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The otaku, a Japanese term for people with interest in Japanese visual media – anime, manga, and video games – that borders on obsession has itself spawned numerous subcultures. One of them is the itasha, a slang term which denotes the otaku trend for the decoration of cars, including their steel tubes, with anime, manga and/or videogame decals, often conceived as an extension of the “cartist” craze that has gone on for some time in the West. Literally meaning “painful car”, these kinds of decorated vehicles are often seen in Akihabara in central Tokyo, in Nipponbashi at Osaka, and at Ōsu in Nagoya. Not content with its almost weekly attendances in local itasha expos, the trend has caught on with other places such as Taiwan, the US, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, and yes, even the Philippines.
Because of the vast array of designs from Japanese geek culture that can be used as inspiration, the designs greatly vary. These can range from Moe (cute girls) like cat-eared women and schoolgirls, multiple-themed variations, and even fearsome-looking designs from darker-themed anime such as Death Note painted on or tracked with decals, . And it’s not just with cars, because these colorful decorations have also been found with motorcycles (itansha) and bicycles (itachari), even extending to aircraft with Pikachu, computers, and even automotive electronics like GPS navigation systems featuring anime character voices.
Unusually enough, even non-otaku can be drawn to it, perhaps because of its peculiarity on the road. Over the years, interest in anime, manga and videogame spinoffs in general are attributed to the rise of otaku culture not only within Japan but also worldwide. Because it started strictly from the automobile scene, itasha is often inspired by anime about racing, like the Initial D series. Annually, Japan holds huge country-wide expos for itasha, with the usual fanfare of cosplay, sing-along, and even band performances.
Interestingly, even the Philippines has caught on with this craze, with the Car Show and Technology Nights 2009, showcasing some examples of what Filipino otaku and anime-heads with the showroom styles that deviate from those that originated from Japanese models.
Because of its unique style, the involvement of modeled and manufactured itasha in real motorsport events has become a tongue in cheek feature of Japan’s motorsport industry. It’s not an unusual sight for one to witness Japanese-manufactured race cars sporting itasha decals in underground and regional club events, and even in international events and races sponsored by none other than the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile. In fact, itasha has become a way for advertising the car manufacturer and the specific anime, manga, or videogame it sports. In other cases, the itasha design is taken into consideration right when the car’s concept is executed for manufacture.
With its signature deigns and creative modes of representing the otaku culture in general, itasha expresses the uniqueness of a cultural phenomenon. Bringing with it the various genres of anime and the life outside of life it creates for its fanatics, itasha pushes the boundaries of what otaku culture can be for those who believe in it.