By on July 10, 2011

On Tuesday, I will go to the Fuji racetrack in the hills halfway between Tokyo and Nagoya. I will test drive a Toyota that is not available in Japan, nor is it in the U.S. It is however available and quite a success in India. Can you guess which one it is?

When I pointed at the map, my wife mentioned that her father, bless his heart, has some real estate in Yugawara, and that she has the keys. Yugawara, famous for its hot springs and not much else, sits right smack in the middle of the area which has an 87 percent chance of getting hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of about 8 within the next 30 years.

I was reminded of that this morning. Instead of being woken up with kisses and a cup of coffee, the house kicked me in the butt. Earthquake. We put one hand on our go-bags, eyed the door to the outside and waited for the second wave. It never came, and we had the coffee. It was a magnitude 7 quake, but nobody really mentions them anymore. In the world of new normals, magnitude 7 quakes definitely have carved out their place in Japan.

Import sales Japan

My wife’s dad’s holdings turned out to be spanking new, but what is parked across the street definitely is not: A Bug! I have no idea what vintage it is. I’d say end of  the 60s, beginning of the 70s. It has the big rear window. I could not get closer, because one respects private property in Japan.

The old car must be driven by someone who is even older than the car. See the orange sticker glowing in the window? That’s a golden leaf. There are green leaves for people who have a brand new driver’s license, and there are golden leaves for people over 70. Mandatory over 75, I am told.

In Japan, this is not considered age discrimination, it supposedly announces that there is a feeble driver who should be treated with care and respect for the elderly. The folks who are supposed to display the golden leaves think otherwise. Unless they have a really old car.

“Ore wa toshyori janai. Kuruma ga furinda.” It’s not me that’s old – it’s the car! Which brings us back to the Bug. How did it come here?

In 1972, Japan started to lower the import duties. Importing a car did cost only 6.4 percent (today: zero) and as you can see from the picture, imports to Japan finally got moving. 23,600 cars were imported to Japan in 1972. Of those, 10,920 were Volkswagens, 3,830 Fords, 3,093 were made by GM, 1,611 came from Mercedes, and the remaining 4,146 came from other makes.

As you also can see, Volkswagen marked its domineering role right away, but Americans had their chance and blew it.

Best-selling import nameplates, Japan 2010

1 Volkswagen Golf 26,075
2 Volkswagen Polo 14,507
3 BMW 3 Series 11,664
4 BMW MINI MINI 11,338
5 Mercedes-Benz E-Class 10,850
6 Toyota TOWN/LITE ACE 9,533
7 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 9,206
8 BMW 5 Series 6,049
9 BMW 1 Series 5,856
10 Audi A4 Series 5,660

Looking at the list of bestselling nameplates in 2010, not much has changed. Volkswagen still rules the roost of imports to Japan. In 2010, more than 70,000 Volkswagen and Audis were imported, holding a joint market share of 28 percent of the small import pie. The first American brand is Ford in place 13. Oddly enough, the bestselling GM brand was Cadillac (#22), followed by Chevrolet in rank 23. If you want more numbers, the  Japan Automobile Importers Association has tons of data.

Don’t think the Japanese are not into Americana. They just don’t fancy American cars a lot. Look what I found again! A Denny’s, just a block from the old bug. I guess I’ll have a burger there tomorrow.

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28 Comments on “Look What I Found In Japan!...”

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Going only what Bugs looked like in the US, I’d say that is a 68-70

  • avatar

    Don’t think the Japanese are not into Americana. They just don’t fancy American cars a lot.

    That’s okay. The American car companies don’t fancy American cars a lot either anymore!

  • avatar

    The European makes had right hand drive models ready to go since they were already exporting to the UK. Detroit probably had little ready to sell and saw little incentive to invest in the redesign & tooling. Later on the lack of sales provided them with an excuse to whine about ‘trade barriers’.

    • 0 avatar

      What about Opel and Vauxhall – which makes right-hand drive cars by the way. Both were and still are GM cars.

      • 0 avatar

        Opels were exported to Japan in the 90s and sales were as uninspiring as this commercial. No more.

        Forget the RHD / LHD obsession. For any export-minded company, this is a non-issue. They roll down the same line.

      • 0 avatar

        If you looked at the listed prices for those Opels in the 90’s, you’d see they were sold at huge premiums compared to their JDM counterparts from the same class.
        Then those being Opels, they were not very good product too.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    The silver sedan in the Denny’s parking look looks suspiciously like a 1st generation Cadillac CTS.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I wonder how scooter friendly Japan is these days.

  • avatar

    Can you guess which one it is?


  • avatar

    Must be an entry-level model. No chrome, whatsoever, dull color (a beige variation of “Perlgrau”). Can’t that be an import from Mexico, years later?

  • avatar

    A friend of mine has exported many old cars from NZ to Japan they love em he imports used jappas and exports oldies

  • avatar

    Bumpers & fender top signals suggest the bug early 70’s vintage. Not a Super – no bulbous hood.

    Plenty of scooters in other places than Tokyo ya know, like Paris and most non-NA cities on the planet…

    What about Vauxhall? I doubt Vauxhall of the early 70’s could compete with Volkswagen back then on q & r.

    Strange irony – Japanese LOVE old BMC petit Vanden Plas many AD016VP lavishly restored and used as mini limousines for weddings.

    • 0 avatar


      There is a beautifully restored bright-red Lancia Delta Integrale near our office in Tokyo. I have to stop and watch every time I see it.

      Sadly, Sergio’s current Lancias are nothing like it. Including the current generation of Delta, which is just a gussied-up Fiat Stilo.

    • 0 avatar

      VW reliability is an urban myth they may have seemed good compared to US cars but Id prefer a 70s Vauxhall any day ast least a Vauxhall could be driven at speed.

  • avatar

    Do the ヤクザ (Yakuza) still love Cadillacs?

  • avatar

    Is that a Honda Elite scooter? Looks like late 80s or early 90s to me.

  • avatar
    Twin Cam Turdo

    I see quite a few of those around the Nagoya area.

    The old Minis are quite popular too.
    There are a few shops around that specialize in them.

    Bertel, feel free to IM me if you are down here.

  • avatar

    I recall the sound of metal spheres cascading down in the halls of pachinko.

    That was back in the mid 1970s.

    Is pachinko still a hot item or has the newer modern electronic gadgets replaced them; as has occurred within the USA?

    Heck, due to the ready availability of home-based video games the days of the brick-and-mortar video game joints have basically died.

    Recall the nation-wide presence of the well-equipped video game places within malls along with free-standing video game firms.

    A bygone era.

    Replaced with home-based gaming that appears to have resulted in even further isolation of USA citizenry into semi-isolationists within their own little “universes.”

    Note the multitude of USA citizen-sheep connected to their personal “hive mind” via portable electronic communication devices of various types.

    Wandering malls, retailers, sidewalks and streets in their vehicles.

    In public physically but their minds (mindlets?) are elsewhere.

    Those not plugged into their own “hive mind” are expected to clear a path for those who are.

    Wherever thou art; make way for those connected via devices into their personal “universe” or face impact by those connected.

    Body, shopping cart or vehicles:

    MAKE WAY!!!!!!!!!

    And USA society changes while “those in the know” lament changes with no anticipation of any increase in civility among the herd.

    Me me me me me me me. Thoughts of others and their impact upon them?


    I MUST talk/text/Web browse/play this game while walking/driving/whatever and to heck to any other entity in my path.

    While those attuned to their external immediate environment are forced to exist in a manner that allows the “connected” herd to bumble through life (where are the predators that once pounced upon the inattentive and consumed them?. Human-type predators are not making up for the lack of leopards, hyenas, crocodiles and other consumers of inattentive human food).


    Can those who never experienced reality, life as it was in the not-that-distant past, comprehend what I write?

    But… the first vehicle I ever cavorted in, cruising McHenry Ave. in Modesto, California… the replacement of the cruising streets as portrayed in American Graffiti: (… 9th and 10th streets in ‘old’ downtown Modesto).

    No “street creds” for appearing in the 1965 Bug but a couple bucks was ample for an entire weekend of cruising and getting to Modesto and back from the outlaying hamlet.

    Hemis and 427s and a horde of small blocks; plain and “hopped up” to an extent that in stop light to stop light racing even 440s, 454s, etc. often lost to those quick-revving small blocks for various reasons.

    He who maximizes traction was usually the winner; until a longer distance was involved and the BIG blocks often came into their own.

    The Bug never won a race; the few attempted.

    But spare change kept it fed with gas.

    Okay… brevity left in the dust, as was the Bug.

    If too annoyed by my lengthy commentary just recall my nom de plume and scroll down to the next post when viewed in the future but realize that when Friday’s test rolls around you will likely fail.

    Disgruntled Old Coot.

    Over and out.


    Oh… was a witness to the measured 1/4 mile race. The 327 whipped the hemi. The early model Chevelle (the boxy shaped one, not the ‘curvier” 68-69 beauties), easily. The superior traction of the Chevy was apparent but that hemi ROARED. A groovy show it was.

    • 0 avatar

      Pachinko machines were all the rage on Okinawa when I was there, and GI’s who bought them – well, much racket ensued in the cinder-block barracks making sleep inadvisable.

      Much like GI’s bringing their Chargers, Roadrunners, Corvettes, GTO’s, 396 Camaro and Chevelle SS’s and like high-performance hot rods over to the tropical paradise(?) where the top legal speed on the entire island was 30 mph! Putt-putt-putt!

  • avatar

    I wonder if Bertel’s comment is being moderated for the use of the word “butt”?

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