A Car Nerd's Guide To JapanAn insider look at car culture in Japan.

As fun as it is doing these driving road adventures in Japan in fancy sports cars, I realize not everyone who’ll be visiting Japan will be able to drive an Aston Martin or a McLaren on the best roads this country has to offer. In fact, most of the roads I’ve been on don’t need a million horsepower or doors that go up to enjoy them.

What you really need is a performance car of some sort, ideally a Japanese one so you can really get into the whole thing. The average rental cars you get in Japan from the usual places are all well and nice. They’re modern, have all the safety and driver aids you’d need, plus they come with English navigation systems—all handy for tourists wanting to explore Japan.

But I know most of you aren’t going to be content with driving around in a Toyota Prius during your time in one of the world’s hot spots for car culture.

That’s where Omoshiro Rentacar, or Omoren for short, comes in. They’ve got what’s possibly one of the best range of rental cars to choose from. You won’t find mundane options here. It’s all cars that’ll make any petrolhead excited. I keep harping on about living your Gran Turismo fantasies in real life and these guys will literally rent you the cars for that.

Amazingly, I first found out about these guys when I was driving the new Honda Civic Type R on Mount Akagi and came across a bunch of guys driving pretty briskly up the road in front of me. I caught up with them at a parking area and found out they were from Hong Kong and had rented out a Subaru WRX STI, Mazda RX-7, and Civic Type R from Omoren for a week to drive on the roads made famous by Initial D.

A few months later the guys at Omoren kindly offered me a car to use for a couple days days so I too could experience their service for myself. Seeing as it all started with a Civic Type R, it was only fitting I got another one. This time it was the FD2 generation—the only sedan-shaped Civic Type R, the last to be made in Japan and the last to not use turbos.

For everyone else, booking a car from them is pretty simple. They have an English website and you simply choose your preferred car or preferred pick up location. They have a few spread throughout Japan. Their main location is in Noda, Chiba, but they also have a few cars located next to Narita Airport, which is perfect if you want to get off the plane and straight into a JDM hero.

Takafumi Saito, who founded Omoren, said they started out with the aim of offering fun and interesting cars since 2011. The name “Omoshiro Rentacar” literally translates to fun/interesting rental car. Takafumi started out dealing with used cars, he reckons in the 15 years in that business he must’ve traded around 5,000 cars. Not a bad track record.

He started Omoren because he noticed most people in Japan only have one car, usually a van-type thing suited for Japan’s narrow roads and carrying families. Takafumi found a niche where he could rent out sporty cars to these people who still love sports cars but aren’t able to own them for various reasons. His next goal is to buy a circuit and allow customers to drive freely there.

They’re constantly updating their inventory, their latest addition is the latest Suzuki Jimny. Takafumi says their goal is to have the most unusual cars in their lineup. The next car that’ll join the Omoren roster is a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4. Quite a big jump from their other cars but it’ll certainly prove popular with their customer base.

Funnily enough, even though the business started out to cater to locals who couldn’t have a sports car, around 70 percent of their customers are from overseas. Takafumi said they’re recently gained popularity in the Asian region through social media.

It’s pretty easy to rent a car from Omoren. Drivers have to be 23 years or above and must have an international driving permit. Once you have those you can pretty much drive anything they have on offer. Their lineup includes a R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R, Mazda RX-7, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, and a Mk4 Toyota Supra. Prices range from 9,770 yen a day (about $86) for an NC Miata to 29,900 yen a day (about $260) for the more expensive cars like the Skylines.

I’ll be the first to admit it would’ve been awesome to have experienced one of those ’90s JDM legends, but maybe that’ll be for another time. In the meantime, I was blown away by the FD2. I picked it up from their Narita location and within two minutes I was in love with it. I had a feeling I’d at least find it fun and interesting, but I wasn’t expecting to come out of it desperately needing one in my life.

I enjoyed the new FK8 Type R a lot and that’s why I was excited to try out an older “proper” Type R, with old-school high-revving VTEC goodness. Last time I did that, I was in my friend’s S2000 in New Zealand.

This had the trusty K20A 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine with 222 horsepower and 159 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed manual. Everything about this car was in the pursuit of the purest driving experience—it doesn’t even have traction control. There’s Brembo brakes, a chassis that’s 50 percent more rigid than the DC5 Integra Type R and independent rear suspension. All in a package weighing just 2,755 pounds.

But the numbers only tell one side of the story. This car gave me one of the best driving experiences I’ve had. Forget all the modern supercars and sports cars—try an old-school Type R at least once in your life. For the first 10 minutes I kept changing gears at around 6000 RPM, forgetting there was still another 2400 RPM to go before the actual redline.

Get things thing above 6000 RPM and it sings. Then VTEC kicks in, yo. You sort of hold on for dear life because it’s such an exhilarating experience. It feels both out of control and totally in control at the same time. Stretch it out until its redline or even past it to 9000 RPM, change gears and start the whole process again. It’s scarily addictive.

Changing gears is a pleasure on its own. The clutch is light and the changes make this satisfying mechanical click. Also it has an aluminum shift knob, and who doesn’t like an aluminum knob?

I could’ve taken this car to a new road but instead I decided to take it to somewhere that was familiar; the Hakone Turnpike. It’s very cliche, I know, but I knew I could have fun stretching this car out to its limits on the uphill sections. I wasn’t wrong, this car was an absolute joy to drive on this famous bit of road. It’s probably as fast as you’d want on a road like this. Supercars are fun to drive but on a road like the Hakone Turnpike you don’t need all that horsepower. A balanced car is more enjoyable, and the Civic Type R is about as perfect as it gets.

It gives you a sort of visceral and proper mechanical engagement that’s impossible to get in cars today. Yes, the new Civic Type R is a brilliant bit of kit, but this is a completely different animal. It actually felt like I was doing some proper driving. No driver aids, no fancy electronics—just me and the car on an epic road.

It even did all the normal stuff well. Okay, it’s not as practical as the normal Civic, since it only has four seats and the ride was a bit bouncy due to that super stiff chassis. I wouldn’t call it uncomfortable but on longer trips it could get tiresome.

But I get it. I totally get why Takafumi saw an opening in the market to rent out these incredible cars to people. It’s a great way to experience these legends without having to own one. Except now I’m seriously considering buying a FD2 because I need that driving experience more in my life.

As fun as it is to drive these cars up and down a mountain road, there are other things you can do with an Omoren rental too. But that’s for next time. Right now I need to go and find some FD2s for sale.

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