If you listen to Ford, you might believe that “Japan is the most closed, developed auto economy in the world,” as the Detroit automaker does not tire to repeat. Somewhere in the hills above Japan’s ancient former capital Kyoto, I am beginning to have my doubts. Why? Around the bend of the mountain road, I suddenly find myself kneed-deep in Volkswagens. VW didn’t get Ford’s memo about a closed market, and it successfully imports its cars to Japan ever since the early days of the Volkswagen bug. Today, they all seem to be here, early Käfer, a few Karman Ghia, hippie era Type 2 buses, even cars that are as good as forgotten in Germany, like the VW Type 4 from Volkswagen’s pre-Golf malaise era.
There are a few violated ones, low-rider Volkswagen buses with their skirts dangerously close to the loose gravel, their suspensions and bodies raped by hentai car-kichi. Some bugs show their rust and patina-covered age. Most are in pristine condition. I could be in Wolfsburg’s Volkswagen Museum, wouldn’t the scent of pine needles from the forest surrounding Lake Shobudani, mixed with the appetite-triggering wafts of yakitori and yakiniku, coming from lakeside barbecue pits, remind me that I am in one of the most beautiful parts of Japan, while I am surrounded by hundreds of Germany’s most iconic cars.