The Japanese domestic market (JDM) is its own beast. A confluence of styles from Japan, the United States, and Europe come together all through the uniquely exaggerated cultural lenses that eschew restraint and mock subtlety. The various Japanese customizing scenes have carved out a unique niche that's immediately recognizable as distinctly Japanese.
Taking cues from racing series of the past (like Le Mans) and sportscar racing or popular Japanese movie series, customizers in Japan have taken design elements and cues from these influences and magnified them through a lens that knows no such thing as restraint. Often tongue in cheek and always with an eye for uniqueness, they've managed to create machines that are immediately recognizable as distinctly Japanese and not likely to be confused with any other car in the lot. No part of the car is left off the fabricator's list, nothing is taken for granted, and even off-the-shelf parts go through a customizing pass before being added to the vehicle.
There's no questioning the skill and craftsmanship that go into these creations that are sure not to get lost in a parking lot, but some of these designs are certainly an acquired taste. To the Western eye, some of the JDM customs are a lot to take in. Here are 24 JDM customs that we'd like to unsee.
24 Micro Racer
In a country no bigger than California and with 127 million people in it, microcars aren't a novelty; they're a solution to a problem. As such, there are a lot of microcars to choose from. Just because you've gone small doesn't mean you have to be subtle, though. This micro has been fitted with an external inter-cooler, a decorative scoop, and a racing stripe that climbs to a roof spoiler. They top it off with a Le Mans-inspired single wiper resting straight up.
23 Datsun Tribute
One of the more outlandish Japanese custom trends is the Bosozoku mods. Inspired by the Group 5 endurance and sports car racers of the early '80s, Bosozoku exaggerates elements like extended front-end spoilers, box flares, and giant wings. During this time period, Nissan challenged competitively under the US brand name "Datsun." The electric-tape logo on the nose of this car, as well as the red and blue fender stripe, is meant to evoke the IMSA racers of the time. This image probably makes Nissan happier with the name change.
22 Chopped xB
The Scion badge was created after Toyota had found out that young people would rather walk than drive a Toyota. Their car lineup included youth-oriented designs meant to be affordable—some sporty and some customizable.
One of the most recognizable cars in that lineup was the xB, a squared-off people-mover car.
While these rolling toasters were an acquired taste, to begin with, this chopped-down design exercise makes that even harder. After the chassis was shortened to make the vehicle a coupe, it's gone from a boxy people mover to a box with hot rod ambitions.
21 Death-Race Toyota
While the idea of Bosozoku is to mimic Group 5, this car seems to take more inspiration from the Roger Corman classic Death Race 2000. This Toyota sedan takes the extended hood and gives it a jagged edge reminiscent of Frankenstein's Corvette. Pity the pedestrian who steps in front of this toothed monster. They've mounted their mirrors all the way at the end of the fenders and then added two fins along the hood to make sure they're completely useless.
20 Super Chrome Dekotora
It's not just cars that have a custom culture built in excess. Inspired by a series of Japanese trucker movies in the '70s called "Torakku Yarō" (translated roughly to "Crazy Truck Bastards"), these trucks get the same 'there's no such thing as over-the-top custom touch. If you're a fan of video games, these trucks might seem a little familiar. In the series of Street Fighter games, they provide the backdrop to a few of the fight locations. Mods can include a wide variety of lights and even lasers, turning trucks into spaceships when the sun goes down.
19 Anime Wrap
Wraps have made elaborate customs even easier to achieve, opening the door to some rather busy car designs without having to add a wing or a ridiculous extended tailpipe.
The exaggerated style of Japanese animation has a lot of crossover with custom car fans, and it's not uncommon to have their designs influenced by them or just straight out become tributes to them.
This one is covered with images from the adult visual novel (a sort of digital "choose your own adventure" comic) "Fortune Arterial" about a kid going to a prep school and finding out one of his classmates is a vampire.
18 Broken-Axle Stance
Stanced cars are like Bosozoku cars in that their look is inspired by race cars, though this time, they're more like modern race cars with their low-slung bodies meant to race on super-smooth race tracks.
To give the Stanced car that low look, they often feature aggressively cambered wheels.
While this is a trend that exists outside of Japan as well, inside Japan, you can see some of the extremes, like this micro car with rear wheels so cambered, it looks like it has a broken axle. Unlike the racecars that inspired this custom trend, these over-the-top mods make the cars almost unusable.
Customized vans saw their heyday in the United States during the seventies when plush carpets and fantasy-inspired murals would adorn the otherwise plain panel sides of otherwise boring slab-sided Dodge, Chevy, and Ford vans. Workhorse vans were cheap for young people to buy, and they could have a rolling hangout to turn anywhere into a hangout spot. While that over-the-top style faded with the introduction of the minivan and other custom trends, Japan has taken Bosozoku to their vans with their lack of restraint. The huge fins are reminiscent of George Barris' Batmobile, a similarity this designer has leaned into.
16 Mirror Bars
In order to get a full view of the area surrounding the truck, it's not uncommon for the large mirrors to be placed on large apparatuses that extend the mirrors out. It's a look common to large trucks born from utility. That utility has been given the exaggeration treatment by putting those mirrors on long forward stalks that extend beyond even the sci-fi-looking cow-catcher front bumper. As wild as this custom is, there certainly is the sense that this customizer has only just begun.
15 Hungry Little Hippo
Promotional cars aren't an uncommon thing. Oscar Meyer has been crafting rolling hot dogs for years, creating a truck image that's arguably more well known than the hot dogs they're meant to sell. These customs can take on some wild forms, especially in Japan. This one is for Kabaya, a make of candies in Japan. For that purpose, they've turned this compact into a hungry hippo complete with eyes above the window and a decorative polka-dot bow. It's not clear that reminding candy customers of a creature known for being fat is a good idea, but the car is kind of adorable—if a bit disturbing.
14 Dekotora Flatbed
Another Dekotora truck—this time, a flatbed. This one features chrome on top of chrome with a side order of chrome.
It's common for Dekotora trucks to have accent lighting, so no doubt, this one lights up at night, using all of that chrome to create an even brighter and colorful display.
Whatever this flatbed carries, it can't compete with all of the oddball and attention-grabbing detail of this shiny truck. There's even a ladder so that the makers can sit on top of their creation.
13 Super Side Pipes
Side pipes are a US hot rod staple. Ordinarily, they run along the side from the front fender to the rear with a grated heat shield covering it for entrance and exit from the car. In NASCAR, Trans-Am, or drag racing, the builder might just jut some short pipes under the front fender with little concern for noise. Exaggerated pipes are a staple of Bosozoku cars, and this Celica is almost restrained in its tall side pipes sticking out the passenger side of the car.
12 Professor Genki
The open-world sandbox game Saints Row is known for its outrageous characters and situations. For the third installment that included Professor Genki, a cat-head-wearing host of a brutal reality show. In the game, Genki has a car that's more reminiscent of a seventies Cadillac, but this fan has built Genki a car with a giant cat façade that's somehow more disturbing than someone in a stunt suit wearing a cat head. Not clipping the ears and whiskers at the gas station has to be a challenge.
11 Spiny Celica
There's an H.R. Geiger feel to this Celica mod with the cluster stamped images all around it. It's hard to tell if the pipes coming out of the hood are supposed to imply exhaust or intake or if it's the halfway point for the car to become a Manga monster. This car embraces the decorative function of vortex diffusers. Meant to smooth the airflow down the back of the car into the wing, streetcars can't go fast enough to make them work. So, he put them at the front and then, put his wing through a shredder, for some reason.
10 Flat & Wide Supra
The Toyota Supra started off as a performance package for the Celica. Eventually, the Celica GT reclaimed the performance Celica badge, and the Supra became its own beast. That early Supra has its followers.
This one has upped the performance looks far past the point of reasonable.
The long front spoiler and the wide bolt-on flares are Bosozoku standards, but this one has gone a step further by adding wide running boards alongside the pale green Supra.
9 Box Flare
Group 5, as a racing category, had been around since the '60s, but it wasn't until the 1976 season that it got its distinct look. By then, the category only required the hood, the roof, the doors, and the rail panels to be stock. What wasn't mentioned in the rules was the grey area that manufacturers filled with panels and wild body styles that eventually inspired Bosozoku and Kaido cars. This car embraces the boxiness of the cars with squared-off box flares and a sharp NASCAR wing.
8 Takeyari Side Pipes
There's no clear consensus on where the wild side pipes of the Bosozoku cars come from. There are some stylistic constants, however. They're long, and they're welded and not bent to give them a sharp-angle look. A lot of them are removable for times when they only want to look slightly ridiculous. The tops are cut at angles that resemble bamboo shoots, so they're often referred to as 'bamboo spear exhausts.' This one has combined the Takeyari exhaust, the Bosozoku box style, and the stanced wheel clearances into an unholy combination of outlandish custom styles.
7 Clown-Nose Microvan
When Volkswagen introduced their iconic Micro Bus, they billed it as a station wagon. The idea, like that behind the Fiat Multipla, was to fit as many people in a small package. This concept is alive and well in Japan with nods to those early Micro Buses with the diving V front end. For this one, they've added three red dots that give the car the appearance of a strange rose-cheeked clown. For an extra level of disturbing, the smiling facade is also hung from the car's rearview mirror.
6 Chopped and Stanced
The whole point of stanced cars is to get them low and lean. Once you've got the ground clearance, the only way to get lower is to use an old hot rod technique of chopping the body panels down. While this car is more stanced than Bosozoku, it has the extended hood. The chop has managed to eliminate the grille and headlight mounts. They've also gone with the external oil-cooler look with raw wiring, juxtaposing the unfinished look with a smooth paint job.
5 Little Kinda Jeep
When Willys designed the plucky little Jeep for the US war effort in World War II, it wasn't clear how iconic the look would become for off-roaders across the world. The slat grille and box fenders became instantly recognized as a symbol for a pure off-road machine. That look has been mimicked in other off-road vehicles. The "FJ" in the Toyota FJ stands for "Fuel Jeep." There's a DJ that the US didn't get that runs on diesel. This tiny little city mobile gets the Jeep dress-up look but the smooth road tires give away this car's true use.
4 Winged Toyota Van
The advantage of the custom van culture is that the modifications can be divorced from any notion that they do anything. While the Bosozoku cars or stanced cars are an exaggeration of the racing look of Group 5 and sports car racing, the vans are just canvas. The wings are just part of the tapestry of odd that the van encompasses. With the wide-bottom body kit and the wings, this custom van seems to imply that with a touch of the button, it might turn into something that could fly.
3 Can You Hear Me?
It's hard to tell, unless you read Japanese, what this car is promoting, but whatever it is can't undo the disturbing images created by a micro car with giant ears.
Promotional cars, generally speaking, remind people of products or services.
However, what giant ears promote can't be worth it. The English text along the bottom indicates it's for the Tokyo Motor Show in 2011, so likelier candidates are for stereo systems or a company that listens rather than for a cotton swab. Whatever it is, it can't be unseen.
2 Part Van, Part Pickup, All Crazy
Attaching a pickup bed to the back of a van isn't a new idea. The sixties saw this phenomenon adopted by manufacturers with the Econoline and the VW Transporter both offered as pickup versions of the more popular van. This custom hasn't stopped at just mashing pickups and trucks together. It has all the crazy body styles of Bosozoku with stanced wheel clearances and the excessive neon from the Dekotora trucks to create a "greatest hits" of mad car design.
1 Disco Prime
In Japan, the Transformers originally were a series of unrelated toys that changed from one thing into robots. It wasn't until a Marvel Comics writer came up with the names and stories to release the toys in the US that they became the Transformers that we know today. The leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime, has a distinctive red and blue color scheme that this Dekora has adopted. At least, with this design, we don't have to wonder where the trailer goes when he transforms.
Sources: Autotrader.com, bosozokustyle.com, cardomain.com, speedhunters.com