Vaporwave and JDM: How 80’s Japan birthed two underground subcultures

Cruisin on a summer night down the highway in the suburbs of Chicago, dashboard lit up, foot
on the accelerator, and it’s not a late night cruise without Resonance by Home bumpin’ with bass on
max. For many genres, cars are an integral part of the culture – and vice versa. Rock and roll and
American muscle cars for example have “Panama” and “Hot For Teacher” both by Van Halen, written solely
for the purpose to drive to. But unlike any other genre I have found, there is something about
vaporwave, from future funk to outrun, that makes driving all the more fun.

But there is a much more deep-seated relationship between cars and vaporwave that make cars
an integral part of vaporwave culture and vice versa. The video “Miami Nights 1984” on Youtube has more
than 18 million views and shows a chrome DeLorean cruising through a post-apocalyptic version of
Miami. Another car that’s not quite vaporwave but has definitely impacted the vaporwave community is
the Toyota AE86, most famous for its appearance in the TV series Initial D.

You can’t talk about the eighties and Japan without vaporwave and/or cars. Both JDM and
Vaporwave are rooted in the cross-section of eighties Japanese and American culture. After the oil crisis
in the seventies, America both rebounded pulling a full 180 with the magic of Reaganomics. Japan,
similarly saw an economic boom especially in their car market as the gas crisis forced American buyers
to buy foreign, better fuel economy vehicles from Japan than the big American gas guzzlers of before.
With this, we saw the introduction of the Honda Civic, the Toyota Corolla, Nissan Skyline, and others.
Japanese cars didn’t just come with a better fuel economy, but also cutting edge Japanese technology
that made American cars look old fashioned by comparison. Japanese cars began to resemble futuristic
spaceships in design into the 80s and 90s with smooth contours instead of the boxy American inspired
car designs.

The Japanese domestic market in America exposed the average American to something they
hadn’t seen before, a futuristic version of Japan that was techno and cool. This came alongside the
introduction of anime into American culture with shows like Evangelion, Akira, Dragon Ball Z, and (of
course) Initial D. Fast forward to 2011, some girl slows down a Dianna Ross song, slaps some Japanese
text on there, calls it art and BOOM! It’s 2020 we’re in a pandemic and Vaporwave is a bona fide genre
according to Spotify. Looking at common Vaporwave tropes of an emphasis on retro technology as being
something futuristic, with communist undertones critiquing the overconsumption of late-stage
capitalism, and especially the pastel colors, we need look no other place than eighties cars.

Still today Vaporwave and the JDM scene have a lot in common. For one they’re both
underground movements that have crawled their way into the mainstream. Sure, you have Japanese cars winning professional races these days, and Subaru has domination over the sport of rallycross.
However, the more widely known JDM scene I’m talking about is the underground one. Growing up in
the Chicago suburbs, there was no shortage of interesting cars on the road. Chicago has its own car
culture in and of itself with drag racing spots like lower wacker drive where amateur mechanics show off
their souped-up commuter cars. This is where vaporwave and JDM really find a common space. When I
think of vaporwave, I often imagine popup headlights from a Nissan Skyline or the sleek body of a
Mitsubishi Lancer (not the Evo the Initial D variant). Just look at these awesome custom builds from JDM

Check out this Arizona Tea Toyota AE86 posted by u/gedden8co on r/Shitty_Car_Mods
‘Jazz GTR’ posted by u/Saca50 on r/VaporwaveAesthetics
Not eighties or JDM but I couldn’t leave out Lil Uzi’s sweet ride

In retrospect, it’s pretty easy to see the connections between the vaporwave and JDM scene. But what makes it so important I think is how they’re both important subcultures cut from the same cloth; a love for DIY and retro aesthetics is what makes vaporwave a genre what it is. Without the DIY bedroom producers on Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Youtube, the genre wouldn’t exist. And as an amateur vaporwave producer myself, I’ve found there’s an incredible culture out there of people on the internet who want to help you mix and master your latest creative project. The only other place I feel that is in the JDM car community where the car modding golden rule is it doesn’t have to be perfect or status quo, if you can help someone get it working can make their vision for a project car, then you get in there and do it. So next time you’re at a red light and you see a Skyline pull up with purple underglow, give him a nod and turn up your vaporwave.

About Evan Sekiguchi

Evan is a freshman from Hinsdale, Illinois studying business who can be found with a guitar at any given time of day. His favorite music genres include punk, post punk, psychedelic, and prog rock.

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