American x Japanese Car Life at Kadena Air Base

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Let’s get rid of this little fact first. After nearly 30 years of living in Japan, it took me that long to get down to Okinawa.

What was I thinking? How is it possible? The truth is, I don’t even know. I guess whenever I went on vacation or took a break, I always traveled to another country and indulged in a true out-of-Japan experience. But a few weekends ago, a bunch of very cool guys from the main island of Okinawa showed me what this special part of the Japanese archipelago has to offer. I really missed something.

This isn’t the first time Speedhunters have ventured to Okinawa, but regardless of that, I wanted to experience it for myself. And I crammed a lot into my short trip.

I want to start with a small gathering that was kindly organized around my visit. Two things made this meeting unique.

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The first being that he was held inside the largest US Air Force base on the island, Kadena Air Base.

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The super cool guys at 18 FSS have combined forces with the team that runs the Shogun Auto Car Center – basically a serviced garage that US military personnel stationed in Okinawa can rent space to work on their cars – and got us granted access to their premises.

It was a particularly important factor here, because of the second thing that made this gathering unique – a powerful typhoon was rapidly approaching us, ready to make landfall in the middle of the competition.

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But luckily the gusty winds and gloomy skies didn’t bother us until later in the night, meaning the first half of the rally was outdoors.

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We met at one of the main gates where, as a civilian, I needed to be checked in by someone who had access to Kadena Air Base. Driving along the massively wide roads in convoy with the first batch of cars that showed up was pretty amazing.

No matter how many times I visit a US military base in Japan, the immediate visual difference as soon as you set foot inside always has an impact. But nothing could have prepared me for Kadena. The best way to describe it is from tiny, cramped and cramped Japan with its organized chaos, overcrowding of power lines and overgrown vegetation to, well…Texas! Huge spaces, clean and meticulously manicured fields and hedgerows, and very American looking buildings – it was a totally surreal experience.

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However, at the same time, you are never far from remembering which country you are in!

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It didn’t take long for most of the parking spaces to fill up, so it was a good time for me to take a closer look at what had come up.

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Let’s start with a truck that we just don’t see much in Japan, a GMC Typhoon. It was quite amusing to see this, given the weather heading our way.

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This particular Typhoon sits on Corvette C4 wheels and sports an interesting pair of fender ducts. Extra points for those who can guess which car they were pulled from…

Of course, the defining feature of the Typhoon is its engine – a 4.3-liter V6 with the added benefit of a single TD06 turbocharger. All four wheels are driven by a 4-speed auto, which is why if you saw one on the internet, it was probably thrown hard on the drag strip.

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The coolest detail had to be the vintage Motorola car phone on the dashboard.

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I can’t be the only one who thinks GMC should make a retro version of this unique truck, can I?

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Sticking with the American theme for a bit, check out this cool Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z.

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Under the hood of the third-generation Camaro is a small-block 5.7L with an output of around 250 hp. It’s the boxy look of the race car that makes this car special, and of course the soundtrack of the V8.

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And if you’re tired of the lack of power, there’s always the 634ci crate engine good for 1,000 hp that Chevy sells…

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I like a tidy Nissan RPS13, and this was a great example. Not only has it been well restored to OEM++ level, it is also driven daily.

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Yokohama AVS Model 5 models look great, and check out the “SR20DET Twin Cam Turbo” decal—a Nissan dealer option from back in the day that the 180SX owner recreated because they’re virtually impossible to find these days.

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I was able to drive this silver Toyota Chaser JZX100 the day after the competition so that I could discover a garage and a collection of cars that I will soon share with you. I’m all for the simple approach – stock body, decent lowering and TE37.

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A few non-military cars were also invited to the meeting, including this airbag-equipped Subaru Impreza WRX.

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My love for boxy ’80s cars was tickled with this super clean R30 Skyline, which you’ll see more of in a moment.

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A meeting in Japan is never complete without a kei car and this Suzuki was making its best race car impression.

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It wasn’t long before the sun began to set and a light rain began to fall. Although more and more cars kept coming, it was everyone’s cue to migrate inside.

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Meanwhile, I took a quick peek into the Shogun Auto Care Center shop, which is regularly stocked with all maintenance essentials.

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If you don’t want to work on your car yourself, this facility actually employs its own mechanics who will do it in the garages outside. It is impressive to see how American military personnel are supported, even when stationed in other countries.

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The Shogun Auto Car Center recently underwent a nice full makeover, which included five new car lifts in the DIY area.

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It wasn’t long before the main workshop was filled to the brim with an impressive selection of machinery.

Turns out I met the owner of this ER34 Skyline GT-t in Hawaii in 2014 when I covered a Fatlace show there. He has since joined the military, sold his Acura (which you can see at the very end of this article) and is now stationed in Okinawa.

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He slowly builds his Sanyon, after first taking care of the exterior and some custom paint and airbrushing under the hood. Engine and performance are next on the list.

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The car looks great sitting on a set of RAYS Gram Lights 57CR wheels.

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As mentioned on Speedhunters several times before, US military personnel stationed in Japan are issued “Y” license plates for their personal cars to differentiate them from local civilians. The ‘Y’ replaces the usual hiragana character used on regular plates.

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It didn’t take me long in Okinawa to realize that I had to visit this place as often as possible because there are so many interesting cars to photograph.

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Cars like this JZX100 Toyota Chaser, which is well executed throughout.

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The most surprising thing to me was the fact that it came packaged, running an Air Lift Performance system with the compressors and reservoir neatly installed in the trunk.

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A white Evo on white Enkei Tarmac wheels will always be there.

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It was fun to chat with some of the owners and learn about the story behind each build, which to me is still the best thing about car culture anyway.

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I also thought it was cool for the US military to connect with local enthusiasts and invite them to events they host on base.

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A quick look outside and we would thank all of our stars for the stunning indoor venue. As you can see the weather was pretty miserable at this point in the night.

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As I mentioned, I have more Okinawa features coming soon. In fact, you can see two of them in this photo.

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I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped make this night at Kadena Air Base so special. The hospitality extended to me was amazing.

That said, I’m really looking forward to heading back down to Okinawa, hopefully with more cooperative weather next time.

Dino Slab Carbonare
Instagram: dino_dalle_carbonare
[email protected]

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