Ever since I found out about my placement last year, I had been dreaming of living out my Initial D fantasies since my prefecture, Gunma, is pretty much the mecca of a uniquely Japanese form of motorsport called Drifting – or more accurately, touge racing.
A little bit of a history lesson will follow. Popularized by the incredibly popular anime, Initial D, drifting in its current evolution is a highly competitive motorsport where competitors intentionally oversteer their cars, causing a loss of traction in the rear wheels and letting the rear slide out in a controlled fashion around a turn. To a skilled driver, the use of drift techniques can be extremely impressive during a race or skill competition in control.
When most people think of Initial D, they think of drifting around the mountain roads of Gunma. However the word term for the activity of mountain racing is actually called Tōge or Touge (峠?); a Japanese word literally meaning “pass.”
So since the 70’s and 80’s, touge has been a popular past time of thrill seeking Japanese people due to the abundance of long stretches of winding mountain roads. The underground sport exploded into the mainstream due to the popularity of movies like the Fast and the Furious and the aforementioned Initial D.
It seems so dated now haha..
Needless to say, I excitedly anticipated the prospect of getting my own car once I got to Japan and driving around those same mountain roads I had up to then, only seen in movies and films.
Well..this post is a little late in coming, as I have had my car for a full 3 months now. I suppose I should introduce you to my ride, which I have christened “Black Thunder” due to its rumbling exhaust note and the fact that I was eating an icecream bar called “Black Thunder” when I decided this.
It’s a first generation Mazda Roadster, otherwise known as the MX-5 or Miata back in North America. I don’t know what I did in my previous life to deserve this, but I was not only placed in the land of the touge, but MY NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOUR/FRIEND happened to be selling the roadster for the exact amount I had saved up to buy a car. Talk about sublime serendipity.
The car has been a joy to drive and own. It’s got quite a bit of aftermarket modifications so I don’t really feel any need to drop any big upgrades on it. However the best part about good ol Black Thunder is that it’s a convertible! There is no feeling better than cruising the winding mountain back roads 15 minutes away from my apartment on a lazy Sunday afternoon with the top down and the sun beaming down on me.
However when the mood strikes me, I sometimes go for late night drives through the mountains to clear my thoughts and enjoy the spectacular night views. Sometimes, I encounter other like minded auto enthusiasts driving decidedly higher powered RWD and AWD chariots, screaming with the fury of two hundred or more horses. It’s at this point that my Initial D day dreams come full circle as I find myself playing a light hearted game of keep up with much more talented drivers than I.
Here in Gunma, there are a bunch of other JET’s/foreigners who drive sportscars. One of them drives a GTR! Jeez. Anyway, here is the group of us; The Gunma High Octane Club (kind of funny to be part of this club since my car takes regular gasoline).
I think buying a car has been one of the best decisions I’ve made since moving to Japan. Having a car opens up your world so much. Suddenly, you are no longer limited by the reasonable distances you can reach on your bike, or the two directions your nearest train line runs in. You can go anywhere! I plan on driving to the coast of Japan soon, just because I can.
If you ever plan on moving to Japan, get a car. You’ll thank yourself for it. On that note, if you’ve never owned a sports car, buy one. You might just thank me for it.