A massive “underground Fast and Furious” style gathering, the Fresh Tokyo Car Meet was easily the most exciting event I attended in Tokyo. Adding to the energy, the event coordinators only published the location 48 hours so that the social media scanning Japanese Police wouldn’t shut it down.
Despite the short lead time on the location, it seemed like every tuner, their mother and their grandmother brought their best, built-to-the-max cars.
To put it another way, take “many”, multiply it by “a ton” and add a dashing of “several” on top, and you get close to the number of modified cars that were there. The DECKS Odaiba parking garage was nearly full by the 8PM start, and the 1 kilometer walk to from the train station to the garage was lined with the cars that physically could not fit inside.
And the quality of the cars was absolutely mind blowing. The vast majority had ripped out the several deeply buried parts and replaced them with better, power gaining, versions. But beyond the technical work, the variety of cars on show showed the sheer diversity and imagination of Japanese Car modifiers.
But I think more importantly, this meet was steeped in symbolism. From the location to the event itself to the cars that participated, everything about it was a throwback to the illicit underground Japanese car culture of the 90s. And if I’m not overreaching – could also be the last gasp of the car mania that dominated the island 30 years ago.
A Blast from the Past
The meet took place on a man-made island in Tokyo bay called Odaiba. Back in the early 90s the construction of Odaiba was a highly emblematic project representing a future forward Tokyo that had shed all its insular, foreigner unfriendly, seclusionist mannerisms.
See Odaiba was created by joining a series of Daibas or cannon islands. These islands were built back in the late 1800s to keep Commodore Matthew Perry from attempting to re-open trade with Japan via America’s Gunboat Diplomacy (Gunboat Diplomacy essentially means point a bunch of guns at them until they agree to your demands).
So, by planning an island over these Daibas that would house and provide employment for tens of thousands of people in relatively advanced fields, the Tokyo government was rolling out the welcome mat for the world. Couple that with meteoric growth of the Japanese Economy in the 80s, and Odaiba was more of a swaggering, self-confident “come here, because we are the future!” rather than a gracious welcome.
It’s a mentality that seems to fit absurd cars coming out of Japan at that time, and not coincidentally, the vast majority of cars that night were modified versions of those older, crazy, 90s era Sports cars.
So if you looked at the right angles, or stood in one of the herds of AE86s, you could convince yourself that you were back in the late 90s.
The Last Gasps of an Era
Mosey on over to Dino’s excellent article about the meet on Speedhunters, you’ll read about all the negative impacts and angry press the event got.
But the fallout from this event stretched beyond just that night. There was another meet planned for the next night in the DX Parking garage in Akhibara, Tokyo – most likely featuring the very ̶w̶e̶i̶r̶d̶ interesting Itasha cars. Fearing a repeat of the DECKS Odaiba meet, the Police arrived there 30 minutes beforehand and closed the entrance to the parking garage, giving the meet 0 chance of proving itself to be a normal event.
The truth is, while this illicit, underground, Fast and Furious style car meet was one of the coolest things I have attended in my entire life, I don’t think there is space for this sort of activity in car culture anymore. Car modification is sort of in a tough place now, stuck between a generation who is driving less and a public who couldn’t see autonomous cars come faster.
So, more now than ever, custom car culture needs good press and disrupting the public just so we can live out our automotive fantasies is not the way to get that.
You can see more photos on the Native Customs Facebook page.