Dodge Van Life: Visiting Tokyo's Most Unusual Tuning Shop
By now, chances are you’ve heard about Japan’s “Dajiban” scene, the cult movement that has gained quite a bit of exposure online in recent years and is certainly one of the most interesting mixes of Trans-Pacific car culture.
The word Dajiban is literally just the Japanese pronunciation of the words Dodge Van, but it’s used to identify a group self-proclaimed weirdos from all over Japan who modify their 1990s and early 2000s era Dodge Ram vans into tough-sounding, low-riding circuit machines.
Abe Chuuko Kamotsu
The unofficial headquarters of the Dajiban scene is a small shop called Abe Chuuko Kamotsu, which is located in the Tokyo suburb of Komae about 30 minutes from the center of the city. Wanting to get a closer look at the Dajiban lifestyle, we made a trip to visit during our recent stay in Japan.
Mr. Abe, the shop’s owner and founder, previously worked for I5 Corporation, the largest importer of Dodge vans in Japan, before starting his own garage that's specifically dedicated to modifying and maintaining these unusual modified vans for owners all over the country.
Looking around the small garage, you see things that aren’t uncommon for most racing shops: built engines on stands, stacks of sticky tires and lightweight wheels and carbon fiber body panels on shelves.
Only these parts aren’t destined lightweight sports cars or sleek coupes. They're designed specifically for the Dodge Ram Van, and at any given time you’ll find a few of them parked in and around Mr. Abe’s garage.
On this particular day we spotted this bright green machine undergoing some preparation for the D-Van GP, the annual gathering of Dodge Van owners and racers at Ebisu Circuit. The color comes from the Lamborghini catalog, and it’s sporting everything from lightweight windows to Brembo brakes.
The owner of this van hails from Kyushu on the opposite end of Japan, and he’s invested untold sums of money into this once humble Ram Van, making it into a highly personalized and extremely unique hauler that can be fun both on the street and at the race track.
Having worked at I5 for so many years, Mr. Abe says he’s familiar with just about every single Ram Van that was imported to Japan, and the owners are a fun-loving and tight knit family that enjoy this very unusual from of vehicular modification.
After chatting in the shop for a bit, Abe-san took us to a parking lot down the street that’s used for storage and found several more vans awaiting work or their owners to pick them up. Lined up side by side, it was an impressive sight.
So Many Mods
This also where we got to see Abe-san’s personal Ram Van, which is easily one of the most heavily modified examples anywhere in Japan. He’s been working on it for years and helps show customers what is possible with the platform.
Don’t let the worn down paint finish fool you, because underneath its working class exterior is a laundry list of custom parts and one-off touches done over the years, from the coilover suspension conversion and notched frame to the trick side exit exhaust system.
Under the hood sits a worked over version of the venerable 5.2L 318 ci Magnum V8, the most popular engine choice among the Dajiban crowd. While they typically don’t output massive power compared to modern V8s, with head and cam work there’s plenty of potential.
The wheels on Abe-san’s van, and nearly all of the modified Ram Vans in Japan, are eight-spoke RS Watanabes, usually 15 or 16 inches in diameter.
The inside of the van is equally modified, with bits like a Momo steering wheel and floor-mounted Hurst shifter, and of course, there’s the aforementioned 318 V8 right there between the two front seats.
Abe has gone even further with his van, and it also includes things like a carbon fiber grille shell and hood with a motor-operated NACA duct. “It’s like a big toy,” he tells us. From his enthusiasm, that sounds like a very accurate statement.
A Small but Passionate Subculture
While American cars aren’t exactly commonplace in Japan, they have a strong following, from luxury SUVs to high end sports cars like Corvettes and Mustangs. These utilitarian passenger vans and the very unconventional way they are modified are something completely unique to Japan.
Sure, you could go out and buy a sexy, high-powered muscle car or sports car like so many do, but the Dajiban movement is about embracing both the challenge and the weirdness. We just can’t get enough of this uniquely Japanese take on a rather obscure American vehicle.
We should also confess that our visit to Abe Chuuko Kamotsu was also for research purposes, because earlier in the year we were able to score a running 1996 short wheelbase V8 Dodge Van in California for the "can't say no" sum of $200.
Driving Line Dajiban Project? It has to happen, right? Who's down? Stay tuned to see what happens. In the meantime, we want to give a big thanks to Mr. Abe and the Dodge Van Racing group for taking the time to let us stop by and look around.