For as long as I can remember, Japanese tuners have always been looked up to as the leaders of an ever-expanding industry. Even in my earlier days, before the term JDM was being thrown around with reckless abandon, we took tuning cues from the land of the rising sun, whether it was performance or aesthetic. I'll never forget flipping through thick, glossy, often overpriced foreign magazines that granted little more than photos for me to drool over and conjure up images of how cool their parts would look on my car. Some of that luster faded away as the Internet continued to blossom and importers became much more common, not unlike the droves of people who wear Air Jordans (that's how uncool I am, I use the entire name instead of "Js") these days. A brand in and of itself, it now sees public releases on a regular schedule, often purchased by people far too young to have ever seen him play live or on air during his reign of excellence. Realistically, there aren't too many JDM parts that can't be sourced, within reason, if you're willing to pay for the goods and get slapped with the shipping fees. Even with the easier access granted by sources that help to bridge the gap digitally, owning not-so-common JDM goods is still quite special to some, and in most instances, the rarer the goods, the better. What I've found myself questioning, especially lately, is whether there's an unspoken double standard that comes at the heels of parts produced in Japan.
A number of times I've seen small, garage-based upstarts jump into the parts producing business and fall flat on their face just months after their debut. In some cases, the parts are simply inferior, or perhaps overshadowed by a portion of the market brimming with dozens of other options better known to the average consumer. In other cases, the parts are looked at as odd or too far outside the realm of whatever is considered "in style" at that time, and even if the parts are of excellent quality, they might lack whatever it is that people want at that particular time: a certain look, a style, etc. Let's take body panels for instance. Say company X comes up with a set of quality fenders that fit like OEM, but granted more space for wider wheels and tires, and perhaps some venting just before the front doors. Maybe they introduce a lightweight hood to help bring in fresh air and allow heat a path of escape-I'm talking scoops, louvers, everything. Most would probably shy away, and, in fact, they might even use the term rice to describe it as everyone loves to throw that word at any and everything. Take the same idea, but plaster it with a sticker, a badge, or etching from a popular Japanese tuner and you've got something that would have people going nuts, yelling out "function" and "original" almost immediately, as they scrambled to their Paypal to forward funds. The point being, two objects that might be created equally, aside from their place of birth, aren't exactly the same thing in the eyes of many tuning fans. Are we so enamored by anything born in the land of the rising sun that our personal taste meters are pushed to the side in anticipation of owning something that could be labeled as "JDM?"
The truth is, everyone is different and we all see the value in something at a different level. Our individual ideas of what is hot and what isn't so hot are based on far too many factors to even divvy up. I'm not pretending to have it all figured out. I have some uncommon Japanese parts that I had to import, and I quite enjoy, but I also have some all too common, off-the-shelf USDM parts that work just fine. I guess what I'm offering is more of a piece of advice; take it with a grain of salt if you will: Don't be persuaded by lore and hype; choose what's right for you and your build, regardless of its "made in _____" tag. We're fortunate enough to have so much access in this day and age that you can opt for parts from just about anywhere in the world to build your idea of the perfect car. Try to avoid being so blinded by the aura that you pass up on parts that could potentially be a perfect fit for your project.
"Striking A Chord" (Apr. '14) incorrectly credited the car's owner as the photographer. In actuality, the photographer's name is Julian Marrero; all photos were taken and edited by Julian, and we apologize for the error.