If there are three things that Japan is best known for, it’s their food, popular culture, and their cars. Japanese automakers are responsible for some of the most reliable, longest-lasting and best-selling cars ever made, and are regularly doted upon by critics and drivers.
However, while most of what Japan puts out there can be described as ‘conventional,’ there are a few acceptations to that rule. Amid all the Corollas and Civics that roll out of the factories every year, there are some rides that defy all explanation. While some have managed to come to our shores, there are those that will always stay in Japan, simply because they’re too weird to exist anywhere else.
10 Nissan Juke
We’ll start this list with a well known eyesore. First released by Nissan in 2010, the Juke was the company’s attempt at producing a head-turning crossover. While they succeeded in that respect, the jury is still out over whether or not this was a good thing.
The Juke’s polarizing design turned many perspective buyers off, and is regularly called one of the ugliest cars ever made. Other than that, there’s nothing all particularly spectacular about the Juke, as it’s really just a run-of-the-mill crossover with some flashy accents.
9 Subaru Baja
Part truck, part sedan, all weird. The Baja bares a resemblance to the Ute, a type of car/truck hybrid that is extremely popular in Australia. Such cars have never caught on elsewhere, so it’s strange that Subaru would even consider the Baja at all.
Maybe they wanted to capture some of the spirit of the Chevy El Camino? Who knows, but either way, it’s one of the weirdest Japanese cars ever to make it to American shores.
8 Toyota Previa
Back when minivans were first becoming successful, Toyota decided that it was time to enter the market. However, they weren’t going to follow established trends and make some boring people-carrier. So, in 1990, Toyota released the Previa, a rear wheel drive, mid-engine van that resembled a giant potato.
The design decisions were questionable from the start. Why on earth would you make a mid-engine mini-van? In addition, the van’s design was divisive, ensuring that every mom who owned one would instantly stand out at the local soccer meetup. The Previa was discontinued in North America in 1999, but is still in production in Japan, and newer models still look like spuds.
7 Suzuki X-90
No matter how you look at it, the X-90 is a goofy-looking car. Produced between 1995 and 1997, the X-90 was Suzuki’s attempt at cashing in on the rising popularity of SUVs. Meant to compete with the Toyota RAV4 and Geo Tracker, the X-90 tried to cut a niche for itself in the compact off-roader market.
Unfortunately, the X-90 just didn’t have what it took. With only two seats, it was less practical than the RAV4, and it was painfully slow and underpowered. The X-90 sold poorly and was discontinued after only two model years.
6 Isuzu VehiCross
Before the Juke, the VehiCross was the extroverted crossover to end them all. With a design that could be described as intentionally outlandish, the VehiCross vied for attention during the SUV hike in the late 90s. While it never caught on, much like the X-90, the VehiCross did benefit from a more powerful V6 engine that exerted stronger off-road capabilities. The VehiCross actually received pretty decent reviews during its tenure, though it never reached mainstream appeal, and was axed in 2001. Isuzu exited the US auto market shortly thereafter.
5 Toyota Sera
Produced between 1990 and 1995, the Sera is another weird Toyota that doesn’t make sense. On the outside, it looks like a standard coupe, until you open the doors, and find out that they open like the ones in a Tesla Model X. That’s right, the Sera was one of the first cars to have butterfly doors, a feature mostly seen in supercars or other sporty luxury models.
And that’s about the only thing the Sera has that’s worth mentioning. While it may have the doors of a Lamborghini, it runs like a slug, with a four cylinder engine that’s just over 100 hp. While you don’t need a lot of horsepower to have fun in a car, the doors make it look like Toyota was trying to distract you from how basic it was.
4 Autozam AZ-1
Produced by Mazda through its subsidiary Autozam, the AZ-1 is an example of a kei car. In Japan, the term applies to any automobile with an engine that is 660 cubic centimeters or smaller. They are usually small and underpowered, but they are also exempt from many of the taxes and regulations Japan imposes on larger vehicles. They are popular in urban areas like Tokyo, where parking is limited, and their good gas mileage makes them ideal for city commuting.
The AZ-1 is an example of a mid-engine sports kei car which, like the Sera, features butterfly doors. It was produced between 1992 and 1994, and resembles a Ferrari that was left in the dryer for too long. It is easily one of the cutest sports cars we’ve ever seen, with its round, puppy dog eyes and rearview mirrors that look like ears. Who’s a good little car?
3 Nissan S-Cargo
This thing looks like what would happen if the Pope Mobile and a Fiat Multipla had a baby. The clown car to end all clown cars, the S-Cargo was released in 1989. Inspired by quirky French buggies of the mid-20th century, the S-Cargo was made with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Even the name, S-Cargo, was intentionally meant to rime with escargot, which many of you know as that dish the French make with snails.
While it was meant as a joke, the S-Cargo is still the most charming car on this list. We could see it being used as an ice cream truck, or something that a Yuruchara would drive around. And we bet that there’s at least one of these things out there that’s been painted yellow and made to look like Pikachu. There’s no way that can’t not be a real thing.
2 Mitsuoka Orochi
This monstrosity was given the pretentious title of ‘fashion supercar’ by its creator. It is one of the ugliest cars to come out of Asia. Named after an eight-headed dragon from Japanese myth, the Orochi is more likely to generate confusion rather than fear. With a curvy grill and big, bulbous headlights, the Orochi looks like something a villain would drive in the Joel Schumacher Batman movies. Obviously prioritizing style over substance, the Orochi was polarizing when it was first released in Japan, yet it was still produced between 2006 and 2014, so someone had to have bought them.
1 Daihatsu Wake
If you thought the first-generation Scion xB was boxy, the Daihatsu Wake would ask you to hold its beer. Seemingly inspired by the design characteristics of a cinderblock, the Wake is another one of those kei cars, this one being an example of what is often called a microvan. The Wake, which is also sold as the Toyota Pixis, is apparently taller than most of its peers, which is easy to see from the pictures available. While that may make for better headroom than its rivals, we can’t image that the Wake would be particularly safe. It looks like it could tip over in a windstorm, and take a corner too fast, and you’ll find yourself at your own ‘wake.’