation in central Osaka, on the same subway line as the Intex, and was lucky enough to get a good deal on a small apartment which was pretty cozy and had jars of gherkins for sale in a vending machine outside.
Taking the Chuo Line to Cosmosquare – which entailed heading out of the city to the port area – took around 30 minutes. Arriving at the venue, I picked up my media pass, had a tour of the press room, then made a beeline for Hall 1.
The first things that greeted me inside the atrium were the latest Super GT cars from Toyota, Nissan and Honda. They’re impressive machines whichever way you look at them, and having them on display in the open plaza immediately gave a more relaxed and open vibe compared to TAS.
What I first found inside definitely caught me by surprise though. I didn’t think Japan was allowed to have a military presence, so I wasn’t initially sure what these guys where doing. As I understand now, the JSDF (Japanese Self Defense Force) takes care of domestic responsibilities on the ground, while the USA is charged with protecting the country in any international situations. I’m guessing these armoured vehicles haven’t seen much action.Moving People In Style
While TAS had its fair share of people movers, it quickly became apparent that they’re one of the dominant species at the Osaka Auto Messe. It’s fair enough I guess, as this is after all a trade show, and vans – from tiny kei units all the way up to full-sized – are very popular. For many Japanese families, these larger vans are something they cannot live without, much like a smartphone.
That means they need to be an extension of people’s lives, and therefore be comfortable, usable, and of course customisable. Many here were more luxurious than my apartment.
4x4s also had a pretty big presence, all selling the dream of the great overland escape.Mighty Mini Cars
There where plenty of kei vehicles on show and I’ll be showing you a few of my favourites in a separate post soon.
This is definitely where Kansai’s quirky character started to shine through, too. There was a distinct lack of bosozoko bunnies at TAS, that’s for sure.The Fast & The Luxurious
The show offered up a decent number of race cars to admire, and the fact that I was doing my shooting before the Friday midday rush and in more open space made it so much easier than the Tokyo Auto Salon.
Kobe Toyopet had their GR Yaris rally car and a circuit-spec 86 on display. The staff were only too happy to open the doors of the former, so expect a closer look at this in one of my upcoming spotlight posts.
I still remember seeing one of Toyota’s Le Mans LMP hybrids (a 2017 season car, I think) flying up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and being totally gobsmacked by it. I love the styling of these endurance racers, and seeing them get filthy over long race distances is fantastic.
Toyota also had their GT3 Concept – which they unveiled at TAS – on display.
And Subaru had their new E-RA all-electric hypercar on show, too.
With its colossal pillars of red, the Mugen display looked very promising from the outside, but the reality was all of one Mugen-enhanced Civic and their 2021 Japanese Super Formula Championship car. Still, it was very cool to see the open-wheeler up close and marvel at the engineering behind it.
I’ll just come straight out and say it: supercars and high-end luxury vehicles really aren’t my thing, especially when they’re modified in excessive ways. The word that immediately springs to mind is chintzy; they look cheap. I do get that many of these cars are built for marketing purposes and shock value often comes with that, but I just don’t see the appeal. What about you?
There are, of course, always exceptions to the rule.
This Design Works AMG GT was one of them.
And the Audi R8-RS from Newing looked pretty sweet, lavished with carbon fibre body panels from Alpil. The customised interior was quite nice, too.
Living in Japan, it’s tricky for me to not be too JDM-centric. 99.999% of people here drive Japanese cars, and I certainly don’t only look for JDM cars to shoot. I like to think I’m badge-blind when it comes to cars I like, and like to go by feeling when I look at, hear or drive a car. I love and appreciate equally an E30 and an Evo; I adore an Alpine and an Autozam. A slammed Beetle on steelies with a pair of denim jeans on its tush will always spark joy.Old World Charm
You know how in a city there’s always that one neighbourhood full of bohemian, creative types? Well, one corner of Osaka Auto Messe also had the same vibe. This is where the eccentric hung out, and of course it’s where I spent a good chunk of my time.
There was a real cross-section of modified cars, from the tuner-style machines you’d expect to see at a show in Japan…
…To those with a style a little more out there. Builds like the Chrysler above are the the kind of ridiculous stuff I was expecting TAS to be full of as a first-time visitor this year. It just goes to show how different Osaka and the wider Kansai region is compared to the generally more reserved Tokyo.The Dominant Lifeform
By the end of my time at the Osaka Auto Messe, it was clear what the most popular style of the show was: stance. Like gaudily-modified supercars, it’s a genre that I still can’t quite wrap my head around.
Before I’m labelled as a miserable hater, let me say this: After a few hours spent walking around confused, I had an epiphany. I realised that there’s a ton of work that goes into making these cars look like they do.
Many of these stance builds have beautifully-flared fenders that wrap around their enormous wheels – but I still don’t know why the wheels have to be cambered out to the point they look like they’re buckling under the car’s weight.
There were rows and rows upon rows of slammed cars, so I’ll let you look through the gallery and meet up with you at the bottom for a few final words.
Well, what do you think? How does the Osaka Auto Messe compare to the behemoth that is TAS? And back on the subject of stance cars, if this is your scene, I would love to hear what these builds mean to you.
I’ll be back soon with the first of my event spotlights.
Usually these trips are an overnight affair packed with shoots, but this time around I had a few days in Osaka. One night after the show, I decided to play tourist and headed into Dotonbori.
As an entertainment area, Dotonbori’s history dates back to the 1600s when new canals were constructed to open up the land outside central Osaka.
Most of the kabuki houses are long gone, but food and entertainment are still the focus of a night out here.
The huge signs are brilliant. Some are originals from the 1970s and ’80s, so you can easily imagine how funky it might have been in those times.
I stopped for some stand-up ramen at one of Dotonbori’s most iconic spots, Kinryu Ramen. It was pretty good, but not a shade on Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen from Fukuoka.
One of the regional delicacies is takoyaki – grilled octopus balls – but I was too full from the ramen to indulge this time.
There’s always next time, though.