Whether you’re an automotive enthusiast or just a passer-by, there’s no way you haven’t heard the term “JDM” before. Just looking at the acronym, it simply means “Japanese Domestic Market” cars. In other words, vehicles made in Japan.
These vehicles have been an extremely popular breed of cars for generations, particularly for car enthusiasts and modifiers. Although throughout time, the features and characteristics of these cars have changed and evolved, their ability to be modified hasn’t.
However, the JDM scene represents more than just cars and their ability to be modified – It’s a lifestyle, community, culture, and experience. What makes these cars so special to have an entire culture dedicated to these cars?
History of the JDM Scene
Although the JDM scene and culture cannot be traced back to a specific date, it was during the 1980s that Japanese manufacturers began manufacturing incredible sports cars, like the Toyota AE86. It was then that motorsports and a fascination with these cars began to spread like wildfire.
During the mid-’80s, groups and cultures were starting to take off in Japan, with the group known as the Kanjozoku. The Kanjozoku were a group of people who raced exclusively with Honda Civics. There was also the Yakuza, the famous Japanese mob, who began modifying their vehicles, namely Toyota Crowns in a style now known today as the “VIP Style”.
While Japanese-made sports cars were taking off in Asia, the American market didn’t have access to these cars. American muscle cars and expensive European exotics made up the majority of vehicles owned in this market.
As the ’80s came to a close and the ’90s began, Japanese cars began entering the American market. These Japanese sports cars offered the perfect blend in what the American market loved about their domestic cars, as well as European exotics. Japanese vehicles offered the affordability and low price point of domestic American cars, along with performance stats that matched European cars.
The influence of these 90’s JDM cars is still felt in today’s age, with many of the mid-to-late 90’s cars holding up and even appreciating despite their age. Vehicles such as the Toyota Chaser, Mazda RX-7, and Toyota Supra all hold legendary status in the JDM sphere.
The Fast and Furious franchise starting in the early 2000s is what really propelled JDM cars and culture into the spotlight. From Brian’s famous Skyline GT-R in the first two installments of the franchise to Han’s RX-7 in the third, these films brought JDM cars into the mainstream media and in the eyes of millions worldwide.
It also paved the way for the boom in street racing and meet-ups, which made modifying and tuning even more popular. The Need for Speed games also gave way to the rise of interest in JDM cars to the younger generations of the early 2000s. The popularity of these games spanned several years and featured cars including the Mitsubishi Eclipse and WRX. Again, glimpses into the culture of car modifying and street racing further propelled the JDM scene into the spotlight.
Although these glimpses of the JDM scene pushed the culture forward and into the mainstream, it gave way to a new style of modifications – “ricing”. The flashy cars and insane looks seen in the Fast and Furious series, as well as mainstream gaming, led to the desire to also have cars of this nature.
The “ricing” look consisted of adding extra weight to the vehicle in the form of body panels and kits without any investment in the performance of the vehicle. In other words, investing in the aesthetic look of the car rather than the performance.
How Will The Electrification of Cars Impact Culture?
With these vehicles having a long history of change, both in aesthetic design elements and under-the-hood details, their ability to be customized and tuned had remained. However, with the current trajectory of vehicles and many manufacturers making the switch to electrification, there are questions of whether this will ruin the culture.
The current trend towards electrifying cars means a big shift in the way cars operate and hence, how they can be modified. Not only are these vehicles silent and incredibly heavy, but they have no engine or exhaust!
As far as modifications can go, there are only aesthetic changes that can be made. This limits the customizability of the car, taking away so many of the elements JDM and the wider community of car enthusiasts enjoy. This change can even completely alter the identity of cars that have been around for generations. Mazda’s announcement earlier this year revealed their intention to electrify the beloved Miata MX-5. Unsurprisingly, this brought not only a sense of shock but also a disappointment to the community. The MX-5’s identity lies in its compact, lightweight design. A bulky battery pack underneath the car would change that completely.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly how this new wave of electric vehicles will impact the JDM scene. If many JDM manufacturers continue the route of Mazda and the MX-5, then not only will the legendary status of prior versions of this model be cemented, but its value as well.
The resale value of older generations of the Skyline, Chaser, and other JDM icons have skyrocketed over the years as they become fewer and fewer. The current electrification trend will push their value even further as car fanatics and JDM fans alike seek out the old guard of classic vehicles.
However, what is certain, is that it will change a culture that has been around for generations.
The JDM culture’s rich history, from the streets of Japan to America and now scattered all over the world has cemented it as one of the most influential groups surrounding car culture. Not only are these cars sleek and beautiful, but they also have the performance to match. As such, it’s no wonder these cars have taken the world by storm over the last few decades.
Although it seems like electric cars are here to stay and the future of internal combustion engine vehicles uncertain, what is certain is the brilliant legacy that JDM cars and culture have left behind.