Many otaku love to have anime in parts of their everyday lives. Whether that means their favourite character on their t-shirt or bag, a phone case, a plushie on their bed, or a keychain, some otaku love to display their interest. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s more obvious—and sometimes, it’s a car decorated in their favourite character.
Wait, did we just say a car?! Yes, we did! In Japan, there is an entire otaku subculture around itasha, or anime cars. These cars are decorated all over with anime, often on the inside as well as the outside. There’s nothing subtle about a car driving through downtown Tokyo with a huge Hatsune Miku decal on the side—and that’s exactly what itasha owners want. They are proud of being otaku, and proud to put it on display for the rest of the world. Let’s take a closer look at itasha!
A… Painful Car?
While most people would call itasha an “anime car,” which isn’t wrong, the exact translation of the Japanese is a bit different. Itasha literally translates to “painful car” because they’re so over-the-top they can be “painful” to look at, “painful” for the wallet due to the high cost of customisation, or even just “painful”ly embarrassing. It’s not an insult to the itasha community, though, who fully embrace their painful vehicles. Itasha are more commonly seen at night than the middle of the day, though, when their drivers take them out to show them off.
Many itasha have other customisations too like high-quality speakers, underglow lights, flashy hubcaps, and swanky interiors. They take a lot of work and money, so it’s no surprise that their proud owners want them on display. If you’re hoping to spot an itasha yourself, your chances are much better in otaku-friendly neighbourhoods like Akihabara in Tokyo, and Nipponbashi in Osaka. You never know where you might see one, though, as itasha can pop up just about anywhere in Japan—though almost always in cities.
Itasha have only become popular since the early 2000s, so they’re a relatively new otaku subculture. That hasn’t stopped their world from growing every year, though, with more and more itasha showing up across Japan all the time. So what’s going on in the world of itasha today? Keep reading to find out!
Most itasha are privately owned cars, purchased and customised by hobbyists. Some, however, are officially licensed and used for advertising and publicity. At otaku events in Japan, like Comiket or Anime Japan, some companies have started to include itasha as part of their displays. They always draw a crowd of fans excited to see one up close! Itasha have also made their way into the motorsport world, with racecars and motorcycles sporting anime characters becoming more and more common. A few automobile companies, like Toyota and Mini Cooper, have even released special itasha vehicles in very limited numbers on the Japanese market.
If you want to be an itasha owner but are worried you can’t afford it, never fear! There’s a company in Japan that will literally PAY you to drive an itasha! And by itasha, we mean your own car, but with an anime decal on the side. Japanese company Cheer Drive will pay you to put removable anime advertisements on your car. All you have to do is sign up, choose from their current campaigns (usually promotions for upcoming anime releases), put the stickers on the sides and back window of your car, and log your mileage. Cheer Drive pays you by the number of miles you drive during the campaign period. It’s cheap advertising for them—and a chance for anyone to have an itasha, even for a limited time. Plus, when the campaign is over, you just take the stickers off and your car is back to normal. Talk about a symbiotic relationship we would like to sign up for.
Itasha are a really fun part of otaku culture in Japan, and are rare enough to still be exciting and special when you see them. The subculture is growing, though, so we might see even more itasha in the future - both in Japan, and abroad, too! In the meantime, keep your eyes open for itasha when you’re in otaku neighbourhoods, especially at night, and of course, at any anime event in Japan. You never know when you might be blessed by the appearance of an itasha—and you can decide for yourself if it’s painful or not!
So how about it? Are you ready to drive around in a car dedicated to your favourite anime character? Would you be embarrassed or proud to drive an itasha? What character would you choose to have on yours? We would love to hear your comments and questions!