While on assignment in Japan this May, I sat down for a quick Q&A with the new head shachou (boss) of J’s Racing, Hisaaki Murakami. While Murakami-san and I did talk about the past some, I decided to focus primarily on the shop’s future. Remember, there’s a reason our eyes are in the front of our heads, and not in the back.
Long before the days of titanium exhaust, S2000 rear diffusers, and the “hyper ECU,” there stood two friends in Osaka who were merely trying to make ends meet. Outside of the expenses associated with their daily living habits, the pair had to fund an addiction: racing. If racing is considered a pricey hobby here in the States, over in old Nippon it’s a bloody gouger! This is a country where mediocre six-packs of beer run $20, things like tailoring your car to a race can land exuberant fees, and a single matinee ticket to the movies is in the same price range as that six-pack you just snuck into the theater. But forget these trivial facts. The biggest hurdle these two young men were facing at the time was that all of this was taking place in the 1990s.
While Japan might be considered the most advanced country in the world by most, it fell on hard times when its economic “bubble” burst in the early ’90s. At the time Junichi Umemoto and Hisaaki Murakami were doing what thousands of gearheads around the world do every day: parting out cars. But with stricter Japanese laws, limited resources, and the absence of tools like Craigslist, this was no easy task. Abandoned parking lots acted as shop bays, parts were resold to save money, and no one had access to an impact gun. These were trying times, but their friendship endured because they both knew that this grueling daily grind was keeping them active on the track.
Protocol was a lot simpler back then. Buy a modified car that’s past its prime, remove all of its tuner parts, thus restoring it to stock form, then sell off those race goodies while keeping the best for your own builds. Then all you had to do was sell the car. These boys knew that if they kept flipping as many cars as possible everyday, they just might be able to keep Junichi in the driver’s seat. And by god they did exactly that; “J” was officially racing!
One of many amazing go-fast displays in the J’s Racing showroom
Years later things have changed a lot. Junichi’s recent run in with the law doesn’t afford him the ability to drive anymore, and the weight of the company has fallen upon Hisaaki’s shoulders as he is the acting president with a stable full of inspirational horses. We asked him questions about the companies humble beginnings, and perhaps even more importantly, where the company is headed.
Micah: Please tell us about your time with J’s Racing.
Hisaaki: I helped start the company back in the day with Junichi. I have been here for 20 years—it’s my life. Back when we first started, all we did was work and race. Our dreams of starting a shop began forming in the mid-’90s when our little green Civic hatch won some local races and recognition. Once we started truly understanding how the Honda EG6 chassis worked, we were able to find our own ways to improve it. It wasn’t until the late ’90s when we got our hands on a DC2 that we really started making waves.
Micah: Why Honda? If not Honda, then what?
Hisaaki: In the early days it wasn’t just Hondas we built. Back then we would mod anything JDM if the money was right. But we’ve always had Hondas as our daily drivers and as our race cars. The Type R badge’s simplicity, racing heritage, and enduring style have us hooked. These cars have become our lifeblood. Today we focus on creating Honda parts exclusively. If we hadn’t worked with Hondas, who knows what could have happened. I would probably be playing bass guitar in a rock band somewhere. Sounds fun, but not very profitable. God, I’m glad this whole business idea we had took off!
Micah: What sets you apart from your competition?
Hisaaki: Our ability to draw inspiration from anything, and then incorporate that into every imaginable aspect of what we are as a company. We cover the whole spectrum of automotive customization. We aren’t afraid to push the envelope at times with our creative spirit, and its that spirit that will always set us apart from more conservative tuning shops.