By on April 11, 2013

Honmoku street is a wide, tree lined avenue that bends through the southern “Naka” district of the city of Yokohama. Close by sits the massive port, the gateway through which so much of Japan’s industrial output is sent to the world, its tall cranes working ceaselessly and with no regard for human concerns like the time of day. Above it all the Yokohama Bay Bridge soars like a vision, lifting cars and trucks across the entrance to the harbor as effortlessly as it straddles the line between art and infrastructure. Although the massive bridge and its double decked feeder highways encircle the entire district, the sense one has on the ground is of open space and nature, rarities in the second largest city in Japan. In the midst of it all sits the classic American Hot-Rod shop, Mooneyes.

Mooneyes is legendary among car guys. Its iconic eyes have adorned the sides of race cars and hot-rods since Dean Moon started the company in a small garage behind his father’s Norwalk, California café in 1950. An avid car guy, Dean Moon was heavily involved in the local drag and dry lake bed racing scenes in California as they gained momentum through the 1950s and 60s and his sense of innovation and style helped shape the nascent “hot rod” culture as it was emerging. Many of his stylistic innovations, things like spun aluminum disc wheel covers and the foot-shaped gas pedal are must-have items on any period correct classic hot-rod.

When Dean Moon passed away in the late 1980s, the company took a brief break and then stopped work altogether after the passing of his wife a few years later. In the early 1990s, Moon family friend Shige Suganuma, a long time dealer of Moon Products in Japan, reformed the company as Mooneyes USA. The US Branch of the company continues Dean Moon’s work at the shop’s location since the early 1960s, 10820 S Norwalk Blvd, Santa Fe Springs, CA where, according to the Mooneyes website, visitors are welcome and where there will be an open house from 9:00AM to 3:00 PM on Saturday July 13, 2013.

The subject of this article, Mooneyes’ Japanese location, is a place worth checking out. It combines a full service hot rod shop with a parts store, gift and novelty shop and an American 1960s style café complete with oversized hamburgers, milk shakes and apple pie. At night, its neon lights beckon you forward with a welcoming glow, and a row of classic cars, both American and Japanese, stand ready for inspection as they await just the right person to take them home. After a hard day’s struggle with the Japanese language and culture, stepping inside feels a lot like coming home to a better, vanishing America where the cars are cool, the gas is cheap and where no one counts calories.

Out back, rows of cars sit ready for the full hotrod treatment. During my time in Yokohama, I noted the progress of these cars on my way to and from work as they arrived in the rearmost parking lot in various states of disuse and decay and then moved to the area behind the garage from where they eventually disappeared into the shop for weeks or days before turning up refreshed, renewed and reformed for sale at the front of the building. My favorites were always the classic Japanese iron, the most common of which were variants of the Toyota Crown, including sedans, station wagons and even an El Camino-like trucklet. Some of these ended up as beautiful restorations, others as slick looking hot-rods and still others as mechanically solid rat-rods. All of them were appealing.

With Mooneyes just a block from my apartment, the whole area was frequently awash with car culture and excitement. Mooneyes is the sponsor of many great events, including hot rod and chopper shows that draw cars from all over Japan and visitors from all over the world. As of this writing, upcoming events include the “All Trucks Morning Cruise” on April 14th at Honmoku Hilltop Park, and a Hot Rod Cruise Night at their Honmoku Shop the evening of April 27th. More information is available in English and Japanese at www.mooneyes.co.jp

It can be hard for a foreigner to break into Japanese culture and make friends, but I have found that cool cars and fast motorcycles are a good way to break the ice. If you are ever in Japan, take the time to head out to Mooneyes’ shop in Honmoku, Yokohama. Grab a hamburger, get the T-shirt and take the time to talk to some of the people you meet there. You will return home happy, full and refreshed. The car culture that Dean Moon helped to start so long ago and so far away conquers all.

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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18 Comments on “Mooneyes: Breaking Down Cultural Barriers, One Hot Rod At A Time...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Something about the style of the spun aluminum disks has always spoken to me. I would love to put a set on a large sedan, to me the “clean” look of the cover always seemed to go best with larger vehicles.

  • avatar
    otter

    What is that yellow ute in the photos?

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    Some of Japanese maker’s large cars from the 1970s really have that American iron look. Toyota’s Crown is one, the other is Datsun 280C. Those are the two that made it to our little impoverished country. I remember marvelling at the Datsun 280C as a kid for the sheer Americanness of its styling, complete with coke bottle around the rear door, and a medallion on the C pillar.

  • avatar
    Onus

    I miss the styling of those times. The windshield angle made to actually see out of, The low fenders and hood, and the low rear deck, they very tasteful chrome around the windshield and the door handles.

    That Japanese iron looks great many years latter.

  • avatar
    lon888

    Seeing the morning drive postcard took me back to the time I spent in Osaka/Yokohoma. I always flew in on a Saturday afternnon and spent the night at the Osaka Hilton (the one directly across the street from one of working piers). Every Sunday morning around 7:30 or 8:00 I’d be awakened by Japanese boys riding their sportbikes very quickly around the streets of the hotel with their girl friends hanging on for dear life on their backs. Thomas, please continue with your exploits while based in Japan – I love the jaunts down memory lane!

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    There is just something really cool about car culture no matter where and no matter what the make of the car. Old American iron in Japan is pretty awesome to see, and the lasting effect of hot rod culture. This posting will never generate nearly the amount of traffic that bitching about emission laws did, but it is way cooler to read…

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    With modification, Moon’s big foot gas pedal will fit a GM drive-by-wire throttle assembly.

    When I visit the import book and magazine shop at Sakura Square in downtown Denver, I occasionally come across a magazine dedicated to those Japanese hot rodders who won’t settle for anything less than American iron. Seeing a clean Chevy II against what at first appears to be a Hawaiian backdrop, then clarified once the mountainside temples register, is a special treat.

    And then there are those wild and crazy guys who’d love to have a Ranchero or El Camino, but make do with their Supras and Silvias. Top fab work kudos to those guys.

  • avatar
    flatout05

    I’ve toyed with the idea of (further) lowering my Honda Ridgeline and adding Moon disks and a push bar for a Bonneville Push Truck look. I ran into a dead end because as far as I could find at the time, the biggest Moon disks available were 15-inchers. However, the BMW in the top pic appears to have massive disks. Anybody know if these are available for 17- and 18-inch wheels?

  • avatar
    Junebug

    It’s amazing what happens when a bunch of gearheads get together. I remember seeing a show where some low-riders swapped rides with the Lambo set and both groups came away with a new appreciation of each others cars.


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