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Gaijin Car Spotting: East Meets West

When most Japanese automotive enthusiasts imagine a trip to Japan, their visions are probably full of turbo Skylines, drift-prepped Silvias, impossibly low bippu-themed sedans and rare vintage Japanese classics filling the nation's well maintained highways, city streets and interesting alleyways. The truth, unfortunately, is a little more sedate. Without the ability to drive around or connections to make introductions to the shops and owners of these lust-worthy cars, they're somewhat difficult to find. If one is planning a trip to central Japan, and isn't at least somewhat interested in weird little vans, it could be worth reconsidering the investment. The Japanese, at least in the Tokyo metro area, are seemingly dedicated to tall, spacious wagons of all shapes and sizes, from compact kei vans to the large luxurious Toyota Alphards and Honda Elysions.

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When people say there’s no space to park around Tokyo, they’re not trying to scare off visitors from renting cars (it’s not that bad) or brag about how Tokyo has developed around a public transport and walkable city layout (although it was); they’re simply telling the truth. It isn’t until you visit the outskirts of Tokyo that you start seeing privately owned cars parked in places other than expensive by-the-hour lots or parking decks. For example, this Alpha Romeo was tucked away under a home near TYPE ONE in Suginami.

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Across the alleyway was this pair, a matching silver Subaru WRX and VW wagon.

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The alleyways kept gifting us with quirky gem after quirky gem, like this Kuroneko Yamato Toyota Quick Delivery van.

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A few streets away there was another neat spotting; this time a tiny, slightly lowered Honda Capa. The owner can actually be spotted walking up to the car, wondering why two tall white men are taking a photo of his daily driver.

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And around Minamiotsuka, this dark pairing was purely icing on the cake: an all black Chevy Astro in Dajiban styling in front of an Advan-decal wearing R34 street parked as if this was a daily occurrence.

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As mentioned earlier, it’s harder to spot cars as you move inward toward the center of Tokyo, but it’s far from impossible. Excluding the flashy cars that populate Harajuku on the regular, many different cars from all over the world can be spotted with a little luck and a fast camera trigger finger. For example, this blacked out Mercedes A-Class was found in Ikebukuro while waiting to go to Daikoku.

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We also found this all-white Porsche, blasting past commuters on scooters and foot.

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This Jeep Wrangler Sahara Edition looked huge compared to everything else in the area of Ikebukuro Station.

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And this USDM Jeep Cherokee was standing proudly in Akihabara.

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As you move further out of town and into the countrysides, the cars generally thought of as “all over Japan” start to show up. This R34 blasted past on the way to Daikoku, quickly becoming only visible via the iconic taillights as seen in this photo.

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The R34 was closely followed by this familiar tofu delivery AE86, because, of course.

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But one of the coolest spottings was this Toyota Land Cruiser, surrounded by a sea of mom vans and sedans in a shopping center on the way home from Fuji Speedway.

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The sheer size and rugged nature of the build was the antithesis of the pedestrian, round bubbly cars in the lot. It was also the opposite end of the spectrum from this Subaru we followed out to Motegi the day before.

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Speaking of Motegi, this Honda shop is everything you never knew you wanted, with natural patina and a couple white Hondas out front and buried deep in the misty Japanese countryside.

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It's easy to boil down regions and car cultures into their trophy cars, the "childhood poster" cars. That's not necessarily bad, as the vast majority of those cars were either engineering masterpieces, dominant in their racing eras, or have loyal followings that support the marque through their continued love of their favorite model. However, it's always great to get into the nitty gritty, the more commonplace, the average. That was the aim here, to appreciate all the cool, quirky, nerdy cars that the Japanese use every day, but we appreciate purely because we can't get their hands on them in the U.S.

Enjoy even more examples in the gallery below, and let us know your favorite in the comments! And you might be interested in this Japanese engine swap meeting.

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