June 6, 2023


Automotive and technology

American x Japanese Car Life At Kadena Air Base

American x Japanese Car Life At Kadena Air Base

Let’s get this little fact out of the way first. After close to 30 years living in Japan, it’s taken me all this time to get down to Okinawa.

What was I thinking? How is that even possible? The truth is, I don’t even know. I guess, whenever I’ve gone on vacation or taken a break, I have always just travelled to another country and indulged in a proper out-of-Japan experience. But a few weekends ago, a bunch of very cool guys from the Okinawa main island showed me what this special region of the Japanese archipelago has to offer. I’ve truly been missing out.


This is not the first time Speedhunters has ventured down to Okinawa, but irrespective of that, I wanted to experience it for myself. And I crammed a lot into my short trip.

I want to kick things off with a small gathering that was kindly organized around my visit. Two things made this meet unique.


The first being it was held inside the biggest United States Air Force base on the island, Kadena Air Base.


The super-cool guys from 18 FSS combined forces with the team that manages the Shogun Auto Car Center – basically a tooled-up garage that US military personnel stationed in Okinawa can hire out space at to work on their cars – and gave us access to their premises.

That was a particularly important factor here, because of the second thing that made this gathering unique – a strong typhoon was quickly approaching us, ready to make landfall right in the middle of the meet.


But luckily the gusts of wind and the moody skies didn’t bother us until later in the night, meaning that the first half of the gathering was held outside.


We met by one of the main gates where, as a civilian, I needed to be signed in by someone who had Kadena Air Base access. Driving in along the massively wide roads in convoy with the first batch of cars that had showed up was pretty amazing.

No matter how many times I visit a US military base in Japan, the immediate difference in visuals as soon as you set foot inside always makes an impact. But nothing could have prepared me for Kadena. The best way I can describe it is going from tiny, cramped, narrow Japan with its organized chaos, over-population of power lines and overgrown vegetation to, well… Texas! Massive wide-open spaces, clean and meticulously manicured fields and hedges, and very American-looking buildings – it was a totally surreal experience.


However, at the same time you are never too far away from being reminded which country you’re in!


It didn’t take long until most of the parking spots were filled, so this was a good time for me to take a closer look at what had shown up.


Let’s start with a truck that we just don’t get to see much in Japan, a GMC Typhoon. It was quite amusing to see this, given the weather that was headed our way.


This particular Typhoon sits on Corvette C4 wheels and sports an interesting pair of fender ducts. Extra points for those who can guess what car these were taken from…

Of course, the Typhoon’s defining feature is its engine – a 4.3L V6 with the added benefit of a single TD06 turbocharger. All four wheels are driven through a 4-speed auto, which explains why, if you’ve seen one on the internet, it was probably being launched hard at the drag strip.


The coolest detail had to be the period-correct Motorola car phone on the dash.


I can’t be the only who thinks GMC should do a retro take on this unique truck, can I?


Keeping with the American theme for a moment, check out this cool Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z.


Under the hood of the third-gen Camaro sits a 5.7L small block good for about 250hp. It’s the boxy race car looks that make this car special though, and of course the V8 soundtrack.


And if you get tired of the lack of power there’s always the 634ci crate motor good for 1,000hp that Chevy sells…


I love a tidy Nissan RPS13, and this was a great example. Not only has it been nicely restored to OEM++ level, it’s daily driven too.


The Yokohama AVS Model 5s are a great look, and check out the ‘SR20DET Twin Cam Turbo’ decal – a Nissan dealer option from back in the day that the 180SX’s owner has recreated as they are virtually impossible to find these days.


I got to ride around in this silver JZX100 Toyota Chaser the day after the meet so I could check out a cool garage and car collection I’ll be sharing with you soon. I’m all for the simple approach – stock body, decent lowering and TE37s.


A few non-military cars were invited to the meet too, including this air-bagged Subaru Impreza WRX.


My love for boxy cars from the ’80s was tickled with this super-clean R30 Skyline, which you’ll see more of in a moment.


A meet in Japan is never complete without a kei car and this Suzuki was doing its best race car impression.


It wasn’t long before the sun began to dip and light rain started to fall. Despite more cars continuing to arrive, it was everyone’s cue to migrate indoors.


While that was happening, I took a quick look in the shop area of Shogun Auto Care Center, which is stocked up regularly with all the maintenance essentials.


If you’re not keen to work on your car yourself, this facility actually employs its own mechanics who will do so in the pit garages outside. It’s impressive to see how US military personnel are supported, even when they’re stationed in other countries.


The Shogun Auto Car Center has recently been treated to a pretty through renovation, which included five new car lifts in the DIY area.


It wasn’t too long before the main workshop was filled to the brim with an awesome selection of machinery.

As it turns out, I met the owner of this ER34 Skyline GT-t in Hawaii back in 2014 when I covered a Fatlace show there. He’s since joined the military, sold his Acura (which you can see at the very end of this post) and is now stationed in Okinawa.


He’s slowly building up his sanyon, having first taken care of the exterior and a bit of custom paint and airbrushing under the hood. The engine and performance side of things are next on the list.


The car looks great sitting on a set of RAYS Gram Lights 57CR wheels.


As mentioned on Speedhunters many times before, US military members stationed in Japan are issued ‘Y’ license plates for their personal cars to differentiate them from local civilians,. The ‘Y’ replaces the usual hiragana character used on regular plates.


It didn’t take much time in Okinawa for me to realize that I need to be visiting this place often as I can as there are so many feature-worthy cars to shoot.


Cars like this JZX100 Toyota Chaser, which is nicely executed all round.


The most surprising thing to me was the fact it’s bagged, running an Air Lift Performance system with the compressors and tank neatly installed in the trunk.


A white Evo on white Enkei Tarmac wheels will always hit the spot.


It was fun chatting to some of the owners and finding the back story behind each build, which for me is always the best thing about car culture anyway.


I also thought it was cool that the US military guys connect with local enthusiasts and invite them along to events they organize on base.


One little look outside and we were all thanking our stars for the awesome indoor venue. As you can see, the weather was pretty miserable by this point in the night.


As I mentioned, I’ve got some more features from Okinawa coming soon. In fact, you can see two of them in this picture.


I want to give a massive thank you to all who were involved in making this night at Kadena Air Base so special. The hospitality extended to me was amazing.

That said, I really can’t wait to get back down to Okinawa again, just hopefully with more co-operative weather next time.

Dino Dalle Carbonare
Instagram: dino_dalle_carbonare
[email protected]