When one thinks of Japanese tuning shops, cities like Osaka, Hiroshima, and Tokyo come to mind. On average, people who have never been to Japan usually have preconceived notions of the Japanese tuning market that are either right on the money, or are completely off kilt. It's easy for the average "gaijin" to imagine tuning shops on every corner that pump out JDM jewels daily in these monolithic cities.
Having lived in Japan for over a year, I know that these places do actually exist, and that some of the slickest cars imaginable are tuned in the concrete jungles of Japan. But what about those smaller, lesser-known cities? They too must have local tuning shops that keep the average car enthusiast content.
Even some lucky farmers on the rural island of Shikoku often have coveted Accord SiR wagons parked next to their primary source of income: the rice paddy. Seeing my dream car in such a quaint location made me wonder, "who the hell put a full body kit, dual port Mugen exhaust, and Volk Wheels on an Accord for this farmer?"
During my year-plus absence from Nippon my curiosity got the best of me, so during my most recent stay in Japan, I took it upon myself to expose and credit the overlooked tuners who keep the farm hands up to speed in the realm of tuning.
While spending time with my wife's family in her hometown of Tokushima, Japan, I happened upon a tuning shop called "Paddock R" that seemed to fit the bill. Through my wife, I was able to arrange an interview with the owner in the hopes of better understanding the tuning scene in Japan. Part of me had the feeling that we would get booted out the door just for getting in the way. Fortunately, Tokushima-city does not get a lot of foreigners looking for tuning shops, so I was treated like "gaijin royalty" and got a story that would make any car enthusiast smile.
About an hour North of Tokushima, deserted rural roads can be found at every turn. Since these roads are virtually free of pedestrians, stop lights, speed enforcement cameras, and grandmothers on scooters, owning an auto shop nearby has become quite a lucrative business for a few enterprising car enthusiasts.
Paddock R would never have been if it were not for one man's love for Formula 1 racing. For years, Isao Okazaki-san traveled the world, taking snaps of the races, wrecks, and behind the scenes anarchy that is the celebrity world of Formula 1. And even though Honda has long retired from F1, Okazaki-san's passion for the sport lives on in the cars he builds. He's also had years of experience as a driver and staff member in the JAF (Japan Automobile Federation) and could often be found at Fuji Speedway and the Suzuka Circuit if there was word of a race. That's why he started his own business, and that's why he is arguably the best tuner in Tokushima. Anything from engine builds to custom body work occurs in Paddock R on any given day. Taking it a step further is his goal, and he never fails to impress. One thing that surprised me about Paddock R was their willingness to tackle any car brought in. May it need a twin turbo upgrade or a tune-up, they handled it. In Japan this requires extensive training and documentation; there is simply no way around it if you want to have a legitimate shop. Okazaki-san didn't want to limit his clientele to just Japanese models, so he felt that extra schooling was critical. A large certificate now hangs in the lobby stating that they are all licensed Ferrari mechanics.
I heard stories about building turbo-charged monsters, taking Ferrari test drives, and how their EK9 ran 1:48:733 at the Okayama International Circuit. It took almost a week to hear it all. And then one day I found myself going to Paddock R without a translator. I didn't care if I couldn't understand all that was being said to me. Merely being in the shop all day, surrounded by these masterfully-built machines and the people who know how to build them was a natural high, and I was hooked.
Okazaki-san said that a friend's S2000 was coming to the shop the next day for some work and he felt that I should take some pics. Like an excited little kid on Christmas morning, I was up super early the next day, and with camera in hand, I snapped shots of the Paddock R EK9 and the AP1 that Okazaki-san built.
The Civic is quick, even after being converted back to NA. For quite some time it was boosted, but within the last couple of years, its owner grew tired of torque steer and concentrated more on handling. He explained to me that the EK9 was designed for sharp corners and he wanted to return to this, being that it was the foundation of the build. Sure, without boost this hatchback does have a disadvantage on track, but he's been there, done the turbo thing, and has since moved on. The point of evolution is to become a little better every step of the way.
Now, as for the AP1, well, it's just ridiculously good fun. A customer brought in a stock S2000 one day, and basically told the Paddock crew that he wanted a reliable daily driver that was equivalent to a stage one build. Over the next year the customer would pop in with various odds and ends and Okazaki-san was always more than willing to install them. From the titanium exhaust to the slick steering wheel, this build was carefully executed, and it shows. As it pulled into Paddock R's lot, Okazaki-san's face beamed with pride. He leaned over and told me that he still considers this AP1 to be one of the best builds he has ever done.
As I began taking snaps of the cars I couldn't help but watch Mr. Okazaki. He truly was passionate about his craft and he loved talking to his customers about their rides. His enthusiasm for cars was hard to deny, and it felt like he was able to pass this on to his clientele. I guess that taking great pride in owning one of the fastest Civic hatches in Japan is one thing, but it is hearing the sound of someone else's well built AP1 that is music to Okazaki-san's ears.
So maybe the old saying that size doesn't matter is true after all. A couple of extremely well built Hondas can be found in what the Japanese would consider a small town of 270,000. But isn't that what I set out to prove in the first place? Mission accomplished.
Civic Type R
Mugen engine & transmission mounts
Custom forged pistons, forged connecting rods, & port & polish
Technospirit aluminum radiator
Spoon air filter
Custom fuel collector tank & 30 L fuel tank
Redtop dry cell racing battery
Greddy oil cooler & magnetic drain plug
Custom oil catch can
Honda Racing muffler
Mugen shift stabilizer bushings, clutch, clutch cover, & flywheel
ATS final gear, LSD, & tranny fluid
Rebalanced valves, valve timing, & ignition timing
Toda cam gears & sleeved block
Mugen baffled oil pan, engine mounts, & head gasket
Bosch hi-flow fuel pump
Honda Racing reflashed ECU
Spoon Sports oil cap
Apexi N1 coilovers
Custom reinforced subframe
Rims & Rubber
15x7 Enkei NT03+M
195/55-15 Dunlop Direzzas
Delfy pads & discs (F&R)
APP steel braided lines
Muteki forged lug nuts
Custom tow hooks
Type-R side skirts, grille, spoiler, plus front & rear lip
Carrosse (Cusco) roll cage
Bride bucket seat & fire extinguishers
Custom kill switch
Type-R shift knob
Carbon fiber bezel
Personal Grinta black suede/yellow stitch
330mm steering wheel
Mugen titanium exhaust
Spoon 70mm throttle body
Spoon torque damper
Spoon carbon kevlar intake
Spoon air filter
Panasonic racing battery
Thermotec wrapped exhaust
Custom heat shield
Speedmaster 0W-30 racing oil
Spoon 4.4 final gear
NUTEC transmission fluid
NUTEC 80W-140 differential oil
Rims & Rubber
Advan RG 1 wheels
Nankang Ultra Sport NS- II 215/45 R17
Akure titanium rotors (F&R)
APP stainless lines
Bilstein PSS coilovers
Spoon strut tower bar & rear lower tie bar
Spoon bumpsteer kit
Spoon lower control arms (F&R)
J's Racing camber kit
Mugen carbon fiber rear wing
Bride "Low Max" driver's seat
ATC Sprint "Deep Model" steering wheel
Titanium shift knob