Anime is a hugely popular form of entertainment in Japan. The country is also renowned for its cutting-edge automotive designs. So it is no surprise that these two things have combined in the form of ‘itasha’, cars and vans whose exteriors have been decorated with decals of anime characters.
Anime is a highly stylized and colourful form of animation that started to become popular in Japan in the 1960s. The combination of animation − in books, films and television shows − with subjects and themes intended for an adult rather than a children’s audience has endured and the development of the Internet has seen the art form continue to grow it’s audience.
The word itasha is thought to originally been a Japanese nickname for Italian cars. However, it may also derive from the term ‘itai’, a slang word meaning ‘ugly’. Itasha cars and vans began to be seen on Japan’s streets in the late 1990s. Like any fashion trend it has waxed and waned in popularity. The invention of large-scale decal anime stickers in the mid-2000s saw a spike in popularity, while the Internet and its ability for fans to connect and share images and techniques have see a further boost in its visibility in Japanese culture. These days itasha decal jobs can range from simple sticker produced on home-use colour printers to full-scale professional paint jobs that can cost many thousands of yen.
Even large automotive companies have tried to tap into some of the concerns of the itasha scene in their car designs, with Nissan designing interiors that bear a strong influence of anime stylization.
The hub for all things itasha is the Tokyo district of Akihabara. It is the primary retail area for everything to do with computer, electronic, anime and manga. Akihabara has the nickname Otaku Town, otaku being the name given to the culture surrounding anime and manga. It is a popular meeting place for devotees of itasha and they will often congregate in car parks to admire one another’s vehicles. It was in Akihabara that Tokyo photographer Tomoyuki Sakaguchi spent two years photographing itasha cars and vans.
Tokyo Auto Salon Show
One of the places to see the newest and most cutting-edge designs in anime car and van design is the Auto Salon Show which takes place in Tokyo every two years. Japan’s premier motor convention and the largest car expo in the world, the Auto Salon attracts manufacturer’s from around the world to unveil the latest models and technological advances. At recent events custom shops, many specializing in anime designs, have formed a large contingent of the companies exhibiting at the show.
Such is the popularity of the itasha movement that events devoted to it have sprung up across Japan in recent years. The best attended is Ita G Festa which in 2011 took place on the outskirts of Tokyo . Other events include the Moesha Meeting in Gifu Prefecture and the Fuji Speedway Itasha Meeting that takes place at one of the circuits used to host the Japanese Grand Prix.