By: Shin Takei
We all know there are many Ferraris in Japan, but to understand whats going on over there a little background history is necessary, so bear with me for a few paragraphs.
As a kid born and raised in Occupied Japan, I was able to see a nation bring itself up from the brinks of War to one of the leading economies in the world. Under the direction of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, General Douglas McArthur, we were exposed to the American influence which has since changed forever the course of Japanese culture as we knew it until then.
Being a nation of Islands, Japan had been isolated for centuries and the culture goes back more than 5,000 years. Until the arrival of foreign traders and Commodore Mathew Perry in 1853, the nation had a self sufficient economy based on a staple of rice which was also a basis for taxation under the feudal system of the Shogunate. This sufficient and stable period had resulted in a country way behind the rest of the world. With the revolution at the turn of the century by the Emperor Meiji came westernization of Japan. But with the influence of foreign trade came yearning for the rare and exotic and the nation needed to import raw materials as well as commodities to feed its growing population.
The re-birth of the Japanese Empire brought on the industrial revolution and conflicts with the rest of the world. After embracing the Western way of life Japan had grown at a rapid pace and even beat the Imperial Russian Navy at its own game in the Russo Japanese War. This lead to trade restrictions beings levied against Japan from the rest of the Empires who sought colonies all over the third world. Needing rubber and fuel, and raw materials, Japan also jumped on the wagon to establish colonies in Southeast Asia. As the power shifted from the Imperial Household to modern government, the military took a strong presence and control of the nation using the Emperor as a symbol to rally behind. This lead to further complications with the rest of the World and eventually became the reason for their attack on Pearl Harbor. This brings us up to the defeat and the re-birth of Modern Japan.
Thanks to that, I was brought up on Gerbers baby food and Campbells soup, as well as Kellog's corn flakes, just to name a few items available through the thriving black market, courtesy of the United States Occupying Armed Forces. Obviously cigarettes and liquor as well as appliances were available too. The black market prices were better since the G.I.s purchased them from their P.X.s in their Bases and illegally dumped them on the eager public. Without this, we were relegated to rations of rice, vegetables and fish, a perfectly natural and healthy diet and cooked in hibachis since natural gas and electricity were not yet available to all areas.
All large conglomerates were disbanded and every citizen started a new life with the issuance of one hundred yen which was worth a little more than a quarter. My parents were both working hard like everyone else in post war-torn Japan. However, the mood was upbeat because everyone started from scratch, and the Constitution of Japan, largely penned by the United States, had eliminated ownership of weapons, namely firearms and swords resulting in a safe environment. As the nation tried to pull out of the rubble, they were enjoying the first experience of democracy. Many artists, musicians and writers came to light as freedom of speech and expression never enjoyed before were now legal
Imbedded forever in the memories of those living in Japan were the images of General McArthur, tall handsome and not unlike a Hollywood movie star. His corn cob pipe and Rayban sunglasses became a trademark of the American Style as we knew it at the time in Japan. His popularity can only be eclipsed by the sudden and unfortunate removal from his tenure by President Truman. Not surprising, he remains the greatest American hero who had rescued the nation and helped it get on its feet.
With the Occupying Forces came American automobiles since all factories such as Toyota and Mitsubishi were leveled and not yet operational. These were the Standard U.S. Army Issue Jeeps driven by M.P.s and black four door sedans chauffeur driven for V.I.P.s. They were Pre- and Post war Cadillacs, Chryslers, Chevrolets, Dodges, Fords, Packards, Plymouths and Studebakers just to name a few. All the English cars were there, too as well as some German cars. The chauffeurs had them waxed and shined until the paint had worn through and bare metal was showing on some. When they got used, they were sold to the public sector where it became properties of corporate presidents and limo service. I still remember the distinct aroma of the passenger compartment of big American sedans with plush rear seats, fold down foot rests and pull straps. Nothing made in Japan could compare to the quality of American made goods then. I remember my mom complaining her stockings were torn getting in and out of a Japanese car. The manufacturing quality was poor at best and they had a lot of catching up to do.
So whats all this got to do with Ferraris in Japan, you say? My story is just typical of young boys growing up in Japan loving cars and making model kits and collecting printed material about their favorite cars. The Tokyo Automobile Show was another excitement each year. Running from exhibit to exhibit and collecting brochures and give-aways was more exciting for me than going to the circus. Foreign cars were still the most exotic but bizarre show cars from Toyota, Nissan, and others were always displayed. Since car design in Japan were virtually inexistent, the Carrozerias in Italy were often employed as is today to bring on new shapes and forms. Most of the time, the Japanese designs copied the American or European designs but the interpretation somehow never reached world class. So copying a design or taking an American invention and producing and improving on it is a typical Japanese virtue.
However, the culture was pretty much completed and perfected during the 1,600 to 1,800 and has not improved since. Technology has improved but the culture has not advanced. The culture always strived for perfection and superiority, beginning with discipline in the household and families and into schools and finally in society. That is why they work so hard and today their products reflect what is expected by the population.
I remember having a tin toy which was a Ferrari. These cheaply made cars all had annoying friction motors with a small card board box with a tin tongue licking the main gear teeth, resulting in a siren like sound. Either you stuck a screwdriver into the wheel well to lift the tongue off the teeth or you carefully pried the tin tongues holding the body to the chassis and removed the entire box. This would usually result in the tongues breaking off after a few too many bends making it impossible for the body to mate with the chassis. Today, products manufactured in Japan are of the highest quality, not because they competed against the world but because the culture demanded it. The competition is so fierce that goods are produced incorporating too many features such as watches and personal devices that have more features than you can master.
While I lived in Japan I had not seen a real Ferrari on the street, except at the Tokyo Motor Show. There were perhaps less than ten Ferrari in Japan at the time. As the United States continued to feed and assist the Japanese economy to recovery, both prospered but American quality was still far ahead of anything made in Japan. The Japanese culture was still awakening from a long tradition of being conservative so having anything flamboyant or flashy was not looked at admirably, but rather scorned as excessive spending when the nation was still recovering. Hence a red Ferrari was not the car to be seen in because in everyones eyes, you must have been doing something illegal to be able to afford such extravagance. In fact one of the first Ferraris there was a short nose 275GTB which was silver with black interior. When I read about the car in a magazine, I couldnt figure out how the owner was able to afford one.
Through the seventies and the early eighties as the economy started to inflate, many car nuts brought up on watching Super cars of the sixties and seventies but unable to afford them were slowly gaining financial success. As they watched Formula One, it was easy to see the performance of Ferrari and its rich history. This lead to more Ferraris bring purchased, however by the affluent minority. But, not until the mid eighties did this craze hit its upward swing. As we experienced the Ferrari craze here, Japan followed. You may recall my story "Spin Out on Highway 58" in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Semper Ferrari January 1995. A high grade car mag called CAR GRAPHIC featured my yellow 275GTB on a trip to the Monterey Weekend with a journalist from the magazine in 1988. A seven page spread was followed by a half hour T.V. Program which included the entire weekend as well as an in-car camera at the Monday track event held by the FOC at Laguna Seca. It was also the year we lost Enzo Ferrari. It is largely rumored that this added fuel to the already burning desires of Ferrari fans to go out and buy one for himself.
From then on until the bubble burst in 1990 or so, many many Ferraris went to Japan, including 308s, 328s, Dinos, Daytonas, Boxers and almost all of the 288GTOs. There must be more F40s in Japan then in the U.S.A. As I mentioned before, being conservative, the Japanese took a while until they accepted the color red, but how could you have a red Ferrari and not be too extravagant. You make sure that the interior color is subdued, such as black. This way you might look flashy on the outside but inside, youre still conservative. Hence, almost all of the cars that went to Japan had black interiors. As a whole they did not like tan or white or red interiors which did not match their style of life. So why a Ferrari? Its because, Ferrari is the king of sport cars. The Japanese like the best and the best sport cars in the world are made by Ferrari. Every car nut in Japan eventually wants a Ferrari, period.
Why then a Dino or a carburetted Boxer, which were both immensely popular with the Japanese Ferraristi. In Japan, the old feudal rule of master and servant still rules. This is still true in households, schools and businesses, and respect for the elder is always a part of the discipline. Unfortunately, this custom is usually taken a bit too far by unruly masters who try to control their subordinates and abuse the system, often creating difficult relations. In the Ferrari world, there are masters in Japan who may not have owned a Ferrari but are experts who everyone listens to. Take for instance a Boxer. Some Guru over there stated in a magazine that of all the Boxers, the most valuable is the 365 GT4/bb because it has more power then the 512BB or the 512BBi. The entire Ferraristi would follow this suggestion like sheep because it came from a knowledgeable master.
Another thing that was and still is the rule. USA version vs. European Version. In the seventies and early eighties, E.P.A. and D.O.T. Requirements made American spec cars less powerful and changed the styling of the cars with the 5-mph bumpers. In essence, the USA version cars were not pure Ferraris in the eyes of the experts there. That is why many 308s, Boxers, and Dinos and some Daytonas, had their side marker lights and reflectors removed, bumpers installed with Euro versions, side impact beams removed from inside doors, speedometers fitted with kilometers, seatbelt warning buzzers and lights removed, front turn signal installed with clear lenses and in the case of Dinos, European flush mount systems fitted. Not to mention the removal of the smog pump and later catalytic convertors and changing perfect tan Connally leather to black. No matter that the Chassis Numbers would reflect which version it was. This practice has forever engraved in the minds of the Japanese Ferraristi that USA versions with EPA and DOT equipment are not the cars to have, if youre a true enthusiast and is still true today.
The Ferrari Club of Japan had swollen in membership and would hold meetings and events where 300 or more Ferraris would show up. The current President is Junichiro Hiramatsu with not only great Ferraris but in miniature as well. The Matsuda Collection is a Museum with a whole section devoted to rare and impressive Ferraris. Both of them have been featured in CAVALLINO magazine. In the popular spots in Tokyo, you would see Ferraris parked casually along side Hondas and Toyotas, and many new and young owners were seen in them. And yes not only red Ferraris but yellow and black but all with black interior.
In 1995 CORNES, the official importer of Ferrari sold approximately 350 plus new cars. However, more than 700 Ferrari were registered, meaning that at least half of them were grey market imports. Of course, with the recent economic crisis which started to develop with the yen dropping steadily from a high of ¥88 in 1995 to more than ¥130 to the dollar today, very few new cars are being sold. And still being a rather conservative culture, no one will go out and purchase a flamboyant car when the entire nation is suffering again.
During the time when real estate and collector car values soared, many loans were granted on speculation alone. Unfortunately, as the bubble burst, so did the value of these cars. If you had borrowed straight from the bank, the bank would take a loss and dispose of the car at whatever price they could get. However, if your loan was with other lenders with high rates, the chances are you still owe them the full amount. Therefore, on some cars there may be more than one lender, and today, these cars are sitting in some warehouse, collecting dust, slowly decaying because it just cant be sold. Cars belonging to private collections have suffered the same fate and we have seen many of them being quietly dissolved.
Some of these cars will never return to the United States. However, in the back of the minds of Ferraristi, there is always that passion and the unforgettable drive in a Ferrari waiting for the sun to shine again in the Land of the Rising Sun.