Photography by Taryn Croucher
As online pages encapsulating car culture in all its facets started to take the internet by storm in 2009, Taryn Croucher carved herself a niche in being a girl with genuine passion for blogging and storytelling about the scene, especially about her true love: Japanese car culture. After her “hobby” evolved to include work for other blogs, she was soon noticed by Speedhunters, and would travel the world for two-and-a-half years, covering car culture from all over the globe for them, with a focus on JDM. Now, through countless experiences, contacts, and reliable network of friends, Croucher runs a website called JapanCarCulture.com, which helps people make the best possible plan for their trips to Japan.
Naturally, we had some questions for her about making the most out of a trip to Japan, like when to go, where to stay, what to eat, and what to see, and thankfully, she was nice enough to answer every single one. If you’ve had some burning questions about how to go about visiting Japan, this is for you!
PAS: How many times have you been to Japan? What keeps you coming back?
TC: I’ve been to Japan seven times in the last six years, but often for three month stints. Actually, by the time this issue goes to print I’ll have been there eight times! I know, I have a problem. I probably could have spent my money far more wisely, but honestly, it is a bit of an addiction. I think it’s a mixture of the cars and the culture that lures me back in. The Japanese have such a crazy attitude towards modifying cars and just the way they make cars such a big part of their lives - there is so much dedication involved. Not to mention the country itself is incredibly beautiful. Sometimes I just miss little things like the sound of the pedestrian crossing buzzers or the little warm towels they give you before meals. I definitely don’t miss the coffee though; no matter how desperate you are, never drink the 7-Eleven coffee!
Describe your experience the first time you went to Japan. Did it measure up to what you expected?
My first Japan experience really blew my mind, but on some levels it was kind of a disappointment, too. It was very rushed and poorly organized, plus it was too short! Thankfully, we had a friend who was able to show us around, and luckily there was an amazing track day at Tsukuba on that weekend. If we hadn’t had that guidance though, we would have been totally lost! One of the first things that really surprised me was that hardly anyone spoke English, which was something I didn't realize. When we got home, I just felt like there was so much I missed out on, either because I wasn’t well-informed or couldn’t talk to people because of the language barrier.
Tell me about JapanCarCulture.com. Why did you decide to create this online guide?
JapanCarCulture.com is a membership-based website I created to help people plan their ultimate car-related experience in Japan. The idea for it came about as I was constantly receiving emails and messages from people all over the world asking for help and advice about travelling to Japan, and it got to the point where I just didn’t have time to respond to everyone. I’d also see so many people asking the same questions over and over! There was obviously a need for a solid and reliable information source catering to foreigners interested in Japanese car culture and events, and now that’s what JCC is. It contains 16 in-depth guides, each based around a different topic, including race tracks, visiting workshops, useful car-related phrases in Japanese, accommodation and transport, networking, and how to meet people. It also features a constantly updated event calendar, along with every little piece of information that I could ever hope to pass onto anyone. If there is something you can’t find in there, I will personally help you figure out what you want to know!
What is the best way, in your opinion, to plan your trip to Japan?
To plan the ideal Japan trip, you really need to base your holiday around at least one or two BIG automotive events. Once you’ve got these dates locked in, you can start planning the rest of your trip. I’d also recommend hiring a car and doing a bit of driving, especially as this opens up a whole new world of activities that you might not be able to access via public transportation. In terms of where to stay, Airbnb is always good, especially if you’re doing a slightly longer stay or you’re with a group of friends, as it generally works out to be a lot cheaper. The hosts usually have some good recommendations for local restaurants too. So, eat everywhere and eat everything! Except the natto (Google it).
Food-wise, what’s your “must try” recommendation?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. If you could only try just one Japanese food in Japan… Oh man, that is hard! A really good ramen? No, okonomiyaki! Or actually, maybe a really high quality yakiniku meal. I can’t say no to a good Japanese curry either. Yeah, I can’t list just one, sorry!