itasha 痛車: Embarrassing Cars in Japan

itasha 1Japan has a unique and varied car industry. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find weird cars in Japan. There’s a word in Japanese called “痛車” (itasha) which is the combination of “pain” and “car” to equal “painful car”.

The car itself isn’t painful, but it is painful to look at or makes you cringe in embarrassment. Personally, out of all the things people do to stand out to make their car attract attention, I don’t really mind this compared to people who play their music too loud. Regardless, let’s see what’s the deal with these “itasha” cars.

Why are cars 痛車 (itasha)?

itasha 2Imagine someone putting decals and decorations of their favorite show all over their car, except the show is intended for a young audience or the characters are young anime girls. This is the opposite of a cool ride. When you see a car like this go by, you’re sure to do a double take.

itasha 5How could someone possibly want to do this to their car? In Japan, you have a certain category of nerds called “otaku“, but they do things their own way. Some otaku like to be proud of their lifestyle and want to show it–by decorating their car.

Some otaku that make their “itasha” are satisfied enough with having decorated their car and drive it quietly. There are others, however, that want to go beyond. These are the people who crank up their high-pitched girl anime songs while driving down the road. Anyone within the area is sure to see it and cringe. Ahuh, you see? Did you cringe? You just got “itasha”ed! All right, I suppose that won’t catch on.

Why do people do this?

itasha 3Great question. I searched on some Japanese websites to find some possible answers and here is what I came up with:

  • Some people want to decorate their cars because they don’t like it vanilla from the manufacturer.
  • They want to drive a car that gives them the same experience they get from watching anime or listening to anime songs.
  • Because they feel it’s “cute”
  • It takes a lot of work to design and decorate the cars, so therefore I must be cool if you see me riding in a decorated car
  • Some otaku really love their anime girl characters and want to be surrounded by them at all times

How do people feel about “itasha”?

According to the discussions I read on Yahoo Wisdom Bag (It’s like Yahoo Answers), most people feel that “itasha” are not cool and certainly don’t reflect well on the person inside the car.

However, the point was brought up many times that this is a harmless thing and that it’s better to have a “itasha” around you than perhaps a “badboy” car or cars that cause trouble by playing music too loud. I certainly agree with this, but I can understand the cringeworthyness that comes from seeing itasha cars.

Next, Bicycles!

痛チャリThis topic is the reason why I decided to write about “itasha” in the first place. For young people such as high schoolers or young adults without a car, they still want to do something to show off their Japanese nerdiness. What better than to make your entire bicycle cringeworthy and sure to turn people’s heads?

That’s right. Decorate your bicycle and let loose!

These kind of bicycles are known as 痛チャリ or “painful bicycles”

痛チャリ2I don’t live in a big city like Tokyo, so I don’t quite see so many of these. However, I have seen one pretty consistently in one particular area in my city. The best time to see these things are night because they are equipped with LED lights and all sorts of crazy decorations.

If you’re lucky, the people riding these bicycles have small speakers attached somewhere and are playing anime music. It’s almost magical because you can’t believe another human is riding this contraption.

痛チャリ3When you see one of these bad boys pass you on the opposite side of the street, you’re sure to watch the painful bicycle until it’s a mere dot in the distance. It’s so hypnotizing because it’s really cringeworthy but so fascinating.

It’s sure to be an interesting conversation starter if you happen to be with friends or family as one goes by, that’s for sure.

If you live in Japan or have visited, have you seen any embarrassing cars or bikes? Let me know in the comments!

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