During my time in Japan I reached out to some veteran car journalists to see what they had to say. One of the people who got back to me was Taryn Kelly – former Speedhunter and the founder of JapanCarCulture.com. A friendly and effusive person, Taryn touched upon topics ranging from the prices of 240Zs in New Zealand (more expensive than in the US) to women in Japanese Underground Culture.
Taryn got her start in car culture like almost everyone else – with the purchase of a car. She bought a Scion xB, and after a hint from her boyfriend, was turned onto the stance community. Pretty soon, she “realized that actually driving cars was cool too” and began documenting her path from absolute automotive newbie to total gearhead on her blog Iheartstance.
While the New Zealand scene is surprisingly strong despite the local laws, Japanese Car Culture always caught her attention. The moment that got her hooked on the Japanese scene was when she found herself convoying to Tsukuba Circuit at 3am in a herd of RWB Porsches. Considering that this was pre-RWB’s explosion in popularity, the whole experience was imprinted on her mind.
Since then she’s heavily modified 3 cars, notably including a drift 240z. In addition, she grew her blog, became a freelance journalist, and joined the Speedhunters team. Recently, she started JapanCarculture.com, a very portal to help people find out about the scene in Japan (especially useful considering how inaccessible some of the events can be).
Japanese Car Culture – Born in the Underground
One of the more interesting things Taryn touched upon was the origins of the Japanese Car Scene itself. Unlike the United States where modifying cars was mostly an individual endeavor, the Japanese scene evolved as underground communities tried to build upon the aggressive look and performance of race cars.
These groups were helped by the low price of cars, affordability of “go fast bits” and relatively lax annual inspections. So when the 90s rolled around and Japanese automakers built amazing sports cars, the scene exploded.
But even more notably, Japan tends to have a rather gendered society, with men and women fulfilling specific and distinct roles. Despite that (and even maybe because of that) strict social code, the rebellious street gangs tended to accept women on the same level as men. So, when the gangs joined car culture, women entered the scene on an equal footing with men – leading to the culture of today where a woman in the scene is just another gearhead.
In other words - seeing a woman driving into a meet generates the same response as seeing a woman on the metro. Unless she's done some outright bold and impressive modifications, of course.
Stay Weird Otaku
In my article on the Mooneyes Street Car Nationals, I mentioned how the Japanese society is okay with people pursuing hobbies to an extreme degree. Well Taryn brought up that idea again, and even gave me a name for it: Otaku culture.
That same ability to follow hot rod culture to its fullest aesthetic end, is what allowed the Japanese street gangs to take racing modifications and push them past their logical end. Considering that, the quite bizarre Bosozoku, Onikyan, and Itasha scenes begin to make sense.
Just take aero kits, drift camber or the oft hated upon sticker culture and push it to the extreme. I’m sure the product would resemble something from one of those three scenes.
How to Succeed in Japan
Taryn finished up the interview with some tips on meeting Japanese People. While her advice is different from mine, I don’t necessarily believe they are exclusionary. She’s found that a lot of people don’t even get a chance to leave Japan, so they are quite curious about foreigners. However, the language barrier between Japanese and English is so difficult that most won’t even try to hold a conversation. So, if you have a trip to Japan somewhere down the pipeline, learning Japanese will go a long way.
Since the interview was done over skype, I wasn't able to personally photograph Taryn's 240Z. Instead, she provided me with these amazing shots taken by Peter Kelly. In addition, if you’re planning a trip to Japan and want to see some cool events, check out Taryn’s site, JapanCarCulture.com.