Visiting the Largest AE86 Festival 2023 in Japan

Shortly after I moved to Japan in late 2022, I learned about Japans most famous AE86 meetup in Japan: the AE86 festival, held annually at the Okayama circuit. I decided that I need to take advantage of the first possible opportunity in August 2023 to visit this event.

After booking a ticket to the event, reserving a rental car and applying for leave, I inserted a fresh analog film into my Pentax Spotmatic, and started my adventure. I took the bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka, where I intended to spend the night. However, the streets flooded with tourists made me change my mind, and I continued my journey to the small city Himeji.

Himeji is famous for the Himeji castle, one of the best preserved castles in Japan. It miraculously survived World War II, and is a very impressive sight. Most of the castle Tenshu is made out of wood, which is almost 700 years old.

The next morning, I visited a Toyota rental car shop, and with the help of my broken Japanese, picked up a small car, and – for the first time – (1) drove by myself in Japan, and (2), drove on the “wrong” side of the road.

Afraid at first, I quickly enjoyed the slow road trip (the speed limit was usually 60km/h) through the Japanese rural landscape. The closer I got to Okayama circuit, the more Japanese sport cars from the 80ies and early 90ies mixed in the traffic, sparking my Vorfreude for the event.

After reaching Okayama circuit and queuing behind a lowered S13 Silvia, I struggled to read the signs, and after crossing the entrance gate, drove in the wrong direction, until a seemingly shocked security guard managed to stop me. Eventually, I succeeded in finding the parking lot, took my Pentax, and started exploring. It was 10:30AM, and the sun was already burning. As a European with Nordic roots and vulnerable skin, I was lucky that I brought an umbrella.

The Longchamp wheels are a perfect fit for a facelift black-over-gray Levin.

Since I didn’t know anyone on the festival and my Japanese was not yet on a level to sustain a conversation longer than 3 minutes, I silently walked the areal, looking at cars, taking pictures, and enjoying the sound of 4A-GE engines being beaten on the racetrack.

I am rather quiet person who doesn’t out of the blue likes talking to strangers, so I was basically on my own. I wish I could have spoken with some AE86 petrol heads, but my limited level of Japanese was a major language barrier. Besides myself, I only encountered 3-4 other Caucasians visiting the venue, so we naturally stood out a bit. I promise that by the time I return in 2024, I will have improved a lot.

Because I was a bit lost on the venue, it took me over three hours until I found the main parking lot.

This photo only shows a small section of the parking lot.

I am not joking when I tell you that this was by far the largest AE86 meeting I ever visited. I’ve been to a many car meetups but this was just another level. There must have been well over hundred AE85 and AE86s.

The variety of styles and creativity was enjoyable. Every car had its own unique style. Above Levin features the common Panda paint job, but still manages to stand out because of the rare fender mirrors and a huge “LEVIN” decal on the lower side. Judging by the aged look of it, it seems to have been a factory option, or at least period-correct extra. Combined with the mesh wheels it looks just stunning.

What I like about this decal is that it is probably factory, but has been completely forgotten by the AE86 community. There are so many more common and well-known ways of modding an AE86, but doing things differently and keeping a car in a very custom own style deserves so much credit. I think this Levin sticker and the fender mirrors make this AE86 stand out, because it looks just so different.

This AE86 is a perfect execution of a complete factory OEM look. The well-preserved pre-facelift bumpers, bronze windows, a perfect two-tone paint job, and the shiny 13″ factory allows look awesome. In a lot of cases, the original two-tone paint job is easily distinguishable from non-perfect imitations: note that, for example, the white stripe on the front bumper just stops short of the indicator lights. This intense attention to detail is something that is just so special about so many cars on the event.

This silver-over-black Levin is carrying the rare automatic rotating grill. The grill, the paint perfectly matches the 14″ factory pizza cutter wheels for a lovely OEM look. Note the narrow silver stripe across the fuel lid, indicating that this likely is the factory paint preserved in pristine condition.

A Panda pre-facelift Trueno next to a black over gray Silvia S12.

According to the front bumper badge, it’s a Nissan. A rear-wheel drive sporty two-door coupe with pop-up headlights from the 190ies? It must be an S12, isn’t it?

If I had the money and means to build my dream AE86, it would look exactly like this facelift-red Levin. Everything fits perfectly together for an enhanced OEM look. What are the wheels? Work Equip maybe? I have no clue, but I think the design, color and size fits perfectly. If you know the wheel type, please drop me a comment below.

Wouldn’t you agree that the black-over-gray paint job just looks amazing? This Trueno shows slight signs of aging – note the duct-taped hole in the rocker panel, the advanced stages of corrosion on the rear wheel arches, and the sun-faded paint – but still, it just looks so amazing. I love the way the owner gave some slight individual touches to it with perfect fitting wheels and automatic fog lamps. The slight signs of aging just give it even more character.

The black-over-gray Levin from the first picture making its way home.

The Panda paint job was by far the most common.

After about 7 hours of enjoyment, sunburn and fried soba noodles, I made myself on the way back to Himeji. I managed to buy some new spare parts for my USDM 86 back in Germany (a new wiper fluid reservoir, and a TODA distributor heat shield). I will for sure be back for 2024.

While I also took some videos with my smartphone, I felt that the analog pictures feel a bit more unique and better suit the vibes from the 80ies, so anyway – hope you enjoyed reading!

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