June 03, 2009

Car smarts

Each week on the program Cool Japan, an international panel of foreigners living in Japan is invited to explore and comment upon various aspects of the popular culture. The subject last week was the automobile, and one of the topics presented was itasha.

Itasha (痛車) means "painful car." According to Wikipedia and Zokugo Jiten, The etymology derives from the exacting work such exquisite detailing demands, and as a self-deprecating acknowledgment that any sane non-otaku would be painfully embarrassed to be seen even on the same highway as such a vehicle.

More specifically, itasha could be called moe auto detailing. Again referring to Wikipedia, moe is Japanese slang "referring to a liking or love for characters in video games or anime and manga," and has evolved into an identifiable aesthetic world-wide.

As a school of auto detailing, though, itasha represents a combination of visual genres that does not naturally occur to western minds. The German panelist in particular insisted than no self-respecting German driver would ever mar the factory finish with something like this.

Not to mention doing it to a Lamborgini (itasha is also a pun on "Italian car").

Of course, the Japanese being Japanese, there are itasha seat covers, itasha accessories, itasha auto clubs, itasha kits, itasha websites, itasha competitions, and ero-itasha (whose meaning should be self-evident), which creates a whole new category of the "street-illegal" car.

Another collection of photos here, or you can just google the term.

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