10 Ways Tokyo Drift is Not Like the Real Japan


The power sliding revelation ‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift’ that hit cinemas back in 2006 actually had a lot of footage shot within Japan. It would become renowned for shining the spotlight on the sideways phenomenon known as drift. The movie was also authentic in that many of the scenes from the movie were shot on location in Tokyo. In the city itself, it tried to paint realistic insights into both daily schooling life, as well as the sub-culture of underground drift racing.

Source: IMDB

The movie itself was heavily criticised by media critics for its lacklustre story and bland acting performances. Yet, it received raving praise in regards to its special effects and technical driving prowess. However, because of limitations within Japan, most of these scenes were created in Hollywood’s backyard along the streets of LA.

So, as a movie supposedly portraying genuine scenes from the realms of Tokyo, exactly how realistic is it compared to what we know of this modern city. Let’s look at the top 10 things, this movie got wrong when based on real-world Japan.

Just a warning for those ill-informed. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, then we recommend you go watch this crazy ride of an experience before reading on. The following 10 points do contain spoilers after all.

Feel free to check out our second post on how Tokyo Drift is like the real Japan. You may also be interested in our article on the history and emergence of drift in Japan.

If you’re interested in our FAQ Section, you can check our page on Life in Japan or our dedicated Exploring Japan post.

1. Drifting in Public Carparks

We all saw the precise execution of the drifting skills scaling those winding ramps and flying past the concrete columns of the carpark. While these look undoubtedly very cool, most of the driving sequences were captured in LA. Demonstrating how difficult it is to perform such stunts in Japan, even with large movie budgets. To be honest, carparks are very difficult to break into, and are probably the last place would be drifters would want to test their skills. The reason being, especially for police it is very easy to shut down access, at all the entrances and exit points. Furthermore, the potential for accidents or damage to peoples pride and joy is a lot higher with the number of obstacles, pylons and very limited space.

Source: IMDB

In saying that, if you really want to try your hand at the carpark drift scene, you’re gonna need some pretty awesome skills. Key driving personalities including Keiichi Tsuchiya, aka ‘drift king’, were consulted and even choreographed much of the technical sets we could witness in the film. So, to even get close to this kind of skill, you’re gonna need a hell of a lot of practice.

In Japan, you can observe drifting both on the track and off. But when it’s off, it very much stays around the twisty curves of mountainous and countryside tarmac or quiet industrial roads. Late at night when there is very little traffic and far away from civilisation people lockdown these areas to hone their skills. No one would dare take this into the cities, let alone a public car park, as the risks are enormous.

2. Lending Cars to Strangers

After observing that Sean easily gets under DK’s skin, then Han soon hands him the keys to his ride. His curiosity about the kid’s potential drift ability ultimately betrays him though. The risk costs him his car, and so Sean soon finds himself working for Han as his personal errand boy, to pay off his accumulated debt.

Let’s put that above scene in perspective though. Clearly, it is difficult to believe in a highly homogenous and conservative society like japan, that someone would lend you their car keys based on initial impressions alone. What’s more, Sean probably didn’t even have a Japanese drivers license. Further to that, in Japan, there are many people who hold driving licence’s but lack any real-world experience. In effect, they are labelled as ‘paper drivers’. So, especially in the city where trains are so convenient, car ownership is mostly the exception, rather than the rule.

Perhaps one other thing that is specifically applicable to Americans, due to the difference in driving conditions between the USA and Japan, directly exchanging driving licence’s require a knowledge and practical test. Generally, for most Americans, they need to conduct both a knowledge test and a very strictly controlled driving skills test. The practical exam requires you to navigate a specific driving course with minimal errors. From speaking with many people, it is not uncommon to fail on the first attempt either.

3. High School Lunches – No A Grade Presentation Sushi

One of the things that Japanese school cafeterias can be proud of, is their generally positive approach to a balanced diet. Aesthetically, it may not be the most appealing, similar to that of a prison kitchen’s cuisine. However, you may be surprised to know how nutritionally healthy they are.

Now, when we switch to the high school image depicted in Tokyo Drift, we find a dramatically different scenario. Sean and his fellow students are chowing down on some pretty well-presented baskets of sushi. It is the kind of presentation, you would expect to see in your higher-end or fine dining sushi restaurants. No even regular Japanese chain izakayas could compete. So, they are exaggerating the high school scene a little in this regard.

4. Interaction with the Yakuza

The underground crime lords of Japan, the Yakuza, are well known by image and reputation. But if you try to find one on the streets and cities of Japan, you could be mistaken for failing to identify even one, time and time again.

Source: IMDB

To be honest, it is extremely rare for foreigners to have any interaction with this notorious gangsta clan. Typically, they keep to themselves and are not easily provoked let alone, distinguished. Even if they are covered in tattoos they tend to conceal their body art as much as possible with long-sleeved clothing. Culturally, the Japanese are very humble and do not like to stand out in a crowd, Yakuza or not.

In Sean’s introduction to the underground racing scene of Tokyo Drift, it brings him face to face with DK. His antagonist with strong connections to the Japanese mafia. In most cases, if one were to come in contact with an individual, they would surely back away rather than aggravate the circumstances. Furthermore, the chances they understand English are also pretty slim. In our opening scene with Sean, not only does he get under DK’s skin, he pushes his limits with verbal banter, and even challenges him to a race.

If you put yourself in the same scenario, I’m not sure how game you are or well you speak the Japanese language. But I would be backing down pretty quickly. Moreover, I would be doing just about anything I could to try to extinguish any potential aggression or bad blood.

5. Guns in Japan – A Very Rare Sight

In one of Tokyo Drift’s later climactic scenes, DK confronts Sean by pulling a gun on him. Obviously, DK’s connections help him get access to such a weapon. But, in all honesty, guns and gun-related violence just isn’t that common on the streets of Tokyo or the rest of Japan. In fact, gun-related crimes tend to mostly be associated with internal yakuza clashes, rather than involve the public. Instead, knives are more commonplace in criminal related incidents.

Even so, it would be pretty foolish for DK to pull his gun on someone, let alone a foreigner, especially one with military connections. Similarly, it would be futile for Sean’s father, who is enlisted in the navy, to pull a weapon on a native Japanese. It just seems like an impossible event, that would never truly come to fruition.

Japan’s gun laws are very strict in their own right. Farmers and Hunters are basically the only kinds of people with a gun. The hurdles required to obtain a gun are also substantial and include significant training, background checks and the like. For farmers, this is obviously to fend off pests from their animals or produce. For hunters, this is obviously to help them make a living hunting wild boar and other potential pests. That plus the police, who rarely draw their weapon in the first place, are the only legal gun owners in this country.

6. The Underground Tokyo Drift Race Scene

The underground race scene is one of those events generally organised by friends or groups of people who know each other. Typically, this turns into meets at particular spots, like highway refuge areas where people and their machines congregate.

Source: IMDB

Therefore, the scene itself is difficult to break into unless you have contact with of the organisers. These groups don’t post events on social media or publicise anything for the fear of police crackdowns. So, the only way is to join some of these underground societies is to befriend the key people affiliated with these groups.

In addition, they will tend to keep any underground drag or drift meets to very local areas, far away from residential areas, so as not to cause a scene. Industrial areas with wide tarmac and windy mountain crossings are the ideal spots to exploit someone’s streetcar cred.

Tokyo Drift depicts Sean and Twinkie (Bow Wow) easily enter the underground scene of the carpark. In fact, most of the school seems to have some connection to the group. Of course, the driving age in Japan is 18 years old, high school age. However, I highly doubt that many students would be into the scene, let alone have cars worthy of drifting.

7. Car Chases on the Streets of Tokyo Drift

Especially in the cities, while you may see the occasional hoon or car scream down the main road. It is extremely rare to see any kind of car chase on the city streets. Specifically, the crowds of people and the existing amount of traffic, the potential for carnage is extremely great.

If anything only police related episodes would spill onto city streets, but are far more likely on highways and open roads. In my five years of living in Tokyo, I have never once experienced a car chase, let alone heard about one in the suburbs or city roads.

In Tokyo Drift, the car chase involving Han, Sean and DK again is something that would be shut down pretty quickly by the Japanese Police. Especially, as it takes place in the main streets of Tokyo, that’s something that wouldn’t go on for as long as it did.

8. Extreme Hairstyles in Schools

This is entirely dependent on the school in most circumstances, however, schools tend to take presentation very seriously. This begins from their standards regarding personal grooming, to dress code and even extends to girls hair colour and styling too.

In fact, there have been incidents reported where students who change the colour of their hair have been sent home by schools. In some extreme circumstances, we have even heard of teachers colouring the students’ hair back to its original black hair. This is an obvious abuse of a teacher’s power over their students

Tokyo Drift paints this picture differently, as although Sean’s high school seems to have a pretty modest uniform. Most students hairstyles, especially those involved with the underground racing scene have bleached hair and other extreme styling. Schools would not generally tolerate this in most cases.

9. Escaping an Accident (spoiler warning)

We have all witnessed that tragic scene where Han is a casualty of the car chase scene involving DK, Han and Sean. Sean and Neela see Han’s car explode and flee the scene of the accident to avoid any confrontation with the police. Of course, when you consider that they are both foreigners, and the city of Tokyo is smothered in security cameras. Simply, it would be difficult to believe that Police wouldn’t be able to track them down, particularly as they escape via the train.

Source: IMDB

Accident’s in Tokyo are taken very seriously in Japan, and when a death occurs they will everything in their power to account for anyone involved. This would include taking statements from Sean, DK and Neela, and potentially charging them for traffic violations also.

10. Solving Yakuza Disagreements with Drift Races

In the culmination to the Tokyo Drift’s final rivalry, Sean’s gutsy plea to the head of the Yakuza and DK’s uncle is to solve their disagreement with a race. This ends up being a race to determine the fate of either Sean or DK. Naturally, which sees Sean triumphing in the end.

Source: IMDB

The whole idea of how this movie reaches its final climax and resolves the issues between the characters of Sean and DK is just ludicrous. However, the execution definitely makes for some spectacular driving performances, with some truly memorable footage. Just remember to not take it too seriously. Ultimately, I very seriously question the viability of this solution to Yakuza related problems. But hey its a movie, so thats Hollywood for you.

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