One Man, Many Cars And A Lifestyle All His Own
In the small, rural prefecture of Saitama, Japan, lives a man that many consider the originator of a car culture revolution. Hidden down a small dirt alley amongst radish farmers and quaint traditional Japanese homes is a shop called Mizuno Works. The owner, Shintaro Mizuno, is largely responsible for some of the most iconic Japanese gangster mobiles ever built.
As we made our way out of Tokyo, the most technologically advanced city in the world, and headed into the stark contrast of the countryside, I began to conjure images in my mind of how the shop would be. With every passing kilometer the suburbs began to get smaller and smaller until we were traveling over a dusty gravel road to our final destination - a yard littered with classic J-tin, guarded by a single black dog. Upon seeing the shop my heart began racing and I struggled to wait for the car to become stationary so I could exit.
I sprung from the car and when my Vans made contact with the ground I felt like I had overdosed on crack, died and gone to heaven. Directly in front of me, waiting patiently was one of the best-looking Fairladys I have ever set eyes on. We had a date and she was dressed the part. Devoid of her rear bumper, widened, elongated and finally doused in olive drab, this g-nose is the culmination of parts and knowledge that only Mizuno Works (or one of his customers) possess. This is how Japanese classics should be.
What I wasn't expecting was a double-date but it was clear the lady in green wasn't alone. There were two other cars with which the Z car would share the parking lot. The first was another Z I was already acquainted with, a Pepto-Bismol pink S30 with the number 69 proudly displayed on its body. This was one of Mizuno's personal cars, a drag racer. Less one hood, the L-series engine was completely exposed and covered by uncharacteristic stainless lines, AN fittings and custom aluminum pieces - all to ensure that nothing goes wrong on a zero-yon run.
Hidden behind the pair of Zs was a car that clearly hadn't been danced with in quite some time. The dust-covered golden paint still shimmered in the sunlight, begging to be noticed. "Holy shit, is that a Kenmeri!? It is! Oh god, can I please shoot the Kenmeri!?" were the last words I spoke before leaping from our rental. The Kenmeri is my unicorn and everything about this one was utter perfection, from the decals to the subway rings, this car screams style.
In less than thirty seconds my entire agenda had changed, there was much more afoot on this property than a cookie cutter car feature. My brain had taken on a highly manic state and was going off in all sorts of tangents. Then I heard Jonathan and Tetsu's doors close and I turned around, smiling from ear to ear, and asked if one of them could immediately take my picture with the cars. Just as JW released the shutter a man walked out of the shop and headed in our direction.
He too was smiling, wearing a pair of coveralls with a bright red zipper that couldn't conceal their age. As we shook hands I couldn't help but notice the grease and other stains that had become an integral part of his wardrobe, all trace elements of the countless days of work this man was wearing on his shoulders. It was equally evident that this is a labor of love.
Mizuno-san is really a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to car building. He is a collector, owner, enthusiast, fabricator, engine builder, bodyman and an all-around badass. The respect that other classic Japanese car owners have for this man is astounding but rightfully so. His knowledge and creativity can't be rivaled anywhere. He might not have been the first person to tune cars in this style but he certainly does it better than anyone else. His creations are a finely-tuned balance of aggressive looks and performance, walking the line on the border of good taste and absolute hideousness.