If you want your fill of some of the most unique cars in the world, Tokyo, Japan is where you’ll find them

When you talk about car culture, the first places you think of include Los Angeles, Dubai, London, and just about every city in Italy. Tokyo often gets lost in the shuffle, except that it shouldn’t be. The bustling capital of Japan has one of the most diverse car cultures in the world. Part of that culture can be traced back to the bōsōzoku, a group of biker gangs that emerged back in the 1950s. The bōsōzoku flaunted their outlandish motorcycles and proudly wore the deviants and delinquent labels of which they were given. They rebelled against the establishment, and their counter-culture ways sparked a car culture phenomenon that lives on to this day. The result is a culture that’s as outlandish as it is diverse. I spent a few days in Tokyo for a vacation, and while I didn’t specifically seek out Tokyo’s car culture, it was all there for me to see anyway. From high-end supercars to mind-boggling custom creations, Tokyo, Japan is a haven for any car enthusiast, and in the few days I spent there, I got a first-hand look on why the megacity should be considered one of the premier car culture cities in the world.

Car Hunting in Japan - It Just Happens

TopSpeed Travels: Running Around the Streets of Tokyo, Japan
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I’ll say this now before I get lost in what I have to say later. I wasn’t planning on going car-hunting when I went to Japan last week. I went there with the full intent of enjoying a much-need vacation with the family. Cars were the last thing on my mind, so much so that I didn’t even realize that a brand new Mercedes E-Class picked us up at Narita airport until after it had dropped us off at the hotel. “Wait, that was the new E-Class,” was all I could muster after it had sped off. I didn’t think much of it afterward, either, because all I could think of at that point was drowning myself in a sea of local Japanese food. That was my goal, anyway, with this vacation. Eat, relax, and enjoy the sights.

It didn’t take long, though, for my “car sense” to start tingling. That first night walking along the Ginza district was eye-opening in so many ways. On one side of the street, just outside the Louis Vuitton building — yes, the high-priced brands didn’t have shops; they had buildings — was a red Lamborghini Aventador. I didn’t take a photo of it because I still had no plans of going car-spotting on my trip. Then I spotted a diminutive white roadster parked on the other side of the street. I glanced at it, hoping to make sense of what model it was.

It took a bit of time because I didn’t recognize it at first, but when I saw the front section, it immediately registered. It was a white Honda S660, a sports roadster that belongs in the Kei category that’s unique to Japan.

I hadn’t seen a Kei car in person until I saw the S660, and you can guess what the first thing I thought of when I walked closer to it was. It was tiny and not in the condescending way that we describe hatchbacks as tiny. The S660 was really small, like a small shoebox wearing sports car gear. Now, at this point, I didn’t think of taking photos of the cars because I was still resisting the thought of disrupting my own vacation. Cars should’ve been the last things on my mind, and it was, at least in the first couple of days of my vacation.

TopSpeed Travels: Running Around the Streets of Tokyo, Japan
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The next few days followed a similar script. We went to the Shibuya and Shinjuku districts. We went to DisneySea. We went to Mt. Fuji. All the while, I saw hundreds of cars. Sure, most of them were of the typical Japanese variety. Toyota Corollas mingled with Honda Civics. There were some European cars, too. BMWs, Mercedes-Benz, Audis, Porsches. You name it, and I saw at least a few models from each of these automakers. At one point, I even saw an Alfa Romeo Stelvio, which was weird considering that I didn’t know Alfa Romeo sold Stelvios in Japan. Must’ve been an import, I thought.

My third night in Tokyo is when I lost it. I had seen enough cool cars to make a story about it, but I had no photos to back it up. So, as my family settled in at the hotel after a long day traveling to Mt. Fuji, I laced up my sneakers, charged my phone, and went out on the streets in full car-hunting mode. And, boy, oh boy, I’m sure glad I did. Tokyo, folks, did not disappoint.

TopSpeed Travels: Running Around the Streets of Tokyo, Japan
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Just as I rounded the corner from the street of my hotel, I hit paydirt. A handful of supercars lined up along the busy avenue of 3 Chrome-6-1 Ginza.

The first exotic I saw was a yellow Ferrari F50 with a blue and white racing stripe in the middle and loads of aero kits surrounding it.

I barely had time to go near the F50 when another Ferrari — a red 360 — lined up behind it. At this point, I thought I was in for a Ferrari flex parade, but I was wrong. Instead of another Ferrari, the F50 and 360 were quickly joined by a white McLaren 570S. As if these three exotics weren’t enough for my jaw to come crashing to the pavement, they were joined by a pair of unicorn exotics, the kind that you don’t get to see on a normal basis, even in a place like Japan. The first of these unicorns was a purple Lamborghini Diablo VT 6.0, the last production iteration of the Diablo before it was succeeded by the Murcielago. Truth be told, I’d never seen a Lamborghini Diablo in person before. I knew from the toys I bought and the posters I put on my wall when I was barely old enough to know what horsepower meant. Toys and posters don’t do it justice. The Diablo was stunning up close, and it would’ve taken a really special supercar to upstage it.

TopSpeed Travels: Running Around the Streets of Tokyo, Japan
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Then I saw it. At first, I didn’t notice the exotic that parked just behind the Diablo. Maybe I was too busy taking photos of the legendary Lambo. But I looked long enough to realize that it was a Pagani Zonda. Mind you, though, it wasn’t just a Pagani Zonda.

It was a Zonda Anija, probably one of the most recognizable custom Zondas in the world.

It looked different from when I first saw it on the Internet — the gold headlamps were nowhere to be found, and the nose had a red accent on the tip. But there was no mistaking everything else. From the shape to the color, it was the Zonda Anija. That’s when it hit me. All four supercars that were lined up one after the other wore the same Anija decal on their bodies. Apparently, I didn’t just stumble into a random parade of exotics. I stumbled into a parade of custom-tuned supercars from one of Japan’s premier aftermarket tuners. In Japan, Anija’s supercars roll around town like a pack of wolves ready to pounce on its next prey. Collectively, they’re known around Tokyo as the “Anija A-Team.” It sounds like a pompous name until you see them in person. Then you understand why they call themselves that.

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As soon as I had my fill of the Anija supercars, I moved along and continued my car-spotting adventure. A few blocks after my surprise encounter with the Anija A-Team, I found myself at the Nissan Crossing showroom. It was closed at that time, so I peeked inside to see, you guessed it, a Nissan GT-R inside the showroom. I tried taking photos, but the showroom was dark. There was blue ambient lighting throughout, but it wasn’t bright enough to capture photos from a distance. Then, from the corner of my eyes, I saw the hints of a car sitting on a rotating platform. I turned around, and there it was: the Nissan Concept 2020 Vision GT.

I’ve been writing about cars for more than a decade now, and in all that time, I had never seen a Vision GT concept in the flesh.

Sure, most of them never received the life-sized treatment, and of the few that did, they never get displayed for prolonged periods of time. I don’t know how long the Nissan Concept 2020 Vision GT has been sitting in its platform inside the Nissan Crossing showroom — the concept debuted in 2014 — but I didn’t care. I was immediately transfixed, and no amount of glass or blue ambient lighting was going to stop me from capturing my glorious interaction with what is arguably one of the coolest concept cars in the world.

TopSpeed Travels: Running Around the Streets of Tokyo, Japan
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At that point, I had seen a good amount of supercars and performance cars. A white BMW i8 almost ran me over, too. All I wanted from the rest of that night was to see what a custom car looked like done in typical Japanese flair. I’d seen how Japanese tuners can get pretty out there with their customization efforts, but it’s different when you see these outlandish creations in person compared to seeing them from a magazine or a computer screen. It took a bit of searching — a lot longer than I intended — but I ended up at an exotic car dealership that was naturally closed at that time.

I peeked inside and saw more Ferraris, McLarens, and Lamborghinis than I cared to count, but what really caught my attention was this.

Most of you probably recognize this one. It’s the 1958 Chevrolet Impala that created a storm of attention at the 2018 SEMA Auto Show in Las Vegas, in part because it showcased the artistry of custom painter Takahiko Izawa, who is credited for creating “metal paint” and the art of “engraving” an entire car body through his paint technique. The car had its own section inside the dealership. It sat on a polished rectangular floor and was surrounded by thousands of pebbles. The display had a zen-like feel to it, except the car, which, by virtue of its appearance, screamed for attention.

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For those who are unfamiliar with it, this heavily customized Impala is the creation of Izawa, who worked on it alongside Japanese parts and automotive parts manufacturer Rohan. The showcase isn’t about the Impala itself, but the artistry of Izawa, who reportedly uses a number of stencils to apply and sculpt the painted surfaces on the body of the car. to achieve a spectacular 3-D effect. The result is a car that looks like it was sculpted straight out of aluminum. But it’s not; All of it is paint. It’s even been reported that the metal paint doesn’t fade, yellow, bleach out, or darken from UV exposure. Incredible, right?

Unfortunately, my idea of doing this whole car-spotting adventure at night prevented me from getting up close with the Impala. Not that I would’ve had the chance to in the daytime, but it would’ve been nice to at least be in the same room as this amazing creation. In any event, I decided I’d had enough for one night, though my decision to walk back to the hotel was brought about by sore feet.

TopSpeed Travels: Running Around the Streets of Tokyo, Japan
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The following day was our last day in Tokyo, and as much as I wanted to continue seeking out awesome cars for the whole day, our schedule was packed for the day. One of our stops was Odaiba where the life-sized Gundam unicorn robot statue was located. I’d be remiss if I didn’t share at least one photo of that encounter so here it is.

The highlight of that stop, however, wasn’t the giant robot. I was geeked about it seeing up close, but shortly after that, we stumbled into a place I didn’t know existed. It happened just as me and my eight-year-old nephew were headed back to the train station. Now, I have a good sense of direction when it comes to driving, but on foot, I’m a complete mess.

My lack of direction reared its head yet again this time, except that instead of ending up in a random alley with throngs of street vendors lining both sides of the alley, we ended up in a car museum, called History Garage. I

’d never heard of History Garage until we stumbled into it, but, apparently, it’s an auto museum with walk-through exhibit areas fashioned to resemble specific settings throughout history. From Italian street villages in the 1960s to a small town representation of 1950s America, the museum housed an incredible number of vintage cars and race cars from all over the world. It’s also run by Toyota, which is surprising in it of itself considering the number of old-school Hondas and Nissans that were inside the museum. Unfortunately, we we’re pressed for time by the time we found the museum, so we did what anybody in our position would do. We embarked on a game of speed photo session, taking pictures of classic beauties like a 1968 Honda S800, a 1970 Nissan Fairlady Z, a 1967 Mazda Cosmo, a 1967 Ford Mustang, and two of the most unique cars my eight-year-old nephew had ever seen: a BMW Isetta 300 and an early example of the iconic Messerschmitt KR200.

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We stayed in Japan for almost two weeks, and while I wasn’t able to really dive deep into the country’s rich automotive culture, the brief time that I did was time well-spent. I plan to go back to Japan at some point in the future, and while that plan is partly driven by my desire to drown in a sea of tempura, I’m also going back with the goal of diving deeper into the country’s automotive history. Sure, we know Japan mostly as the home of some of the biggest automakers in the world, but the country is more than just the home of Toyota, Honda, Mazda, and Nissan. It’s also the home of a rich and deep-rooted car culture that probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

Next time, I’m not sleeping on Japan anymore. Next time, I’ll be ready.

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