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How Lowrider Culture Arrived in Japan

This is part one of a series about Chicano influence in Japanese culture.

Not only are Mexico and Japan at opposite ends of the world, many of their respective cultural nuances are completely misaligned. However, against all odds, a few curious guys in Japan became fascinated with Chicano culture, and were able to successfully export it to various “urban” circles throughout the country.

One of those guys, known as the founding father of the lowrider scene in Nagoya, goes by Junichi Shimodaira. Growing up, he used to watch a TV show in Japan that always featured a peculiar looking car. He later learned through some research and the arrival of Lowrider Magazine in the 1980’s, that the car he saw was called a lowrider.

Soon after this discovery, he started watching American films like Up in Smoke and found other west coast magazines – it was then he knew he had to see it all for himself. So, in 1987 he packed his bags and flew to Los Angeles, CA to immerse himself in lowrider culture. He couldn’t speak much English, but he found the right people (who gave him the west coast co-sign), took a lot of pictures, and became intent on bringing the unique culture he witnessed back to his hometown in Japan.

When he got back to Nagoya, Junichi opened up a shop called Paradise Road – home of the Pharoahs Car Club. Shimodaira is both the owner of the shop and the president of Pharaohs. The shop is filled with various auto parts and memorabilia, and the walls are scattered with lowrider imagery and stickers from East LA. In the garage, Pharoahs members work on imported classic cars, repair and restore them for Japanese roads.

The craftsmanship required in lowrider culture is one of the main aspects that bridge the gap between the two vastly different cultures of Japan and East Los Angeles. In the Japanese imitations, traditional craftsmanship and handmade quality are on display in every model. Their attention to detail is what sets their cars apart from even some of the highest quality lowriders on the west coast, which is the same aspect that set the original lowriders apart from the rest of the car scene on the streets of LA beginning in the 1940’s.

Because Chicanos have always been a minority, they were never able to express their social and political beliefs the way most people do, so they did it with their cars and fashion. Instead of trying to emulate Chicano culture inauthentically, Japanese people have paid homage and revered it through cultural expressions like their unique style of lowrider vehicles.

Through their interest in lowriders, the much larger world of Chicano culture was opened up to the Japanese, and it began to permeate in ways no one ever expected…

“We connect in the way they express their opinions, love their crews, family, and work hard on the things that they love. In my opinion, this is what brings the Chicano and Japanese cultures together.” -Anonymous

This is an ongoing series…to be continued. Photos by Mark Riccioni.

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