Last year Pedey and I were lucky enough to spend a week in Hiroshima, and it very quickly became one of our favourite cities in Japan. I could say this was thanks to its incredibly relaxed atmosphere, the kind-hearted locals or the never-ending amount of hazy pastel sunsets, but really it was the people who showed us around and kept us company that made our stay so special…
Nakagawa-san, the ‘King of 180SX’ himself, along with a bunch of guys and girls from the Bad Quality crew had graciously offered to show us the best of their hometown, so from the moment we arrived we were picked up in a ridiculously loud 180SX (with sparks flying from under the wheel arches in true Bad Quality fashion!) and taken to the Show Up Shift workshop, before visiting the lush green island of Miyajima and of course eating our weight in okonomiyaki – (click here if you missed Part 1!) But as it turned out, that was just the beginning; they still had a whole lot more in store for us!
The guys had planned a casual car meet at a nearby car park one evening, so before we went along to that we all met up at a local sushi joint and ate what was quite possibly the most sushi I’ve ever seen a group of people consume in my life! The guy stacking our plates is Urushidani-san – you might recognise his famous concrete-coated Toyota bB…
After dinner we hopped in the back of the Cocoa and set off for our destination, a shopping mall complex down near the old airport. It was here that we’d be meeting up with a few other cars driven by some local car dudes.
It wasn’t a big affair, but plenty of interesting cars made an appearance. If you’re wondering what that kei car is, it’s a ‘Honda Today’ and its owned by photographer Mark Kawaguchi from Shakotan Today. Mark was way more prepared than me and actually brought a tripod along, plus he was able to translate for us which was super helpful and very nice of him – nice to meet you Mark!
Unless you know where to look, that is. I’ve never been particularly into HRE Wheels, but these American beauties looked stunning in person.
As you can see, it was a pretty quirky mix of cars that turned up. The owner of the blue S15 pictured above had also brought along something even cooler than a lowered street car…
His son, Takumi-kun! Possibly the cutest child on the planet, Takumi is the brand ambassador for the ‘Bad Quality Kids’ clothing range and he even has his own Instagram account. Not to mention he has his own line of key chains and stickers, some of which he gave to me – seriously heart-melting stuff!
The following morning we met up with Nakagawa and Hiroki, and seeing as we’d be driving some longer distances that day Hiroki had swapped his pavement-scraping 180SX for something a bit more practical: his daily run-around kei car. This did the job fine, although amusingly enough it was probably just as dangerous as it had no rear seat belts! We hopped on the highway and headed north until the the city faded from our rear vision mirrors, and we were surrounded by lush green countryside with quaint little houses and rice paddy fields.
We pulled up outside a couple of small buildings with a bunch of cars outside, although they were all covered up. Where were we? Then I noticed some familiar-looking stickers on one of the garage windows…
My heart skipped a beat as I realised we had arrived at Mikami Auto, a well-known workshop specialising in my favourite kind of cars: of the nostalgic variety. As the staff kindly offered to show us around, the car covers started coming off, revealing not one, but two Hakosuka Skylines…
And this extremely rad S130 280ZX. Unlike some other workshops in Japan that offer resto-mod makeovers and modern improvements to Japanese classic cars, these guys are true old school enthusiasts. You won’t find any modern wheels or RB engines here.
Mikuni carburettors are becoming increasingly rare – and not mention expensive – nowadays, but you wouldn’t think so after visiting Mikami Auto! Their garages were absolutely overflowing with Mikuni parts – there were carbs everywhere as well as row after row of shelves filled with all sorts of parts and accessories.
This garage housed another Hakosuka which was in the process of being restored, a tonne of cool vintage wheels and parts, and even a modified Honda Ruckus which you can spot in the corner on the right.
At this stage we were introduced to Mr. Mikami, a rather serious looking man with a mop of dyed blonde hair and bushy black eyebrows, who acknowledged us with a grunt and slight nod. He offered us a cold drink and handed us some stickers, before showing us some magazines that we flicked through. I thought these old buckets converted into seats were pretty neat!
Many of Mikami Auto’s builds, like their monster 3.1L-engined Hakosuka, have graced the pages of publications such a G-Works magazine – including Mikami-san himself! I couldn’t help but laugh at this hilariously accurate portrayal of him in manga form. This gives you some idea of just how much of an influential figure he is, and the fact that he’s holding a sword suggests that he’s probably not someone you’d want to mess with either.
As we got up to leave, I was surprised when he got up too before leading us out into yet another garage to show us one last thing…
There it was, the beast of a Hakosuka from the magazine. Without a word, Mr. Mikami gave us another smile-less nod, jumped in the car and started it up, and proceeded to rev the absolute shit out of it! And sweet mother, what beautiful music it made! I might actually have some video footage of this somewhere on my hard drive, so I’ll try and find it and share it another time.
Our workshops tour wasn’t over yet though; we still had one more stop. We jumped back into our tiny car and drove further east, to a smaller city known as Higashihiroshima.
Higashihiroshima – literally ‘east Hiroshima’ – is a commuter and University town which is famous for its sake and breweries. And as I was about to learn, it’s also home to internationally-known tuner brand AIMGAIN.
I thought it was strange that a big company like Aimgain was based all the way out here, but when we arrived one of the reasons became quite obvious. They’d just recently opened a huge new showroom complex, so you can imagine how much that would’ve cost to build in a more central location! Not only was their shop absolutely massive, but it was beautifully furnished and decorated – not exactly something you expect to see when you visit tuning shops in Japan.
Speaking of decorations, some of their latest show cars were on display there too. Lowered wide-bodied R35s aren’t exactly a rare sight these days, but I have to admit that I was impressed by the presence of this GT-R in real life.
If you think my iced coffee in a custom glass with a pink straw is fancy, you should see their bathrooms. Seriously, Aimgain have the fanciest bathrooms ever. This might sound like a strange observation, but if you’re a girl and you’re visiting workshops in Japan, this is kind of a big deal. (It’s been five years already and I’m still recovering from the trauma of having to use the RWB workshop toilet, which at the time was like something out of a scene from ‘Ahh! Real monsters’.)
More cool cars were hiding out back, including this super clean VIP-style Aristo. I think I’m starting to develop a thing for big white sedans! The manager at Aimgain was so kind to us and was more than happy to show us around. We even got some free goodies too, including some t-shirts and stickers!
It’s hard to explain the next sequence of events that unfolded but it was quite possibly THE highlight of our whole stay. On the way back into the city, Nakagawa turned to us and said, “I’m really sorry, but there’s a small problem”. Pedey and I looked at each other, concerned. Okay… what was it? Nakagawa continued, “I have to pick up my family dog from the groomers. Will you come? I’m so sorry!” We almost choked laughing, because we love dogs. Could this day get any better!?
As things transpired they could get better, because the Nakagawa family’s dog was the coolest dog in the whole world. You might’ve seen this as it happened on my Snapchat at the time, but basically we went into this bright pink building playing cute Japanese music and filled with chihuahuas, french bulldogs and fluffy poodles, and the Japanese ladies that work there just start handing us all these amazing dogs to cuddle. Then this enormous fluffy creature appears and comes running up to us, and of course this majestic animal was the dog we’d be taking with us – an ‘Akita’-inu named Ginnosuke.
We weren’t exactly sure how Ginnosuke was going to fit with four people in a tiny kei car, but we eventually managed to squeeze him in by sitting him on Nakagawa’s lap. Pedey and I couldn’t stop laughing as Ginnosuke’s giant tongue flapped around wildly trying to lick us and flinging drool everywhere, and Nakagawa-san kept apologising but we couldn’t quite get him to understand that this was more than okay, because his dog was absolutely the most funniest and best dog ever.
Throughout our short stay in Hiroshima there had been an ongoing joke that we had to have some of Hiroshima’s famous oysters while we were there. I didn’t want to offend the guys, but I’ve never really been a big fan of eating raw slimy molluscs, so I was hoping they might forget about this. But after dropping the dog off, by this stage we were all pretty hungry and Nakagawa suggested that we hit up a secret oyster spot that was supposed to be quite special. I gulped, but then he mentioned something about an ‘open fire’ and I realised, hang on – are these oysters going to be cooked? I asked him and he said yes!
I was so glad we cleared that up, because I knew that I’d enjoy cooked oysters and as it turns out, grilling oysters is also a popular thing in Hiroshima – you don’t have to eat them raw!
So we turned up at this dark, dead-end street on the docks, where we were met by an old man who welcomed us inside a tiny, dimly-lit shed with a single tatami mat area and table, and proceeded to have an incredible oyster buffet cooked for us over an open fire in a rusty old metal drum. Amazing!
We had all different types of oysters with different sauces and they were all so fresh and delicious – I can’t believe we almost turned this down! (I had to laugh at Hiroki’s t-shirt – apparently Japanese ‘Ted’ is a really big thing in Japan.)
Hiroki even disappeared for a few minutes then returned with some big cans of Asahi beer to wash down our food with. Seriously, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life, and I’m so grateful to them for taking us there!
At dinner we got talking about ‘Pachinko’ – these crazy big Japanese casinos – and Nakagawa couldn’t believe that we’d never been to one before, so he decided that he had to take us. So before dropping us back at our apartment we stopped at the local gambling spot and put our luck to the test!
As fortunate as we were to be able to have such an amazing experience in Hiroshima, it seemed like our luck had run out by the time we made it to the slots. Still, we had some good laughs while we were there.
As we packed our suitcases and got ready to depart for our next destination the following morning, I couldn’t help but stand out on the balcony of our Airbnb one last time to take in the view. The sun was out, the birds were singing and the echo of children’s laughter could be heard over the faint clanking of a train in the distance. Neighbours were hanging out their washing and tending to their daffodils. In this moment, it just felt impossible to imagine that this place had once witnessed such horror and destruction. It made me sad thinking about this, but I also felt sad that so many people only know of Hiroshima because of that cruel incident that took place over 70 years ago. Because Hiroshima is so much more than that.
I feel so grateful that I will always know Hiroshima for something different; not only is it an incredibly peaceful and beautiful place, but it has such amazing people, amazing food and amazing car culture. Even though I already feel like we got to see all of the best things this city has to offer thanks to our friends from Bad Quality, I already can’t wait to go back.
To Nakagawa, Sato, Urushidani, Kae, Nishimori and all of their friends that made this trip so wonderful, thank you – どうもありがとうございました. Hiroshima will always hold a special place in our heart because of you guys!