Itasha is a trend popular with Japan’s sizeable community of nerds (also known as ‘otaku’), where individuals will decorate their cars with illustrations of their favourite characters from video games, anime or manga-usually cute or sometimes sexy young girls. In Tokyo, the best place to spot itasha is Akihabara- Japan’s Mecca for all things geeky.
The word itasha has it’s origins in Japan’s boom years, and initially referrred to the imported Italian cars that zipped across Tokyo, a combination of the words Italy and sha, Japanese for car. However, in latter day recession plagued years, the word has come to have more geeky connotations, a play on the otaku concept of itai, literally painful, either because of the embarrassment of owning such a vehicle, or the huge expensive of the car itself. Since the 1980s, itasha have been decorated with cuddly toys and stickers, but in more recent years, with the help of the internet, the modern wave of otaku culture influenced itasha has emerged.
Many of J-pop artist Ayumi Hamazaki’s army of male fans, known as Team Ayu, have chosen to honour their favourite singer in distinctive itasha form, plastering their vehicles with her image and logo and some even adopting her birth date as their licence plate number.
The trend is spreading further than just ordinary personally owned and decorated vehicles- itasha have been featured in televised motor sports, and the style of decoration can be seen on aeroplanes and other goods. And it’s not only fictional characters nowadays who may be given an automotive tribute by their most loyal followers. Many of J-pop artist Ayumi Hamazaki’s army of male fans, known as Team Ayu, have chosen to honour their favourite singer in distinctive itasha form, plastering their vehicles with her image and logo and some even adopting her birth date as their licence plate number.
Twenty-first century otakuhobbies in Japan are a far cry from the solitary nerd hobbies of the past, with the internet allowing even the shiest and most socially awkward of fan boys to connect with those that share his interests. Roaring around the streets of Tokyo in their hyper bright, fan boy culture inspired itasha, the geeks are out loud and proud.