It's easy to get overwhelmed with the glitz and glamour of Tokyo Auto Salon. 300,000+ spectators, 800+ cars—it's no wonder why we spend three days of our Japan trip at the enormous show. While Auto Salon continues to attract the masses, there's a growing problem in Japan that we discovered during our visit to Nikko Circuit. Nikko is a small track that's home to many grassroots drifters, and for the last three years, we've been checking out the Super Live drift exhibition that takes place the day after Auto Salon. We feel like a little kid when we're there because we'll see every JDM drift car that we've idolized for years, sliding in tandem around the tight corners of Nikko and going hard from sunrise till sunset. It's quite surreal to experience and also endearing to see every driver have so much respect and love for each other. Year after year, it's exciting for us to watch; however, we can't help but notice a couple of things... First, the event isn't getting any bigger, and the number of cars that attend remains the same. Second, it's the same guys who come year after year. You won't find any young hot shoes or new faces, and this worries fellas in the drift community such as Ueno Takakuni, who owns this beautiful Toyota Levin you see before you.
Ueno wasn't able to drift during our stay at Nikko due to a busted diff, but he is a regular on the track and has been in the scene for 25 years. His first drift experience was riding passenger in an MR2 in the mountains. He admits it felt dangerous at first, but found himself in an AE86, learned the art, and the rest is history. It's been a part of life since then, and he's had multiple Levin projects, a Civic, and even dabbled with a Nissan Bluebird, Mitsubishi Mirage, and a Porsche Boxster in his career. He builds homes as a profession and is a dedicated supporter of the scene, but he confirmed with us something that we've been thinking in the back of our heads for quite some time, "Young people are not interested in cars."
Drifting isn't going away anytime soon, but it is losing popularity among young people in Japan. Sure, people of all ages love to watch, but the chances of us finding a driver at Nikko under the age of 40 was slim to none. It's an alarming revelation but something that guys like Ueno realize and are still hoping will change. He goes on to tell us that he hasn't stopped finding the most satisfaction from drifting and being able to enjoy the cars he's built. The spec on this hachiroku isn't overly complicated, highlighted by an ITB'd 20v 4A-GE, custom coilovers, and Watanabe wheels, but it works and has worked since he built it six years ago. While his AE86 is conditioned for frequent abuse and has logged many hours on the track, it's also very clean and free of any major dents or scratches. It's things like this that we can really appreciate. There's a high level of integrity with each car that slides around Nikko circuit. In fact, it's almost like a man-machine relationship for some, like Ueno. "Drifting a car is like a jet fighter and not an airliner. Damage and tire black mark in the body makes for a more genuine atmosphere. I love my car. My car feels my love maybe. When you're in love with your car, you'll feel a special aura." Very deep, and something the majority of the younger generation will probably never understand in Japan, at least until their phones die.