Keeping Drift Magic Alive With Hardcore Tokyo

Ah Japan, where the narrow streets are packed tightly with stock kei cars and minivans, each one even more dull than the next. It’s the automotive equivalent of grandad reading the Financial Times on Sunday while wearing beige trousers and eating gloopy porridge.

But Japanese roads haven’t always been this dull. There was a time when carmakers were frantically competing with each other for power, torque and ultimate street credibility.


These days, companies are competing for Instagram follows and Facebook likes, and the majority of cars on the market look and sound the same. There are notable exceptions of course, and we’ll get to that, but let me have a whinge first about how the world has changed.


A couple of Sundays ago, I headed deep into the hills of Gunma Prefecture, to the Gunma Cycle Sports Center (Gunsai for short) to witness what automotive delicacies were on offer in Japan 20 years ago.

This is a Hardcore Tokyo event, and it was far from tame.

Drift events like this aren’t uncommon in Japan, with various circuits across the country holding drift days for amateur and semi-pro drivers all year long. With 99% of the cars being of a certain vintage, it was all pretty nostalgic.


Throughout the 1980s, ’90s and ’00s – and after the top speed run craze died down – drift was king in Japan. But there weren’t any neatly-organised events like we see today. Kids of driving age were out on the streets and deep in the mountains, drifting corners like nobody’s business.


With population density booming during Japan’s bubble period, citizens becoming annoyed and an increase in road accidents – and the subsequent damage to public property that came with it – saw illegal street racing quickly clamped down on. That’s why events like this attract large crowds and sponsors.


It’s pretty unreal seeing these 20 and 30-year-old cars still loved, raced and being constantly upgraded and rebuilt. Unlike today, back in the day there were plenty of rear-wheel drive machines to choose from too. Skylines, Corollas, RX-7s, Silvias, Supras, Chasers and even your parents Crown all had the ability to get sideways with ease.


Also unlike today, there wasn’t much else for kids to do anyway. The internet was basically non-existent and computer games were in their infancy. Books? Not exactly fuel for the adrenaline junkie.


Unfortunately though, all these gas-guzzling, Earth-polluting performance platforms had to be replaced by eco-friendly family cars with greener footprints. Don’t get me wrong, that’s exactly the direction I want the world to be going in, but it seems that engineering and technology have found a way to make the Earth happy and keep enthusiasts happy too.


Take a look at the GR Yaris for example; it’s packing a massive punch from a 3-cylinder engine and achieving 34mpg, something which would have been impossible 20 years ago. Performance will always come at some cost to the environment though; the base Yaris expels 92g/km of CO2 while the GR mini monster churns out 186g/km.


The most popular, if not only modern drift car on the track at this event was the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, but I only spotted two examples ripping it up and didn’t see (or maybe notice) any parked in the paddock area.


It’s not all doom and gloom for the Japanese sports car. The new Fairlady Z looks like it will make for a great drift base – if you have money to sprinkle across the hairpin corners of a Japanese touge-style circuit. You could happily swing a new Supra around a few corners too, but you may want to check your insurance coverage first.


While the old days of secretive touge drifting may be the sport’s purest form, it was – and still is – the most inconvenient, not to mention dangerous. Walking around the paddocks and seeing the stacks of wheels, trolly jacks, tool kits and spare body parts people bring to events like this, I think the idea of standing on a roadside in the dark in the middle of nowhere now seems pretty unappealing.

Some may say it’s too easy now, but I say events like this give drifters a chance to hone their skills in relative safety, and without the constant stress of police interference. Taking drifting off the street and onto circuits like this means that rookie drivers can gain the skills needed to enter the world of pro series like D1 or FD.


It also means that drift cars like the Silvia, 180SX, RX-7 and AE86 can live out their lives doing what they were designed to do – going fast in the most intense way possible, sideways. If there was no longer anywhere for them to race, they may well just end up on the scrap heap, and the magic that surrounds them would fade into history.

That would be a real loss. Because, at the end of the day, drifting is as much a part of Japanese culture as sumo, or the bullet train, or Mario and Luigi.


It’s a sport that has influenced music, anime, manga and fashion in Japan and across the globe. It’s become a mainstream sport internationally not just because it’s a fashionable thing to do, but because it’s incredibly intense to watch, let alone participate in as a driver.


Even on a closed circuit like Gunsai, accidents are inevitable. But the difference between hitting a side rail here and on a mountain side in the middle of nowhere is that help is just a radio call away. Tow trucks, medical staff and plenty of spare tires are on hand. That doesn’t make having an off any more enjoyable though…


Nosing around under the bonnets of old drift cars will always be interesting, and seeing the crews beat body panels back into shape and fix ripped up tyres with nothing more than a crowbar and a blow torch will always be a spectacle. Let’s face it though, the reason we’re all here is to see some smokey sideways action.

But for that, you’ll have to wait for next time. Don’t worry though, I’ve a got a special treat for in store for you. You’re about to get as close to the action as you’ll ever get…

Toby Thyer
Instagram _tobinsta_



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It was popular because it combined showiness and danger. Everything from there is just watered down. Not saying one extreme is better than the other, but that's the underlying "id".

Love the pictures.


So many 180SX's. I never see them in the UK anymore


Last time I've seen one was like 2 weeks ago it had a rocket Bunny kit I think the location was England southport


No way did you live out Japan's glory days... Books were boring? There's a skyscraper filled with MAGAZINES and technical books that predated everyone's first car, especially in Japan. START with Option Auto, make your way to the obscure mechanics diaries pamphlets without pictures or color that taught people how to put your larger but still wrong wrench into a freezer, blowtorch the back of panels and rolling paint cans over empty wheels, and tuning the tuned Solex and Mikuni with fine grid paper.

Car culture is pretty when you have posies in your pockets... But the true tuners, racers, mechanics, collectors, and enthusiast veterans all started with a picture book or two. Sure today a one off hypercar might show up daily driven to your local gas station, but back then clocking a sports car, much less a tuned unicorn, was a rare and dreamy experience. Don't blame EV's either - what people need is "Mobility Solutions" since no one can drive well anymore, what people want is "Popular Lifestyle Products" since taking a chance on a new idea is so scary, and the last true sports cars are Ariels, Radicals, Miatas, 911/718, Camaros, Caddi CTSV/Alfa QV, and a handful of hatchbacks - most of which are German or Korean. Even a Jeep/Bronco has more sports car reality than a new NSX or Lexus or Nissan or, or... Japan has 90% LOST its' story, copying rather than competing, and still in the wake of the wrong Germans (Benz, BMW, Audi, and the wrong side of VW). The proof is in this article.


Sorry to say this, but while the photos are beautiful, the writing is quite bad. Nothing about the cars in the photos, just yet another long and dull piece about how it used to be better in the past. We've read this so many times, written by so many people, it's become boring. Yes, we know about all this, we don't need to be told about it again.


sorry to disappoint, but we've all heard about drift cars going round and round a circuit a million times too.
If you really want some information on the cars then don't hesitate to ask in the comments. Cheers!


It's just that it would be nice to have those mini-spotlights on the cars you photographed. It's always interesting to read how the owners modified them. Maybe you spotted some interesting details that aren't obvious at first glance. It's things like this that convey the atmosphere of the event - because when you're at an event like this, you're too busy finding those details to think about the past and how it used to be better. And I know you can do it like this because you've done it sometimes in the previous articles ;). So anyway, hope no offence was taken and looking forward to reading more of your articles!


No worries Yossarian, there is another story coming with a spotlight on 2 or 3 cars.
I appreciate the feedback!


Using the same cam cover on each side sure is a cool touch on that 86.


Agreed! Double filler caps!


In the end, just be glad people still thrash these cars around the tracks. Problem with the culture now is that everything is "collectible" and ownership is for clout

@StraightR - Japan did lose its way no doubt, that's why everyone flocks to the "golden era" of 80s and 90s JDM. Japan is not only losing to Germans but also to their Korean rivals. Anyone with experience with N products can back this claim up.

Peanutbutter Arbuckle

lol N products, the peak of performance, surely


So many good examples but the hole article i was going back to the top to check 1 more time the mustard S15 on the trailer.
For the circuit side of the story: i agree with you for many obvious reasons from safety of the driver and the unlucky road users if it was on streets, not damaging the streets, having some fix reference points,... but then you have those rich a§§ purchasing houses near the track and sign a petition to close it.


Rip that 350z


It came off a few times, the first time, when it ripped the bumper clean off, it stopped just 2 feet away from where I was shooting from.

Peanutbutter Arbuckle

when your kind start talking about the environment as if hobbyists are the issue it makes me sick
you're bothersome


Your kind

Steffen Hansen

That grey one with the bronze wheels and the N-Style Cusom sticker in the window - it has a Mitsubishi Galant vibe but no pictures I can find comes close.

I need one!


One more "sorry to say" but agree 110% with Yossarian :/
Photos are beautiful, landscapes are intrigued but the text is ... not
I understand, we all have our own views etc but this one like Wörthersee post - "nanimasen?"
Looks like you don't ̶l̶o̶v̶e̶ like cars at all.
And about the money & cars & sports - it always was like that - "if you have money".
p.s. something inside of me told me to apologies for this cruel words, but i will not.


This is extremely common for this author though.

The photos tend to be pretty good but the writing is always atrocious.


Oh thanks!


Sadly, the typical RWD JDM disposable cars that used to cost peanuts 10 years ago, are no longer cheap / affordable for most. Parts have become ridiculously expensive nowadays. Just look at what a 2JZ or a used 6-speed Getrag box costs now. It makes sense to fit a new sequential box, when looking at Getrag prices!
It's hardly affordable for young drifters to make, repair, or upgrade drift cars any more. That Ebisu circuit has turned one of their main drift circuits into a gravel track, kinda indicates Kumakubo the owner & Ex D1 driver doesn't see a future in drift matsuris which were hugely popular, if not bordering on crazy 10-15 years ago.

After a while it would get tiring changing tyres, clutches, breaking half-shafts, etc. The lucky ones didn't wreck their cars, engines and transmissions. Pretty much every drifter I knew back in the day, has given it up...
Driving simulators just aren't a realistic alternative. A bit like having sex with a doll, instead of a real woman, maybe. LOL


Really liking the cars with the scratches, dents, aged.


I can't say too much, but I was a part of a large boom in the Southen California area ~2005-2009. It gets very very wild when people start running cars hard in the mountains. Drift or time based.

With the amount of venues there are now I don't think there is a need to go to the street anymore and think it actually slows the learning curve down if you have access. The difference is that tracks and events cost money which many of us don't have when we are young. It's a tough balance to achieve, but the track is always where the biggest gains happen.

Drifting has definitely changed and so has motorsport in general. A lot of it is about social media now which is very unfortunate. The real knowledge of automotive tuning and driving technique is dying. I hope to revive that with my own channel and content as I believe we have to try and preserve history.

Some people want all of this to go away. I really hope one day we aren't talking about events like this with rose tinted glasses...because they no longer exist. Cool event. Looks like a ton of fun.


The cost of track time is definitely a big factor, well said. If you talk to the older organisers of events like this, they’ll always mention how fewer and fewer young kids are taking up drifting.
Can we check your content somewhere? Sounds interesting !


Absolutely. My user name on instagram is @prodriving_dynamics and my YouTube channel will be launching under the name "Pro Driving Dynamics" next month.

My first video is rebuilding a 2-stroke kart engine with a 9 time US champion.

I actually shot his race car a few years back for you guys and you loved my words, but the photos were too dark. I'm going to be doing a video on his race cars and some other features. Maybe these would be good for "I am the Speed Hunter" features.

I'll try to find you on IG and send you a message. Nice chatting with you! Good article!