Love it or hate it, illegal street drifting is a way of life for many in Japan

It’s Saturday evening and the lads and I are at a loose end. Usually the streets would be alive with the screaming of street drifting, tortured tyres, and clouds of tyre smoke wafting across buildings. At roughly 2am this would be followed by a rowdy laugh at the convenience store while we survey who has lost what parts of their car on the roadside barriers back up the street. However tonight, with a lack of available tyres and given the smell of rubber’s still fresh in the cops’ nostrils, something a little more low-key is in order.

Now if you are any kind of a car fan you will know that in Japan canned coffee, a parking lot and some modified cars make for an awesome night out! Leave your flat-peak at home though, as well as the macho folded-arm carry-on: there are no posers here, just lots of friendly faces. 

In Kobe this group of car fans takes their passion for all things automotive to a whole new level. Nakawatase-san from Rocket Bunny has run up the highways for three hours just to come and have a yarn, and down a can of Boss coffee. In the car park more and more people are piling out of cars. Rather than wafts of tyre smoke, tonight it’s tobacco smoke in the air, and screeching tyres have been replaced with roars of laughter as everyone checks out each other’s car, and stickers are swapped and added to vehicles.

Compared to a usual night out this is very ‘senior citizen’ for this large bunch of friends, although don’t think the police aren’t keeping tabs on things. They park right at the entrance and just sit with their lights on to remind us that they are watching. “We like playing this game of cat and mouse,” Takashi says, laughing, “now that they are here they might as well come in for a coffee too”. One thing I really admire about these guys is that despite being illegal street drifters (and very good ones at that), there is no hatred toward police. Neither would invite the other to dinner, yet the police keep tabs on the drifters, and the drifters ensure that their Saturday nights are usually kept semi-entertaining around the midnight time slot. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t just lawless hooligans out causing havoc, when track days are on they are the first at the gates, although whether you like to admit it or not the illegal underground scene in Japan is very strong. Street drifting is just a way of life for many, as shift work means they can’t attend as many legitimate drift days as they would like to in order to quench their thirst for the sport.

For many of the people in attendance this is the one night of the week that they live for. Whether they are behind the wheel grinding their fenders off on guard rails or sipping a on a cold canned coffee, it doesn’t matter. “I wouldn’t miss our weekly meet for the world,” one guy exclaims. When you break it down for many it’s not the drifting that they live for, it’s the interactions with like-minded folk. Going out for a slide just provides the laughs and storytelling for the following week. 

It’s blatantly obvious that in the automotive world it’s people that built the sport of drifting, not the cars. It starts with friends that then form a community, the cars are merely there as tools. The real drive is how the community moves forward, because it is the people who have got drifting to where it is today.

Aaron Mai

I am proud to be associated with NZV8 and NZ Performance Car, shooting in both New Zealand and Japan. Brought up as a rallying fanatic, at 15 I started taking photos of airborne stones with a point-and-shoot camera at the Rally New Zealand. While overseas I took up photography again to try and document the amazing places I was going and the things I was seeing. I enjoyed it much more than I expected to and it has turned into a real passion. Most of my recent photography has been done in Japan, based around the local tuners spread from Tokyo to Hiroshima. It is great being able to shoot everything from time attack machines at a freezing cold Tsukuba Circuit to tubbed drag cars in the hot Masterton summer sun. It is awesome getting to shoot these impressive works of art, but equally as much fun getting to know the people behind them.