Five Weeks In Japan As An Automotive Tourist

As it is for many, getting to experience Japanese car culture first hand is any enthusiast’s dream.

Whilst many were on their way to Japan to hit the slopes, in January of this year I was rugging up and getting ready to trawl the country for anything car related. Yes, the cliché of a Japanese automotive wonderland trip has been shared a number of times, however in my scramble to find the best way to go about it I struggled to find guidance.

In my 41 days of travel, I was able to leave any expectations behind, having one of the most fulfilling trips possible. Whether it be RWB in Tokyo, or Kaido Racing in Kyushu, the diversity of car culture I came to experience was second to none.

With little to no plan, other than accommodation and a Japan Rail Pass, I began to map out the trip of a lifetime.

2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-12

Tokyo itself is by no means a hub of automotive culture. With most roads either bumper to bumper, or involving a dreaded toll charge, many tend to hang on the outskirts.

However, this does not stop a few.

The best chance of a cool spot in Tokyo was of course Akihabara. Known for its electronics, anime, and all sorts of hobby goods, Akihabara saw both new and old automotive icons cruising the main drag, including an immaculate Kouki Levin and this Aventador SV.

Other good destinations for similar sightings include Rappongi and Harajuku.

2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-34
2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-52

Being the week of Tokyo Auto Salon, it meant that many enthusiasts had flocked to Tokyo for the event. With this, came the annual RWB meet, held in the middle of popular night district Rappongi, the annual gathering saw a record attendance, with countless RWB Porsches on display.

Just outside the event sat a clearly well enjoyed Levin, too.

Beyond Tokyo

Japan has undeniably some of the best public transport in the world. With such regular and reliable services, it is hard to find reason to use anything else. However, in order to see a culture that only really begins outside of the city, renting a car becomes a necessity.

Getting around in our 1000cc Toyota Passo was by no means fun, but it took everything we threw at it, from uphill and snow covered back roads to long stretches of highway; proving to be exactly what we needed.

2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-53

First stop, was of course, Up Garage. Possibly the best Up Garage in Japan, is one of their newer stores, located in Machida, Yokohama. Our visit found the store full of cool cars, and of course an unbelievable selection of parts. This R32 GT-R was having a new set of wheels installed in the store’s workshop.

The outskirts of Tokyo are home to some of the most iconic Japanese tuning shops, including TEC-ART’S, an AE86 specialist workshop, which also houses Keiichi Tsuchiya’s very own hachiroku.

Around 30 minutes further out again, is the home of RWB. Tucked away in an ordinary suburban laneway sat a small collection of RWB cars out in front of an otherwise unsuspecting building.

2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-06

When navigating the backstreets of suburbia, it is almost impossible not to come across what is still a thriving culture. In a quest to find parking for the local Sukiya, a Japanese restaurant chain, we stumbled across a sight that is only normal in Japan, a Liberty Walk R35 GT-R parked in front of a typical Japanese home in the area.

2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-07

Around the corner from this also sat a clean example of a track focused FD RX7.

A Day At The Zoo

From here, we set out for Ebisu, around six hours north of Tokyo.

Being January, it is expected to see quite regular snow once you get this far north, this of course does not stop many enjoying the courses that have not yet been snowed over.

2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-09

Despite it being a relatively quiet day at Ebisu, we were still able to check out many of the cars in hibernation at Power Vehicles.

In between Tokyo and Ebisu are two of Japan’s most renowned circuits; Nikko and Tsukuba. Both of these tracks see events almost every day of the year, so it would be crazy not to swing by and check out what’s going.

We were lucky enough to see an open drift practice day at Nikko, consisting mostly of S-chassis, and a particularly cool FC RX-7.

2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-16

Heading to Tsukuba the following afternoon, we were able to catch the last sessions of a Sunday open class sprint. Again, the variety of cars at Tsukuba was second to none, from time attack focused S2000s to street inspired EG Civics.

Bordering Tsukuba Circuit is an array of workshops – new and old – all home to an unimaginable arsenal of track purposed cars. One of these workshops, K-M-S (Koshimizu Motor Sports) is an original player in the game when it comes to anything AE86, and in particular, time attack.

Doors wide open, K-M-S were extremely welcoming to interested foreigners. Welcoming enough to grab a set of keys and take us out back, uncovering Tsuchiya’s original, early 2000’s N2 machine, as well as their personal, dry carbon N2 Levin.

It Would Be Rude Not To
2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-22
2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-26

Dropping the hire car off in Tokyo, we set out for Hakone; home to onsens, temples, and most of all, some of the best driving roads in the world.

It would only be right to get ourselves a car and hit the touge, so that’s we did. Twice.

Spending a day each, in both an FD RX-7 and a Porsche 911 964 Turbo, far passed the point of surreal. Each car provided a completely different experience on the driving roads of Hakone Skyline and Mazda Turnpike.

Hopping on a Shinkansen, we headed for Nagoya.

In between Tokyo and Osaka, Nagoya can often be overlooked as a go to destination. However, Nagoya is home to the iconic Garage Defend, a GT-R specialist, as well as an extensive list of specialist dealerships and workshops, all of which are definitely worth a visit.

2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-29
2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-30

While at Garage Defend, it is always worth walking a few doors down to their workshop, where there is no shortage of GT-Rs.

2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-31

If you’re a fan of Lotus, Nagoya has the shop for you. Conveniently across the road from Garage Defend is a Lotus specialist dealership, holding almost every model there is.

Undoubtedly a highlight of the trip was the four days we got to spend on Japan’s south island, Kyushu.

Kyushu is home to Kaido Racers, a style that you will rarely see elsewhere. Through a local connection, Mitch, we were able to spend one of our days with locals that refer to their team as ‘Route 202’.

Later on, one of the team members took us to his home, where he showed us his other two, and more reserved, Kaido styled cars. A Z31 built for his son and a GX71 sitting on Wantanabes.

That evening, we cruised into Fukuoka, parking up in the well known Bay Area.

During the five weeks we spent in Japan, we were able to throw all of our expectations out the window, making friends and getting involved in a culture we would only otherwise have seen from behind a screen.

I would implore anyone making the trip, to delve outside of the major cities and dig deeper into a lifestyle that only really begins on the outskirts.

Alec Pender
Instagram: @alecpender


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.

Cutting Room Floor
2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-41
2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-42
2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-43
2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-44
2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-46
2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-47
2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-48
2019 IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER Alec Pender Japan-49


Comments are closed.


by Oldest
by Best by Newest by Oldest

Ha! I recognize those Kaido cars from IG (especially the Z31). Cool to see them here!



As much as I love Japan and it's car culture, and go there myself very regularly, I think that the thing about those articles has been running in circles lately. I mean is it really that interesting to write such a report everytime somebody goes for a few weeks trip in Japan ? It's always the same places (RWB, LB, Ebisu, etc), same themes, etc... Fortunately the pictures are, as always genuinely beautiful, but for the rest, unfortunately nothing new under the sun. You have Dino who's covering that space with excellent in depth stories, so why keep on repeating with articles like this one instead on focusing on more detailed features ? Also kudos for the Fun2drive 964 and FD.


EXACTLY. At Speedhunters they don't take criticism very well.
First like you said, the cover the same shit over and over again. It gets old quickly. I am not talking about this specific article, I am talking about Dino's articles or whoever goes to Japan and cover stale material that has been talked about million times.
Japan offers so much more than RWB, Ebisu, and Daikoku.....but they all fail to look beyond their nose. Then they delete your comment because your criticism is viewed as a hater, instead of actually look beyond those garages and those "famous spot". The audience at the end leaves the site and all those photographer, instead of asking themselves how to improve the site they just say "good riddance"......IMO if SH wants to grow, it has to cover stuff (in Japan and else where) which hasn't been covered before. Otherwise on the long run, like you, many folks just say meh....


We don't delete comments that are critical of what we do, and I had already replied below taking Rick's & Nakagawa's comments on-board before yours, just as a matter of point.

I still appreciate your feedback, however, and I think it's something we have been working hard on putting right this last while to prevent Speedhunters from turning into Japanhunters.

In the last few weeks alone, we've had a custom built E39 M5 Touring from the US, ice drifting in Russia in Ladas, a stunning resto-mod Porsche 912 from South Africa, a 700hp Ford Falcon ute from Australia, King of the Hammers and a look inside Hallspeed, the current reigning Dakar winners, WRC from Monte Carlo, Cars & Coffee from the UK, a stunning Delta Integrale from Canada and look inside Lamborghini's Polo Storico. The only continent we haven't reached in February is Antartica.

For an outlet with limited resources, I think we've done well. That doesn't mean we can't improve, though.


Paddy case in point, my comment above was not well received and got a -1? LOL. Whoever is behind your office's keyboard and takes care of the site can't clearly take constructive criticism well.

Let's talk about the Japanese Automotive culture since this post covers somewhat that:

How many times you guys covered an in-depth feature of a GT300-500 event? Maybe once?!?! (and it wasn't that good either). Maybe you should look into that? How about featuring an in-depth review of a GT300-500 racecar?

How about covering a Japanese rally event? Never!!! Never been covered, why?

How about a true Japanese Gymkhana event, where all this gymkhana trend started, (I am not talking about a Ken Block's Gymkhana spin here). You never covered a Japanese Gymkhana event! Again, why?

In other words, I can go on and on about how you guys just cover what it may seem trendy or companies that sponsor you, that's a clear doing that, you leave a lot on the table. This site, sorry to say it, is not a well rounded site.
If your primarily concern is to gather to high school kids that whore about the hellflush movement and nothing else, by all means keep carrying on. If you want to broaden your sight and grow as a photographer and may want to put in extra work with coverage of events that I mentioned above, (just an example).
And if you are not up to pair in technicality with those events, it's totally ok, find someone that knows about those things.

How about the latest trend within the Porsche community these past few years? While it is GREAT that many people organize such events and Porsche as a brand has increased in popularity, 9and probably boost its sales too), you can't deny the fact that it's getting a bit old to just cover those cars/ events....OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN! Very cliche' and seeing people buying old air-cooled Porsches just because is trendy, it makes me sad that those very people CAN't think with their own head and just follow the mass. There is so much more out there....and you need to look harder if you want to bring something fresh on the table, (i.e. on the site).
With that said, many people stop following your site and quit SH (as a job) for those very reasons, try to mitigate this problem if you care.


Unfortunately, anyone can up / down vote a comment, it's not something we have control over or can manipulate. TBH, I wouldn't get too obsessed over it.

Your suggestions are fair, and I've no problem with them but I do take exception to you saying this isn't a 'well rounded' site. I don't think there are many other places online or in print that cover such a vast variety of automotive related sub-cultures from all around the world as we do.

While it might look simple, what we do is far from it. The logistics involved for even one post involves many people around the world working together. We've published over 14,000 original stories here over the last decade. We don't just re-hash press releases and call it a day, we always do our best to either get someone on the ground or at least put our own spin on it.

It's not easy, we don't always get it right, but we do try and we are always striving to be better. If you think it's as simple as you suggest, then I would sincerely encourage you to have a go yourself and see what you can come up with.

You never know, you might even end up working here one day ;)


Paddy I appreciate your honest answers and I hope you do too.
However, while SH MAY seem to cover a large portion of styles, venues, trends, communities/ clubs and what not, you cannot deny the fact that you guys cover Japan the most and slammed cars the most, (from whichever brand you can't think off).
These days someone would think that Speedhunters in a nutshell could be a clickbait site. Why do I think so? Because often times you guys cover anything but "speed"....the general consensus is slammed or hellaflush, and that's ok.....but then I would revise the name of your site.
Maybe something like, "largest automotive culture" would suit better......
Anyway, thanks for thinking one day I may work with you......but I suck at pictures and DSLR's are not my thing.


I really and sincerely think you should look closer, Alex.

That might have been true a couple of years ago, but even over the last year there has been a huge reduction in 'stance' content. I've just finished reviewing February, and there was only one feature (maybe two) which would be considered an outright 'stance' article. Everything else was either performance, vintage, motorsport, off-road or otherwise. Lots of Japanese content, yes, but we know from the numbers that people love it.

There's a certain irony in that the comments section never correlates to the biggest stories each month, and sometimes the stories which have the most negative feedback in the comments are the most popular with the silent majority. On a good day, our commenters make up less than 0.1% of our overall readership.

Still, I value commenters such as yourself as much as I value those that just read, share and quietly move on.


I kind of have to agree. Not that I don't like the Japan coverage, but as you mentioned, it seems to revolve around the same shops and locations (mostly Tokyo). I really wish we saw more coverage from the other islands of Japan. I'm sure there's a ton of cool stuff to see on Kyushu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Okinawa.


Duly noted.


heck yeah route 202


Did I just saw a 964 "Black Bird"?


Great article man! Hope you'll be writing more this year, especially about kaido racers!


Wow, I've been in Japan for 3 weeks in january too, your trip reminds me very much of mine, with visits in various tracks (no ebisu tho) or random events throughout between tokyo and kyoto/osaka
So nostalgic right now, I've got plenty of car pictures but these are iphone's so not as brilliant as yours


For anyone planning to go to Japan, check out Omoren
They got the best cars you could ever ask for in a rental


I need to go to Japan!


Awesome post, following from Spain is come to Japan someday and see the culture of JDM!!!


Great article and photos man! Just one problem

"When navigating the backstreets of suburbia, it is almost impossible not to come across what is still a thriving culture. In a quest to find parking for the local Sukiya, a Japanese restaurant chain, we stumbled across a sight that is only normal in Japan, a Liberty Walk R35 GT-R parked in front of a typical Japanese home in the area."

Last I checked that kit is from Rocket Bunny.


I love watching those Driving in Japan videos where people roll around Tokyo with a GoPro on the dash.

I love the interesting architecture of Japanese cities, I love the density, I love the fact that they're galaxies of light at night.

That being said, I know enough about Japanese culture that unless I had a Japanese wife, or a job in Tokyo that paid the equivalent of $1MM a year, there's no way I'd ever want to live there permanently.

Visit, yes. Live, no.


It's Roppongi.


Before my first trip to Japan was scared that it wouldn't live up to the hype. Everything I've seen on the internet and movies painted a picture of a culture (not just automotive) that I honestly thought NO place could ever live up to.

Japan blew me away and destroyed my super high expectations of everything. It's a beautiful place and I love everything about it. Keen for another trip soon.


I'm jealous. Japan is a dream vacation for me. I'm hoping to get there in a year or two.


Definitley worth it! Im from Austrlaia so plane tickets are fairly cheap. Me and my friend went and got to experience every aspect. Touristy stuff like temples, shopping, street drifting, street racing, car meets, car shops, ebisu and went to Tsukuba Circuit. We packed A LOT into a 15 day trip. Did it all on a budget too. Including plane tickets, accommodation, food and spending I would of spent a total of about $2000AUD.

One of the best experiences in my life.


I will always enjoy the photos from the shops of Japan whether they are the same shops or different. There are usually different takes on the same shop and experiences. I've never been to Japan and have dreams of going someday. The photos keep my dreams alive. Thank you for the submission


I enjoyed this article and loved the pictures! Job well done. I also think Speedhunters has been spot on with all the cool new content. No complaints here, Great site! Can’t think of another with this type of coverage.


We get the world we deserve.
If we tolerate mediocrity, and the same same stuff every time, that's what we get...

I just watched three sets of Taiwanese tourists make the same two Instagram poses on the same Okinawan beach, one after the other in the space of one hour.
This piece is the same... and we will see it again.

As long as the gullible are driven by likes and whatever instant gratification they crave, the rest of us explorers can find new and interesting places.
Complaining about it is like shouting at the sky.

Instead of hassling same same shop owners (who eventually tire and close for such - Nakagin, Tsukji, etc), treading the same same path, taking the same same photographs, rent a new Hachiroku from Toyota directly and go touge hunting yourself.

There's soooo much more to Japan than cliche...


Where did you rent your car from near Hakone?