Japan has a long, complex and richly-textured history, although driving through its cities and towns today you’d be forgiven for thinking that Japanese civilisation started in the 1970s. That’s about as far back as 99% of the buildings and city infrastructure goes, because anything older has either been replaced or updated due in part to all-too-frequent seismic activity in this country.
Preserving Japan’s fading history is a big problem for its people. Luckily though, classic cars like the S30 Fairlady Z are getting a lot of love all over Japan at garages just like Mizukami Auto in Saitama. I paid them a visit a while back, and definitely got my fix of Japanese nostalgia.
The destructive energy of earthquakes in Japan means houses need to be built light and flexible, which is why you won’t find any 500-year-old stone or brick buildings like you might in Europe. It also means that people want new houses engineered with the latest, greatest and safest construction methods.
Don’t get the wrong idea though, the love of retro and nostalgia is still very strong in Japan. You’re never far from a smoke-filled café straight out of the ’70s, but they’re far from mainstream these days.
There are, of course, pockets of historical areas, especially out in the countryside and in cities like Kyoto. And anyone who visits is able to soak up some ancient vibes at the many temples and shrines that pepper the country, if that’s your thing. For the most part though, it’s out with the old and in with the new.
Classic cars (kyusha) in Japan, however, seem to have dodged a bullet. There are plenty of them around, and with the value of old cars rapidly overtaking the value of many old houses in Japan, it’s not hard to see why.
While no one in Japan wants to fit a new kitchen and bathroom into an old house – tearing them down and starting again from scratch is the norm – thankfully there are shops like this one, restoring and tastefully updating cars from bygone eras of motoring.
At Mizukami Auto, new life is literally being hammered, welded and bolted into Japanese classics. They’ve been in the game for many, many years, having first cut their teeth on the zeroyon drag strip racing Z-cars.
In fact, the main reason I was visiting the shop was to shoot Mizukami Auto’s demo car, a beautiful S30Z restomod. You’ll be able to read all about this stunning machine soon.
Mizukami-san, the man and name behind Mizukami Auto, protested at having his picture taken, but his head mechanic and staff were more than happy to show me around the shop and let me point my camera their way. Off camera, the enthusiasm, commitment and passion the team hold for these old cars is impressive.
It just goes to show how special that cars can be to people all across the world. That some models hold more value in Japan than a family home is staggering. Sure, the kyusha won’t protect you in an earthquake, or order your week’s shopping like your fancy fridge can, but they will bring a smile to your face and make you feel alive every time you get behind the wheel. They are a little part of Japan’s automotive heritage worth protecting for generations to come.
Stay tuned for that S30 feature, but in the meantime check out below some of the cars at Mizukami Auto awaiting restoration or giving up their prized parts to keep other Japanese kyusha alive.