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.