Yosuke Takahata admits that if he was afraid of gossip, he wouldn't dare "drive anywhere": his car is adorned with large images of a curvaceous young girl with abundant auburn hair, a character from a Japanese cartoon .
This 31-year-old car salesman with an improbable mullet cut is part of a very masculine community of Japanese people who can spend the equivalent of several thousand euros to personalize their vehicles by pasting representations of their characters from " favorite anime.
These cars, motorcycles or caravans are called "itasha", a portmanteau word that can roughly be translated as "embarrassing car", and which reflects the poor reputation of this fashion when it was born in the Japanese archipelago in the early 2000s. .
But mentalities have since evolved, and anime and other art forms (manga, video games) once considered "subcultures" now enjoy greater recognition in Japanese society.
To decorate his luxurious Jaguar XJ, Yosuke Takahata chose Daiwa Scarlet: a character from the "Uma Musume Pretty Derby" franchise, where racehorses are reincarnated into slender young girls.
"He's the character I love, and that's all that matters," Mr. Takahata simply explains.
"It's an extension of the practice of having a character's picture on your phone," said Shota Sato, another 26-year-old car salesman who also follows the itasha culture with his friends.
"Itasha Tengoku", the annual high mass of the genre in Tokyo, brings together up to a thousand vehicles decorated in this way, halfway between "cosplay" (disguises as pop-culture characters) and tuning show .
Many of the owners of exhibited cars have taken the coquetry well beyond the bodywork, with the wheels, engines and cabin just as richly decorated in anime style, in a festival of dazzling colors.
Event organizer Kenichi Kawahara, who also publishes a magazine dedicated to itasha, says the culture developed naturally among young people - "over 99% men" - who were passionate about cars and motorcycles. animates at once.
But this passion has a cost: it takes up to a million yen (more than 6,800 euros) for a complete "itasha" decoration.
Some save a little by sticking the vinyl themselves, but most leave this task to a specialized store.
Naoya Imai runs one such company in Tokyo, many of whose clients are itasha owners.
He develops a design in consultation with his client, then prints it on vinyl stickers which he applies to the car.
Aligning the lettering and other intricate details makes this a painstaking process that can take up to ten days. Because according to Mr. Imai, sticking the image of a character on a car is not enough, it takes a sense of design to create the perfect atmosphere.
The growing recognition of the itasha culture means that today more and more owners want to "stand out" even more and try to get complete strangers to admire their vehicles too, says Mr Imai.
Seeing the result can be an emotional moment for owners like 29-year-old Ryosuke Nakano, who took his Nissan Skyline to Mr. Imai's shop for a complete body wrap.
Mr. Nakano had previously put more discreet itasha stickers on the back of his car himself, but nothing compared to the work of Mr. Imai, who delivered him huge characters from the animation series "Lycoris Recoil" on the front and both sides of his vehicle.
"I'm a little scared of how people will react when they see this," Nakano told AFP. "But I don't care. That's what I like."
04/28/2023 07:07:31 - Tokyo (AFP) - © 2023 AFP