Laid back and intense. That’s probably how I’d best describe the two Asian countries I shot in earlier this year. Malaysia, for all its bustle and energy, has a very laid back car culture. Perhaps it’s the constant heat and humidity. Cars are driven hard, tuning done to a high level (within the often limited budgets Malaysians have) and you never get the impression that this is anything but a passionate pursuit. Yet, cruising around the different car spots I visited, I never got the feeling of intensity I got in Japan. Do as much as you can with the money you’ve got and have fun.
It showed through everywhere. From the pits at the MSS meet at Sepang circuit, where you had some of the most expensive tin-top racing machines around…
…but some decidedly relaxed pit crews…
…to the, ahem, lassaiz faire attitude to safety at Speed City, where I got to see some street-level drifting. Nothing was taken too seriously.
I think the most serious it got was when I visited ATS Automobile in the massive ‘Car Heaven’ tuning complex. But then, when you’re dealing with R35 GT-Rs that cost several times even Australian prices due to import taxes, I suppose you have to be serious.
Compare that with Japan. Now, I’m sure plenty of you have been there and experienced this for yourselves, but if you don’t know, when the Japanese get into things, they get into them hard. Like, harder than any other bunch of people on the planet. I’m not sure why this is, it just seems to have always been a Japanese trait. From the dedication required to make the perfect samurai sword back in the day, to the focus the Japanese take now when looking after or tuning a car, nothing is more intensely focussed on a subject than a Japanese obsessive.
It shows through in so many car culture areas, too. For example, when I shot at Tsukuba Circuit, I was stunned to find the entire track lined with F1-level fencing (visible above). Tsukuba is famous, yes, but it’s not an F1 track, so why the fencing? Safety. It makes life hell for the photographers, as we have to either shoot from the marshals stands dotted around the circuit or the tiny gaps in the fence left for our lenses to poke through, but it’s a part of life if you shoot there. Japanese obsessiveness.
Of course, this intensity is most visible in the cars people call their prides and joys. Shooting Sevens Day straight after Tsukuba, I struggled to find anything that wasn’t perfect. From the lightly-tuned…
…to the ex-RE-Amemiya show cars, almost nothing showed signs of neglect or haphazard workmanship. Everything was thoroughly thought out and well-executed. And of course used only the most famous parts. The Japanese would not dare use knock-offs or no-name components.
The funny thing is that, like the rest of Japanese society, there are hilarious incongruities, too. Like the lack of safety vests at the Tsukuba meet. Before we registered, we were told we’d get vests upon sign-in. When we signed in, we were told no-one had brought vests that day and we could just walk around in our t-shirts and shorts, as long as we had a media pass around out necks. This later got me in trouble as I had stupidly worn a green t-shirt that day (how Dino went I have no idea), but this, ‘She’ll be right’ attitude in an otherwise intense atmosphere came as a bit of a shock.
When I got down to Kyushu, I found more evidence of both this intensity and extreme lack of concern. Shooting the Iwashita Collection, I noticed the obsessiveness with which Mr Iwashita collected and laid out his museum pieces.
However, he kept almost a third of his collection in a decidedly non-hermetically-sealed, dust and moisture-filled warehouse.
Yet, Japan’s extremes, for better or worse, are part of what makes it great. Similar to how Malaysia’s laid back culture makes it a great place for a holiday. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I look forward to going back to both places to shoot.