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What is meant by “Japanese Domestic”?
There are many vehicles on the road today that were built exclusively for one country or one continent. In some cases, these vehicles were available only in specific places because only particular countries like Japan had a want or need for it, or because the manufacturer felt the vehicle wouldn't sell well. One known example of this is the Nissan Skyline, which is made even more popular by the Fast and Furious movies. Some editions of the vehicle are fairly rare and were initially sold only in Japan.
What tends to be unique about JDM vehicles?
Real JDM vehicles that were made in Japan often have a couple of unique qualities that will set them apart from vehicles sold in the United States.
Right hand drive
The steering wheel and controls are on the opposite side of Japanese cars. Instead of having your gas and brakes on the left side, a JDM should have the controls on the right.
JDM cars usually have better gas mileage to comply with local regulations within Japan. This can impact the performance of sports cars too – which might not as fast as the ones sold in the US.
One big factor is style. Japanese domestic cars tend to feature more futuristic styling. This styling can change when or if a vehicle is “Translated” for a foreign market. A JDM car can also be a bit smaller than those driven in the US.
How did the Japanese Domestic Market come about?
Japan had a hot economy in the 1980s and 1990s. This led to a competitive car market and Japanese manufacturers developing seriously cool, and possibly overly engineered vehicles to earn the disposable income of people who wanted to drive something unique.
What are some examples of JDM cars?
You probably know Toyota as having a focus on economy and efficiency while adding a little style. The Toyota Century was available only in Japan, and was practically a limosine. The Century carried Rolls Royce-like styling with an air suspension and sound proofing – along with a powerful V8 engine. It was a diplomat's vehicle, and a nice one at that.
“Every day driver” and “Super car” don't normally mix. In the ease of the first Acura NSX, it was among the first truly powerful sports cars to be fairly reliable and easy to drive. While it wasn't the fastest car on the road, it offered outstanding precision turning.
Toyota Mk IV Supra
The Toyota Supra did two things really well: It handles like a dream, and it can be modified to drag it's already powerful 320hp engine up into the thousands.
How does a JDM car get to another country?
The easy answer is by shipping it. Car enthusiasts are willing to pay extra and be patient to own what amounts to a unicorn in their own country.
There are some rules to follow regarding JDM imports. A “JDM” vehicle may not be imported to the United States until it is at least 25 years old. This also means that JDM vehicles might have some mileage on them.
In some states like Maine, Rhode Island, and New York, at least some Japanese Domestic Market vehicles are banned due to conflicts with safety standards and traffic laws. Check with your state authorities to see if the JDM you want is legal to drive.
The ups and downs of a JDM
Japanese cars tend to be very well made and reliable. The parts on a typical JDM reflect that, and last a long time – which is part of the reason why the cars are still available after 25 years.
JDM cars tend to be niche vehicles for people who are willing to pay for a unique vehicle. Since the process of finding and importing a JDM to the United States or other countries tends to be difficult, reselling it tends to only be a small loss – if not a gain sometimes.
While not always the most desirable feature, fuel efficiency can help – especially when combining fuel efficiency with a better style.
With a high resale value comes a high price. Both the process of getting a JDM vehicle to the United States involves the cost of transport – and because a resold vehicle might reflect that value
The manual and radio will be in Japanese. If you don't know how to read Japanese, you might want to start learning.
When a JDM breaks down, things could get a little ugly. The part may be difficult to import, and an American version of the same product might not do the same thing.
Are vehicles like the Honda Civic or Toyota Celica considered JDM?
Mostly no. The very well known consumer level vehicles are not considered JDM at their base. However, Honda and Toyota have been making off-shoots off their initial vehicles with unique styling and racing qualities that make certain models and trims JDM.
The average commuter Honda Civic or Accord that you see on a dealer lot is not, however, considered JDM because those cars and built and designed for the American market.
How can you tell if a vehicle is JDM?
One of the first signs is potentially the steering wheel on the opposite side. Some JDM enthusiasts have a good enough eye that they can tell by stole and markings alone.
If you don't know, consider asking the owner of the car. They might like to be asked about their unique vehicle.
When has JDM been most popular?
JDM become more popular in the United States before the 2000s and after the release of movies like Fast and Furious in theatres. Street racing has been a source of gathering people with car knowledge and overall enthusiasm for unique vehicles. Video games like Midnight Club also brought renewed interest in JDM like vehicles.
A couple of the determining factors for JDM spirit have come from economics. When Japan is in an economic boom, the types of vehicles tend to move toward exotics and unique models because people can afford to buy the car. When the economy falters, they focus more on vehicles that everyone can afford.
About The Author
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding