10 hidden Japanese car subcultures you need to know


Japanese car culture is among the most interesting and varied in the world, as the country has long been obsessed with all kinds of models, domestic and foreign. Everyone is familiar with drift cars and standing vehicles, but Japanese car culture is much more than that.

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In fact, there is a subculture that covers almost all types of vehicles. It’s not even limited to cars, as there are groups that proudly display modified box trucks and even old Dodge vans. There are so many different types of Japanese automotive subculture that it is impossible to cover them all in one article. So let’s take a look at a small selection of some of the top bands that aren’t very well known outside of the Land of the Rising Sun.


The name Dajiban is based on the Japanese pronunciation of “Dodge Van” because that is exactly what this subculture is all about. Legend has it that motorcycle gangs needed something to take their bikes to the track and settled on Dodge vans because they were cheap and easy to find.

A biker once took his van around the track for a laugh and thought it was really a lot of fun. More bikers joined us, and this is how the Dajiban culture was formed. Today, it is still a niche group, but has gained international attention lately simply because of its brilliance.


According to Japanese automotive cultureShakotan is a general term used to describe a lowered car, but it is often associated with a particular style of modification. Shakotan style modified cars usually have widened fenders and wide wheels with small rims.

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Another common feature of Shakotan is a front mounted oil cooler, although this is not exclusive to the subculture. The term has also been immortalized in manga series such as Shakotan Boogie, a story about two reductive adolescents.

Against the watch

Many car fans would primarily associate Japanese car culture with modified cars or wildly impractical drift machines, but there is also a lot of very competitive track racing. Time Attack is a popular format for privateers and factory teams because it simply focuses on getting the fastest lap time on a track.

There aren’t really any set rules as to what qualifies as a time trial car other than that it has to be fast and handle brilliantly. The winners of many Time Attack competitions are decided in fractions of a second, so each round of the book will be used by competitors to make their cars lighter and faster than their opponents.


Originally, the VIP style is believed to have appeared in the 1980s, when members of the Japanese mafia began driving large-bodied JDM sedans in an attempt to attract less police attention than a European luxury car. Street runners copied the idea, for much the same reason.

Today it’s all about looking cool, especially since VIP cars are often so low that they wouldn’t be good at street racing anyway. VIP still focuses primarily on JDM sedans, but the subculture has broadened to include big and low sedans from other countries as well.


The Kanjozoku’s name can be translated to give a clear picture of their origins: Kanjo refers to the Kanjo Loop, a section of highway in central Osaka. Zoku means family or gang. Here is the set of runners who focus their activities on the Kanjo loop in Osaka. But, there is a little more to Kanjozoku than that.

They choose to only use Honda Civics for racing, as their nimble handling makes them perfect for taking the Kanjo Loop corners at high speed. In addition, they use a variety of liveries, but these need to be changed regularly to avoid being recognized by the police. The subculture peaked in the mid-1980s, but there are still active runners today who organize illegal street races on the Kanjo.


Rather than any aspect of performance, the term itasha focuses on the design of the group’s cars. Each livery is designed around an anime character, usually a female.

Large, colorful graphics and plenty of LEDs are all staples of the subculture, which has seen some overseas anime fans trying to replicate the style in recent years. With the anime’s rise in worldwide popularity, the itasha style is likely to become an increasingly common sight at racetracks and auto shows around the world.

Kei Truck

The kei class of cars is a very small vehicle designed to be both very fuel efficient and also suitable for the narrow streets of Japanese cities. Kei trucks are basically miniature pickup trucks designed to the same specifications.

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Like any type of vehicle in Japan, there is a group dedicated to their modification. Some kei trucks are built like drifters, some like racers and some just to look cool. Really, it’s more about making something fun with kei truck modding than just sticking to any set of predefined rules.


Even commercial trucks are not immune to the clutches of modders in Japan. Dekotora focuses on the art of making box trucks with an outrageous style, with chrome throughout, plentiful supply of lighting and vibrant designs.

Like many auto cultures in Japan, it’s more about showing off an imaginative creation as it’s about making a project for practical purposes. Still, it would be infinitely more fun to see one on the freeway rather than the usual boring white box truck.


The Bosozoku is a group of underground car freaks who will stop at nothing to make the craziest and wackiest vehicles possible. The discipline involves building cars to shock and indignation, which has resulted in some of the craziest builds in all of Japan.

The group has its roots in the biker gang culture of the 1950s, but since then it has expanded to include all kinds of cars and vans. Many bosozoku modifications are still very illegal, and owners often have to take a wallet full of cash wherever they go to pay the police fines they will inevitably incur.


If out of the ordinary illegal modifications and advanced crawler machines sound a bit too much, it might be best to chill out with kyusha car fans instead. Kyusha simply refers to an old car, usually with slight custom touches like tasteful fender flares or new rims.

The styling can include more drastic makeovers, but more often than not a kyusha car will look more reserved compared to some of the more extravagant styles like Bosozoku. It just proves that no matter how an owner likes their car, there is a subculture that is just right for them.

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