Opinion: JDM and other silly acronyms

Image credit: sumostance.com.au
Image credit: sumostance.com.au

I’ll not sugarcoat it with a mitigated introductory paragraph. This JDM thing is bizarre.

I do not understand the euphoria behind making one’s car as Japanese Domestic Market-spec as possible. Part of this trend involves getting all the correct parts to make one’s car exactly how it would be if the car was really destined to be purchased in Japan instead of being stripped out like an old paintjob for the Philippine market.

People are paying premium dosh to outfit their cars with things like, say, the Japanese-exclusive premium interior package. However smelly and moldy they turn out being from the surplasans, these passionate JDM-philes will not rest until they Gathers everything they can see, smell, and touch in the cockpit. And then, hopefully, they go for an interior detailing service afterwards.

I sympathize with these people, who wish to improve upon the equipment package that the manufacturer has made available when the car was new. My daily driver, a Kia Carens, was the base model and one of the last UN chassis cars available, so it was a bit of a strip job from the dealership. We wanted a few things that were available from the higher-spec EX model but wanted the 6-speed manual gearbox. So we found a supplier of the OEM roof rail and fog light, allowing the use the car properly and safely on long drives – with a full passenger load, even in inclement conditions.

But what I don’t want to figure out about the JDM trend is the random esoteric artifacts that wannabes slap on their pristine, polished, and surplus-accessorized cars. The Wakaba/Kareha stick-on craze has raged and ebbed like flooding at España Boulevard. But when I see a Wakaba on a Korean car, I want to rivet a dunce cap firmly on the owner’s surely callous cranium casing.

Same thing for those people with those licence plate holders. You know, the ones that have TEIN, GReddy, or other such Japanese performance parts brand on them? The silliness seems surreal when you realize that Tein does not make suspension parts for the car in question, or that the only alleged GReddy part on the car is that plastic appendage partially obscuring its plaka.

And speaking of Japanese mod brands. There are those who are very JDM-specific in their choice of performance mods. They want to turn up the performance to 11, and will not settle for anything else than the finest brands that the land of samurai and sushi have to offer. But since they cannot afford the actual stuff, they buy the fakes.

I admit, I am part of the problem. We sell a popular, local brand of automotive aftermarket wheels whose designs are mostly strike-offs of designs popularized by Japanese wheel manufacturers. I love selling them, as they light, strong, and fashionable. However, I can’t help but feel repulsed when someone calls up to ask for the “TE37/CE28/CR01-copy” and most of the time I have absolutely no idea what those acronyms stand for.

I’d swallow my discomposure while dealing with them. Because I need to make a living – like, duh. Though after giving them the price, they’ll inadvertently jump over to other suppliers, who will sell them even more faithful reproductions of their beloved designs, that retail far cheaper to boot, albeit with suspect quality and safety.

Cribbing because I didn’t get the sale? Alright, fine, I’m petty that way. But these are of the same ilk that look down upon you when you tell them that the car you’re racing with is an Elantra. They snigger when they see this stickered-up boat anchor on Philippine-made Japanese cutlery replica wheels lining up to run a Slalom or Autocross heat. And then they see how the car runs. They amble to where you’ve parked to look at the car’s engine bay, expecting to find a diamond star-studded powerplant.

“Is that a 4G63?” they ask.

“n0, izz pUr KDM y0000!!!!” I’m tempted to retort.

I ain’t no purist, and I’ll stick an EVO powertrain in my Korean car with no hesitation. Except for the money part. Don’t believe my brand indifference?  Check out the car’s Subaru-branded steering wheel and genuine STi strut bar. And yes, the Spoon wheels, plus the “H” badging that looks like the Honda logo but only if you are high on psychoactive medication.

But I’m not gonna be the guy who’ll be trying to make a JDM-spec Elantra, if there was such a thing. I don’t have to dive into the JDM culture trove to fool around with my car. I just have to look at its wrecking yards.

Being a non-Japanese car enthusiast, you would think that the JDM thing is as foreign to me as pork is to my palate. Initially, of course, I thought that this whole scene was driven by the neocolonialist Japanese to conquer the hearts and minds of its former colonies and enemies by rampant commercialization of its homegrown brands of speed and racing equipment. At least that is what my University background begs me to think.

But the reality is, the Japanese are bat manure crazy, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. What other culture would make their heroine in its children’s cartoons so perverted? And that’s not limited to Dragon Ball, I’m afraid.

The Japanese, the most homogeneous bunch of people in the world, came up with that sideways slideshow called drifting. I could not fathom the staid British to come up with drifting. Maybe the Finnish though. They also turned random high-speed excursions at the local expressway into struggles for V-max superiority via the exploits of the Mid Night Club. Incidentally, both wangan and dorifto became part of the anime Parthenon as Wangan Midnight and Initial D, respectively. The women characters in either are less ecchi than usual.

The Japanese are the most motorsports-mad this side of the Asian continent. The Philippines organizes, say, about 30 or so slalom, autocross, and other related motorsports per year. For 2014, the Japan Auto Federation will be having at least 103 gymkhana events all over the country. And given that each event hosts a max of three or four different championships on either local or national in stature, on rough average that’s more than three hundred possible races per year. Tenfold the number of races available there than here, and that’s just for gymkhana.

Would it be fair to say that there are at least a thousand active and semi-active slalom racers in the Philippines? By extension, would it be fair to say that there are at least ten thousand gymkhana enthusiasts in Japan? To be ranked number one on a ladder one thousand rungs long is impressive. But to be number one over 9,999 other people?

Japan’s Number One gymkhana master is Tetsuya Yamano. When he shows the world that he can make a FWD RSX drift, you’d shudder to think of the skills of those occupying the 99 places below him. And check out Japan’s diplomat in the international motorsports arena. Kamui Kobayashi is racing for Caterham this 2014 Formula 1 season, but that don’t stop him from overtaking like the kamikaze pilot that he is.

Are the Japanese demigods in motorsports and in motoring culture? Many of us would like to think so, but the reality is sobering, at least for this guy. When Mighty Car Mods went to Japan to bastardize a Kei car, they saw a car which had a weird exhaust tip design. When they queried the car’s owner why he did so, he replied “Because I like it.” No performance advantage, no cost savings, just no deep reason whatsoever.

Perhaps the Japanese do what they do just for kicks. The fact is, they are so good at what they do, we can’t help but idolize them, their wierd style and kanilang mga trip, their performance parts, and their throwaway premium interior packages.

Thus, I think that this whole JDM thing is bizarre because I feel that many people in the scene are in it for the wrong reasons. If we can all enjoy our cars without aspiring to look a certain way because yun yung uso or so that one fits in a certain clique or group, maybe there will be less superficial, narrow-minded people on the streets. The Wakaba badge probably suits them well; they must be relative n00bs to this car thang. Otherwise they would get and beget something called Respect.

If you’re keeping score at home, I’m not against JDM, I’m against wannabe douchebags who can’t appreciate silly turbocharged Korean race cars. Feel free to vent anyway with your comments below.

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