The JDM culture took to the US like bread does to butter, and while most people will give credit to The Fast and the Furious movies, the fact of the matter is the JDM culture existed long before then.
According to Revolution, Japanese cars had made their debut in the States many decades before they gained any sort of popularity. While they made their break to the States in the '50s, it wasn’t until the oil crisis of the '70s that muscle cars were virtually wiped off the maps, for the time being, at least. It was then that cars like Datsuns got their chance to shine essentially started the JDM culture that we now know today.
According to Revolution, the JDM culture stayed relevant throughout the years until it exploded after the release of the first The Fast and the Furious movie in 2001 and acted as a major catalyst in the popularity it gained so quickly. And almost two decades later, it doesn’t seem like it's going anywhere anytime soon.
Here are 20 things that you may not have known were true about the Japanese car scene:
Chances are, if you’re a car enthusiast, you've seen all of “The Fast and the Furious” movies at least a dozen times each.
What was a bit disappointing about the Tokyo Drift movie was they had the opportunity to shed some light on the Japanese car culture, and instead, they gave us a watered-down version of what it’s really like.
While girls are known to dress in cosplay costumes, the car modifications are way wilder and over the top than what they showed us on the silver screen.
JDM is an acronym that stands for "Japanese Domestic Market," which, in plain terms, means you can only get it in Japan, and they like it that way. JDM can refer to an actual car or the styling of a car. According to Driving Line, until the mid-'90s, enthusiasts weren’t able to get their hands on true JDM parts and had to settle for Japanese-spec, which is also known as "J-Spec," which are parts made by Japanese companies with the intention to be distributed to other countries. The introduction of the internet made JDM parts much more easily accessible.
While the average person may think that a 240sx is a JDM, a true JDM enthusiast will know that it technically isn’t. According to Car and Driver, the 240sx was sold in the States for roughly a decade, and while it was a watered-down version of what you'd find in Japan, it was technically a 240sx.
The US was lucky enough to get two generations: the S13 and the S14.
While the first year of these gems will be celebrating their 30th birthdays next year, they're still highly sought after by drifters due to their rear-wheel-drive suspension.
Sure, we know that Japan has awesome Tuner cars, but did you know that they also have an insane mini-truck scene? And it was all due to the United States. The mini-truck scene is, unfortunately, a bit of a dying breed in the US, considering there isn’t even a true mini truck being currently manufactured. According to Truck Scene, the Truck Masters Final in Kanagawa is one of the biggest truck shows in Japan, where they've adopted the culture from the West Coast of the US, where the mini-truck scene was born. They even mentioned seeing Mini Truckin’ logos on some trucks!
If you’ve flipped through enough JDM magazines, you'll notice that the license plate that’s white with a red diagonal line across it seems to be the most popular among tuner cars. But why?
According to Japan Car Culture, this particular plate is a kind of temporary plate.
In Japan, they allow cars that are illegal or unregistered to legally drive for a short duration of time, hence why you see Tuner cars with these plates. Wish they would come up with a similar system here!
While movies like Tokyo Drift portray driving in Japan like a dream come true for a Tuner enthusiast, actually, driving in Japan is a completely different story. According to Road and Track, for starters, gas—as are tolls, which drivers are required to pay on almost every freeway—is much pricier. And like NYC, despite the high tolls, the roads are still in terrible condition. In addition to its being expensive, the traffic is the worst of the worst. On top of all of this, Japanese drivers are known to be awful, which is why the traffic is worse than the kind you find in NYC or LA!
While the Civic is super popular in the US, it became so unpopular in Japan that they recently stopped making it for several years. According to the Asian Review, the Civic was discontinued in Japan in 2011 after a lack of sales, which is hard to believe, considering the Civic makes up for 70% of global sales. The Civic began production in Japan only last year. It's crazy to think that a car that's so popular in the US and so many other countries wasn’t even being made in the country it originated from!
The JDM leaf is a popular icon often seen on T-shirts and decals among tuner car enthusiasts in the JDM scene, but what does it mean? According to Car Throttle, the JDM leaf in Japan is called a "Wakaba" but is also known as the "Shoshinsha mark."
It's actually mandatory for new drivers to have one on their cars to indicate that they're new drivers.
A yellow and orange symbol that resembles a teardrop called the "Koreisha mark" is used to indicate an elderly driver. That's something that may not be a bad idea to start doing in every country.
Just because a car is an import doesn’t mean it was technically imported from that country; it just means the company isn’t American.
A report conducted by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association states that three out of four Japanese vehicles sold in the US were also manufactured there.
Japanese manufacturers employ thousands of American workers to work in their factories. And according to Business Insider, Toyota and Mazda have future plans for building another factory in Alabama that'll employ another 4k people!
One thing you should know about Japan is that a majority of the cars on the road are less than three years old. Why is this? According to the NY Times, Japan has some of the highest regulations for used cars. For example, the vehicles must go through extensive testing on its third birthday to ensure that the vehicle is still safe for the road. The Japanese government explains this is an effort help keep traffic from being any worse than it is due to mechanical issues with vehicles. Most Japanese car consumers choose to trade in their cars in before this, hence bypassing all the regulations.
Having a true JDM is a tuner enthusiast's dream. But how do you turn dreams into reality? According to the folks at Jalopnik who had firsthand experience of importing a Skyline to the States, it’s not as hard as one would think. Since Japan requires such strict regulations for vehicles over three years, it's often easier and cheaper to just buy a new car, hence why there's a huge number of used vehicles in Japan that they're happy to part with—for a profit, that is.
Believe it or not, it’s not as hard to import a JDM vehicle into the States as long as the vehicle is at least twenty-five years old. According to Jalopnik, once a car turns twenty-five, it's exempt from all US EPA and DOT regulations.
There are numerous companies out there, like Japanese Classics LLC, that have done the legwork for you and have some cars already imported and ready for purchase.
If you want something specific, these same companies can usually find it and import it—as long as you’re willing to wait and shell out the money, that is. These companies are familiar with the import process and getting your car in compliance with US regulations.
If you think that Japan is giving us the same exact version of the vehicles that they have in their country, then you're sadly mistaken. The truth is the Japanese have parts that are exclusive to them, and this is part of what started the whole JDM craze in the first place. According to Revolution, JDM versions will often have different versions of lights and trim pieces and will, of course, have better engines, making them that much more sought after by car enthusiasts.
We now know that Japan isn’t just about tuner cars but has adopted the mini-truck culture from the West Coast of the US. But did you know that they also have a crazy modified-SUV scene as well? Modified Kei cars have been popular in Japan for many reasons, but what even is a Kei car? According to Autoweek, a Kei car must be less than “11.2 ‘ long by 4.9’ wide by 6.6’ tall with a maximum displacement of 660 ccs and a maximum output of 63 hp.” The regulations are due to the fact that Kei cars get both tax and insurance breaks due to their small size.
Over fifty years ago, the Datsun 510, which was known as the "Nissan Bluebird" in Japan, made its debut in the States. The 510 was a simple-looking car; Road and Track even noted that it resembles what a child might draw if drawing a car.
But surprisingly, souped-up versions of the 510 began beating BMWs and Alfa Romeos on the race circuit, creating quite a stir.
Pete Brock of Brock Racing Enterprises says it was the start of the JDM culture: taking a simple commuter car and adding tuner parts to see how fast it could go. The equation was simple and remains the same to this day.
JDM is a very broad term when it comes to talking about the actual car culture that it includes. The truth is, there are very specific subcultures under the JDM umbrella. According to Revolution, the bosozoku style is known for its over-the-top exhaust systems and colorful paint jobs, mixed with extreme-looking body kits. The Shakotan is where you'll see the stanced cars with wide wheels that have become very popular in the US. Bippu took it up a notch when the Japanese began modifying luxury cars with aggressive cambered wheels like we often also see in the US.
We already went over importing a vehicle that's over 25 years old, but what about a vehicle that isn’t 25 years old? Are they able to be imported? And that answer would be yes, but it'll take a whole lot of time and money.
According to Jalopnik, to import a Japanese car that's below 25 years old, you'll be responsible for getting crash tests conducted to make sure they can hold up to the United States regulations.
This means you have to shell out money for cars you'll crash. In addition, the car must be able to pass all US EPA regulations, which includes installing a diagnostics system in addition to having all the proper safety equipment and a speedometer that reads miles instead of kilometers.
According to the Japan Times, Japan will be replacing their current commuting signs with ones that also have the English translation also located on the sign. This was done due to a couple of factors. For starters, Japan’s tourism has recently hit an all-time high. In addition, Japan will be the home to the 2020 Olympics, and this effort is being done to help with easier commuting for the tourists. High-traffic tourist spots like the airport have already switched to the new signs.
So far, we've learned that it's not only expensive but also pretty dangerous to drive in Japan, but that'll only be your problem if you’re even able to pass your driver’s test.
According to Jalopnik, driver’s education is very expensive, costing up to 4k, and is mandatory for people that want to get their license.
The written test consists of 100 questions, and if you pass that, then, there’s the driven portion of the test, which you must pass by 70% or higher. There are some offenses that'll result in an automatic failure, for example, running over a curb or not checking properly for oncoming trains.
With modifications and cars being so much more extreme in Japan, you'd think that the police would be having a field day writing tickets. But you'd be wrong. According to Road and Track, the traffic is so bad in the cities that there isn’t even an opportunity to speed, as chances are, you'll be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, to begin with. Then, once you get out of the city and are on the famous mountain roads, we see drifters racing in a basic free for all. While there are speed limits posted, as long as no one makes a complaint, the cops tend to not get involved.
Sources: Roadandtrack.com, Autoweek.com, NYTimes.com; Carthrottle.com,