MOONDANCE

IS THE YOKOHAMA HOT ROD & CUSTOM SHOW THE BEST INDOOR CAR EVENT ON EARTH? IF NOT, IT MUST BE DAMN CLOSE

STORY SIMON TELFORD PHOTOS CHRIS THOROGOOD

IN 2014 the SM team took our first trip to the Yokohama Hot Rod & Custom Show, and it made such an impression on us that we just had to go back for the 2015 show, held at Pacifico Yokohama on 6 December. The show runs for just one day, but packs in 300 cars, 650 bikes and a ton of fun.

The points of difference with other big indoor shows are subtle, but crucial. Each year, a handful of top cars and bikes from the US are invited to the show, creating a bunch of hype from the outset. These special guests open the show at 9am with the ride-in, cruising in from the back doors down a packed corridor of fans and photographers. Such a sight would send Aussie OH&S teams into a panic, but not in Japan. With nary a fluoro vest to be seen, Shige Suganuma and the Mooneyes crew just get things done. The sight, sound and smell of these beasts is a great way to start proceedings. Pure cool.

The next thing you’ll notice is the sheer variety of cars. Hot rods, lowriders, traditional customs, mini-trucks, 70s-style street machines and vans, Vee Dubs and pro tourers are all in the mix. Not to mention a couple of purely evil De Tomaso Panteras, a fat NSX and a race-bred Datsun 120Y! There really is something for everyone, car-wise. And the bikes?

Forget about it! For 2015 there were some cars and bikes at the show that returned from the previous year, but in the main it was a fresh crop, which was pretty neat.

Neatness, of course, is a way of life in Japan, and their show displays are second-to-none. Whether elaborate or simple, every display at the 2015 show was creative, accentuated the car or bike and was meticulously clean. For those with a carpeted display, the last job was to go over every surface with a sticky roller, to pick up any stray fluff. And the information boards? Pure works of art.

HOT RODS, LOWRIDERS, TRADITIONAL CUSTOMS, 70S-STYLE STREET MACHINES AND VANS, VEE DUBS AND PRO TOURERS ARE ALL IN THE MIX

Each year, Mooneyes boss Shige chooses a handful of themes or ‘spotlights’ to give the show some focus. For the 2015 show, he chose Harley Ironhead Sportsters for the bikes and called that section of the show Exotic Iron. For the cars, it was 1949- 1954 American rides and first-generation Camaros, which he dubbed 1949-1954 Reflections & Expressions and Camaros A Go! Go! respectively. The spotlights are a neat feature and ensures that each show is different from year to year. It is cool to compare the many different approaches that can be taken to the similar types of cars and bikes.

Besides rides, there is a sweet model car display, a corral of pinstripers and a custom paint competition, which for the 2015 show was named the Sidewalk Surfing contest, with artists from all over the world doing their best to 80 skateboard decks.

Aussie painter Kyle Smith (Legends, SM, Oct ’15) had a deck on display and was blown away by the quality of the paint on the cars. “This has really got me pumped up,” he said. “I’ve got a bunch of stuff I need to do before Christmas, but having seen what these guys do I’m really inspired and I just want to start trying some new things!”

The best and biggest difference from many other shows is the vibe. The crowd (and we are talking 15,000 people) are there to have fun, but nobody pushes and shoves. In fact, if you want to take a photo of a car, you can be almost guaranteed that no one will walk in front of your shot. The organisers contribute to the atmosphere by reserving the PA system for vital (and bi-lingual) announcements only. The rest of the time is either the sounds of one of the various live bands or just the happy hubbub of people enjoying themselves. A nice change from many shows ng ws t e -bbub y

where every entrant strives to play their own music as loud as possible!

There were 100 awards given out by the end of the show, with the vast majority being chosen by special guests such as Gene Winfield, car mags or one of the many cool Japanese custom shops in attendance. Everyone who presented an award – often a trophy they’d constructed themselves – was invited to get up on stage to explain the reasons for the choice and to personally hand over the booty. It was just one of the many small personal touches that make this show special.

There has been an increasing level of corporate involvement, with both Harley and Vans putting on some impressive displays at the 2015 show, but both were integrated into the event with care, providing good entertainment (the Harley deal was a bike build-off competition) rather than pure advertising.

In short, this is one hell of a show. This year’s edition will be the 25th anniversary, so it is going to be a biggie! s

A TRIP to Japan might sound daunting, but the relative closeness of the country (just nine hours) and the helpfulness of the people mean it is actually one of the lowest-stress and cost-effective car holidays you can have.

Here’s why, along with a few things to keep in mind: • Flights from the east coast of Oz to Tokyo are cheap if you book ahead. Look out for specials; we nabbed ours on Jetstar for $550 return. • From Narita airport, you can get a train to Tokyo or go straight to Yokohama in about 90 minutes. • For the show itself, it is well worth shelling out the extra to stay in the Intercontinental Grand Hotel. It is pricey, but is located right next to the venue. • You can save plenty of bucks elsewhere in Japan by staying in an Airbnb or backpackers. Do a little research, book early and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how cool and comfy a backpacker joint can be. • If you want to travel around and see a few other cities, buy yourself a rail pass for $340, which includes trips on the 300km/h Shinkansen. • Food and drink is cheap: $1 waters, $2 beers and $11 for a 700m bottle of whisky! • Don’t like raw fish? Don’t worry! The Japanese love burgers, Italian, Indian and more, so even the pickiest eater will find plenty to chow down on. And if all else fails, convenience stores like 7-Eleven and Lawson’s are stacked with goodies 24/7. • Make sure you check out the bar and karaoke culture while you’re in town, it is a lot of fun! Though asthmatics be warned, smoking is still allowed in bars and clubs, so be prepared for some smoke.