JDM. A term that’s caused more drama and intrigue amongst the U.S. import movement than any other. Whether it’s positive or negative, this trio of letters hangs over every inch of our community. Deciding if it is good or bad depends, of course, on whom you ask. While Stateside builders often spend countless hours combing over websites and flipping through foreign reading material in search of something, anything, outside the realm of commonplace in an industry chock-full of clones, a tight-knit community in Japan is busy doing the same…sort of. Their focus, while somewhat similar in terms of simply sourcing hard-to-get automotive goods, is lost in translation when explained to a Stateside Honda enthusiast. With some of the most well-known, legendary tuning firms right in their own backyard, why look to the U.S. for inspiration? Probably for the same reason that we look to Japan for parts and build ideas. Essentially, most simply aren’t satisfied with what they have available locally, and are dead-set on getting what others can’t.
Takeshi Kobayashi is a man who can get things. Based in Sendai, Japan, he’s built a business dedicated to importing USDM OEM and aftermarket goods for a growing community within Japan seemingly obsessed with building cars that represent the U.S. Honda enthusiast style. His company, Type_K Autosource, supports an ever-increasing, loyal customer base that can’t get enough American style and culture. Sound familiar?
After meeting Takeshi in person at this year’s Wek’Fest event, I caught up with him via email to discuss his company, his Honda history, and the USDM movement in Japan…
Rodrez: Hello from SoCal Takeshi! Give our readers a little info about your company.
Takeshi: Hi Rodrez! My shop is Type_K Autosource; I specialize in providing USDM parts to customers in Japan. My company was started around 2002.
Rodrez: Beyond the USDM goods, do you import parts from other countries as well?
Takeshi: No, actually just from the U.S. market. I love the U.S. (especially California!) very much, and that is basically what my business stands for. It exists because of the USDM scene in Japan.
Rodrez: Japanese Honda enthusiasts who enjoy USDM parts seems to be a growing movement. Why do you think this is happening?
Takeshi: Actually, American car culture has been enjoyed from the days of old. Muscle cars, trucks, lowriders…all the American-style cars are available here in Japan, but sometimes not suitable for our roads because of size, and because of high car taxes. Building USDM-style cars is something different from traditional Japanese car culture, yet the cars are still suitable for daily driving. Many of the pioneers made cool USDM conversion LHD cars, and now kids are trying to follow this style.
Rodrez: How long does it usually take before a new U.S. trend arrives in Japan?
Takeshi: We rely a lot on the Internet. It’s easier to adopt a trend from the U.S. if we can see pictures. But if we see a tech article written in English, like from Honda Tuning magazine, it takes time for us to understand what it says since we’re not good with English—ha-ha! If it’s something simple, like for example, the low-offset wheels, we can translate the tire and wheel specs and understand right away.
Rodrez: Tell us about your personal car collection, past and present.
Takeshi: Well, my very first car was a Toyota Starlet, then I bought an ’86 Toyota Landcruiser. But my first Honda was an Accord Aerodeck. I was 19 years old when I got it, and ever since then I’ve always had at least one Honda in my collection. Overall, I’ve owned maybe 20 Hondas in my life. Currently, I have a USDM ITR, my wife’s LAGREAT (U.S. Odyssey LX conversion), and a USDM ’05 CR-V LX.
Rodrez: You import parts for Hondas obviously, but also Toyota and other carmakers. For your customers, is Honda the most popular?
Takeshi: Yes, definitely the most popular when talking about the USDM scene in Japan. It’s because in the U.S. there are so many aftermarket parts available for Hondas—much more than Toyota or Nissan. There are plenty of aftermarket brands here in Japan like Spoon, Mugen, Honda Twincam, Backyard Special, but those are mostly aimed at speed with strict circuit racing products.
Rodrez: That’s the most interesting aspect to Americans—the fact that our enthusiasts seem to be on the hunt for these hard-to-source Japanese tuning parts, but many don’t realize there are Japanese tuners looking for the U.S. goods that we take for granted. Somewhat ironic, don’t you think?
Takeshi: Yes, however, in America, there are many options for parts made with “style” in mind, which appeals to the Japanese tuner market. For us, these products are much cooler than any JDM parts. Around the late ’90s, Japanese kids were going crazy with Xenon and Kaminari aero kits, and in early ’00 we used to rely on Wings West aero, Axis and TSW wheels with crazy paint jobs. That style became normal on streetcars in Japan, which was shocking at first.
Rodrez: How big is the Honda community in Japan? People often say the Nissan and Toyota communities are much larger. Any truth to that?
Takeshi: Yes and no. For our scene that is all about USDM style, Honda is still the biggest name. There are so many good examples from the U.S. But tuners who don’t really care for the USDM scene, there’s maybe more of them that prefer Toyota or Nissan. In Japan we have so many different car style followings. If you’re talking about drifting, Nissan is the biggest. VIP or big sedan style is mostly Toyota and Nissan. VIP minivan is Toyota, Nissan, and now Honda is becoming very big in that scene. Euro-style Japanese cars are mostly Toyota and Nissan as well.
Rodrez: What would you say has been your best-selling item?
Takeshi: The factory nose mask was by far the best-selling item maybe four to five years ago. Because we don’t have those in our culture, it makes a person’s car look very USDM. Right now it’s been a mix of USDM and JDM concerned parts selling well. Small stuff like tow hooks, lug nuts, LCAs, decals, etc.
Rodrez: You often travel to the U.S. to attend major events like Eibach Meet and Wek’Fest. How important is that for your business?
Takeshi: It’s very important because I always want to catch up with U.S. trends. Customers want to know what the trends are like in the U.S.. So I need to see what’s new and what’s hot. Also, I try my best to get stuff faster than any other Japanese company, and I try to be first about informing everyone about what the latest trends are.
Rodrez: The massive earthquake that rocked Japan in March has been devastating, and the entire world is watching. How was your company affected, and how are you dealing with everything now?
Takeshi: The earthquake hit the city of Sendai, and the tsunami hit the seaside of Sendai City, but my house and shop are located near the middle of Sendai. It shook so hard, but not much was affected. All of my USDM car brochure collection and the Civic and Integra model cars made by my customer fell and broke. Some boxes fell to the floor, but nothing more than that. At the time of the quake, I was located near seaside at a model house gallery next to the outlet mall. My wife, my two kids, and I were on the second floor of a model house. While talking to the sales people, the earthquake hit and shook the house so hard! The salesman told us to get out of the area because a tsunami was coming. We got into my wife’s Honda LAGREAT and tried to leave, but with the power out, there was traffic everywhere. After we got out of the area, the tsunami came about 20 minutes later. I googled photos around the outlet mall, and it’s a tragedy to see all of the destruction.
Rodrez: We’re glad you and your family made it out safely. Getting back to the USDM movement, tell us a little about the USDM Jam. What’s it all about, and what are people aiming for at these events?
Takeshi: The USDM Jam was created by my friend, Tetsuya Yamagichi of Yamaz Stores, and it’s for people who love American stuff very much. It’s like a big car meet, but not only the car parts; they love anything from the U.S. This year, USDM Jam (Version 8.0) happens in April. Everyone has a different perspective, but they all have America on their mind. Some rely on U.S. wheels or aero, and some even feel American spirit from simple things like In-N-Out packaging! It’s different for everyone, but the goal is to represent American style and culture.
Rodrez: Your shop is literally packed with parts and products at every turn—it looks like you’re running out of space.
Takeshi: Yes! My first shop was even smaller (ha-ha)! I need more space to stock more USDM stuff. My customers are requesting bigger items and more of it. I need a bigger shop and house in the near future, so I can carry more products.
Rodrez: Tell us about something that you never imagined would sell so well.
Takeshi: About eight or nine years ago, I sold a bunch of JDM parking permit decals on eBay. They sold so fast, one right after another. And about three or four years ago, I sold so much ’88–’91 Civic wagon stuff here in Japan. Nose mask, taillights, sidemarkers, and emblems. Most of those are discontinued now, but people are still demanding it. Honda, if you’re listening, please make EF generation OEM parts again!! Lol.
Rodrez: In the U.S., there’s a lot of “hating” and fierce competition between Honda enthusiasts. Do you see the same thing in Japan, or is the culture so different that these types of attitudes are nonexistent?
Takeshi: Well, we are all human, whether you’re American or Japanese. Maybe not quite as much in Japan, but there’s still negativity even on the forums. Here we have a forum called 2ch.net, and my customers tell me from time to time members will write things about me and my customers’ cars. They might say, “Those cars are not cool,” and things like that, but I don’t go on there or worry about these things. Competition is natural.
Rodrez: Is there a big used market among the USDM Jam fans? Over here a lot of parts are bought and sold in the forum classifieds; how about in Japan?
Takeshi: Not so big over here. If someone wants to get discontinued cars or car parts, they need to go with used, but most Japanese want cleaner parts, so they always try to get brand-new parts, even for older cars like the EF generation. We don’t have many forums about our USDM car scene, so online classifieds aren’t too popular in Japan. Most of the USDM fans try to get parts from shops that specialize in importing U.S.-spec goods.
Rodrez: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us and shedding some light on a community that most American enthusiasts were never aware of.
Takeshi: Thank you!