Read any travel guide to Tokyo and they’ll say the same thing: make a trip to Akihabara. Known as Tokyo’s “electric city,” Akihabara is quintessential Tokyo—mad, loud, and thoroughly Japanese. Here, you’ll see the neon lights, the morally questionable maid cafes, and the ever-charming otaku prowling through various anime and manga shops. It’s a hub for Japanese pop culture.
There are far too many ways to spend time and yen here, and I’m not just talking about the arcade games. As a tourist the seemingly tax-free electronics shops are a good reason to visit too. And if model cars are your thing, Akihabara is a solid place to go as well. I might have to do another article on the various model car shops there in the future. I try to avoid those places because it never ends well for me, or my wallet.
What I love about Tokyo is that each area of the city has its own feel and culture to it. Some of the things you see at Akihabara you won’t normally see in other areas of Tokyo. A great example of this are the itasha cars.
For those unfamiliar with itasha, and admittedly I was too until recently, it’s where people decorate their cars with their favorite anime, manga and video game characters. Most nights, but especially on weekend nights, don’t be surprised to see these style of cars driving up and down the main road in Akihabara or parked up on the sides of the streets.
I don’t fully understand it either—without looking too deep into it, I think it’s just a way for people to combine their interest/obsession in anime with their love of cars. It’s one extra way for people to express their interests and themselves in different way.
You may have seen Pikachu’s face on the hood of a Lamborghini Aventador, but the “proper” itasha guys are on a whole other level. So is their underground meeting place.
Okay, it’s just an parking garage, but what a garage it is. I’m not entirely sure if the management of the UDX car park have changed their policy or not, but they used to have a wall displaying all the various cars that have parked here. Last time I visited that wall of photos was gone.
As with the Daikanyama car park, these guys also run a Facebook page showcasing some of the cars that pop up in there. While UDX has become synonymous with itasha cars, you can still find a few random goodies inside too.
It should be noted not all the cars that park at UDX are there for meets; above the three floors of parking are restaurants, shops, and offices. The bottom parking floor is reserved for monthly contract cars, that’s where you’ll find cars like the Ferrari 599 GTO, McLaren 675LT, and Mercedes G500 4x4.
But you can see those cars in pretty much any other district of Tokyo. What you want to spend time looking at are the uniquely Akihabara cars. The photos you see are were taken from a couple of visits during the week. I’ve yet to actually go to a proper car meet here, but I need to at some point.
Regardless, even on a random weekday night you’ll see a few noteworthy itasha cars dotted around the two-floor parking garage. Things like the Subaru Impreza WRX, Mazda RX-8, and Honda Civic Type R are cars you’d imagine would be subjects to these modifications.
However, cars like the Honda Accord Touring (Acura TSX), the Toyota Passo hatchback and the Toyota Wish, which is just a station wagon/minivan, aren’t the first things to come to mind as base cars for the itasha treatment. But it’s certainly one way to brighten up an otherwise dull car. Some have their entire bodies wrapped.
To balance it out there are also a few tasteful JDM classics scattered around the parking area. It’s nothing out of the ordinary to see a couple of R34 GT-Rs, like the Midnight Purple and Pearl White examples here. One of the best cars here was the R32 with the full Calsonic Super GT livery. Does that count as itasha?
It’s not just Skylines though. There was a rather nice yellow Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V tucked away in a corner. The number plate reads “23", and I’m not quite if that was intentional or not. Because you know, that adds up to five.
Cryptic math equation aside, there was also an interesting Mark IV Supra parked next to a blue Mark III. The rear and side looked like a modified Supra, but from the front it was almost unrecognizable with headlights resembling those of a R35 GT-R and Mercedes SLS. The matching alloys and number plate show just how much the owners like attention to detail.
If that’s not your cup of tea, fair enough. There are still plenty of other cars to gawk at. Some of the European offerings from the times I visited included an Audi R8 (I’m hoping he was getting some Iron Man merchandise), a Maserati MC Stradale, and the ever-quirky BMW Z1. The widebody Mercedes CLS and the dark blue E92 M3 on TE37s were a nice little mix of Japanese and European tastes.
Speaking of, classics aren’t in short supply either. The favored hipster-mobile in Western Tokyo is the Volvo 240 Estate, so it was odd to see on around these parts. The Alfa Romeo SZ, Citroen DS and SM, and RUF 911 were equally surprising to see, though these cars were on the contract parking floor.
If those cars aren’t weird enough, for you then what about a Ford Crown Victoria? If you think it’s weird to see one of these in Japan, you’d be right. Nearly as odd to see was the random blue Mitsubishi Jeep in the contracted parking. It wasn’t the car that odd to see, it was more the color and that it was parked on a vertical elevator. This got me wondering what else the owner has.
Outside, there’s no escaping the itasha cars. Randomly, an itasha 911 was one of the few non-Japanese cars I’ve seen in this style. It just goes to show no car is exempt. A quick Google will show other examples such as a Lamborghini Gallardo, a Lancia Stratos, and a couple of Ferraris. I wonder if the guys at Maranello are aware of this.
Don’t be surprised if you bump into a convoy of Mario Karts as well.
Before you ask, no, I have not been to a maid cafe. I’ve always been curious though, but I think I’ll stick to cars.
Ken Saito is a writer based in Japan. A Car Nerd’s Guide To Japan is an ongoing Jalopnik series.