Since launch in 1997 as one of the world’s first e-commerce marketplaces, Rakuten’s wheels have never stopped turning. Today, the company is a global internet services leader spanning more than 70 businesses, each connected by Rakuten’s drive to empower communities — from sports fans, to followers of Asian dramas, to Japan’s passionate auto lovers.
To celebrate the recent launch of Rakuten Car, an evolution of Rakuten’s multitude of automotive services that is sure to rev up those car communities, Rakuten Today took a look at some standouts from Japan’s unique automotive history and its subcultures, from supercharged, lowrider scooters to Batmobile-inspired vans.
Made in Japan
Japanese cars are renowned the world-over for their quality and innovation. But this wasn’t always the case. Following World War II, Japan’s car manufacturers were in dire straits, with Toyota nearly going bankrupt in 1949 and only producing 300 vehicles in 1950. At the time, they were often derided as cheaper copies of their North American and European counterparts. Yet 25 years later, Toyota would become the top import brand in the U.S.
In the decades that followed, Japan solidified its image as a nation that consistently produces well-designed and reliable vehicles, while occasionally reminding the world that it can also produce showstoppers (see the Honda/Acura NSX, Nissan GT-R, Toyota 2000GTand Lexus LFA, for starters.) But even though few of us will be laying out $400,000 for an LFA, these cars are still what we’d call “mainstream.” It’s when we start to look at some of the evolutionary branches of Japan’s automotive scenes that things get truly interesting.
Drifting, the technique of sliding a car into a corner and then launching out at speed, became a “thing” in the 1970s when legally dubious street racers in Japan began employing the technique on Japanese mountain roads as they’d race to the top in search of the best times. It grew in popularity and eventually became a sport in its own right when Japanese car magazines began hosting drift competitions in the mid-80s and continues to evolve as a sport to this day. But drifting truly earned global attention when it was featured in the 2006 Fast and Furious franchise movie, Tokyo Drift.
Scooters: Express yourself
Drifting further from the mainstream, we find Japan’s remarkable custom scooters, which seem to be the offspring of America’s custom motorcycle and lowrider car subcultures. These two-wheelers are often lowered to within only millimeters of ground clearance and featured glitter paint jobs long before glitter exploded into a global phenomenon. And while some of the best drifting cars still allow their owners to go about their daily lives in relative anonymity, these scooters are head-turners that scream individuality.
Interested in joining the custom scooter club? Rakuten Car’s auction service site has an array of scooter options to get drivers started — where they end up, the only limits are their imagination.
Vanning: Mobile weekend warriors
So, what happens when you like custom scooters but also want enough space to drive your kids to school? You get a van, of course. Then you customize it. And then you customize it some more. And then, when you run out of space, you customize the parts you already customized. It’s hard to imagine, but once you take a look at this Jalopnik gallery on Japan’s extreme vanning culture, you’ll understand that we aren’t exaggerating. We counted no fewer than 12 fins on some of these vans, but our favorite has to be the Batman-inspired van, complete with full-size Batman and a meta miniaturized replica of itself.
While Rakuten Car can help owners book vehicle inspections, wash and coating services, tire mounting and more, life-size Batman dolls are sold separately.
Decoration Trucks: The Dekotora subculture
It may be hard to believe, but custom vehicles in Japan get more extreme than even the batvan. Enter decoration trucks, or “dekotora” as they are called in Japan. If you’ve ever watched the Electric Light Parade at Disneyland and wondered what it would be like if the Aladdin float was driving on the highway, well, that’s essentially what dekotora are. Ironically enough, even though dekotora are probably the most extravagant and eye-catching vehicles you could ever see on the road in Japan, they are probably the most widespread and practical. While some are just for hobbyists, many dekotora are actually working vehicles owned by private trucking contractors.
There is a well-known expression in Japan that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down, but it’s clear that some nails, especially customized ones covered in neon and glitter, have managed to outrun the hammer. If you are visiting Japan and would like to explore Japan’s custom car culture, you might enjoy a stop at Up Garage in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward or visit the Rakuten Ichiba marketplace, where you are sure to find something that will interest you.
Rakuten Car: A place for the automotive enthusiast
Today, car owners in Japan are increasingly looking to the internet to support their automotive needs. Rakuten Car was created to bring many of Rakuten’s existing automotive-related services under one umbrella, making Rakuten Car the one-stop-shop for consumers looking to purchase automobiles, compare and book vehicle inspections, wash and coating services, tire mounting, find Rakuten Point-affiliated gas stations, or request used-car assessments and auctions, among other services.