Shakotan Culture: Mizuno Works Customs

Words & Photography: Luke Ray

This was to be the one where I really didn’t know what to expect. Koy-Hey Takada from Motorhead Magazine was kind enough to offer to take us out to Mizuno Works in Saitama provence, north from Tokyo. And that’s pretty much all I had. I quite deliberately did not do extensive research about Mizuno-san and his operation. Having not featured Japanese car content before, my knowledge of Mizuno’s work and influences were minimal, and it wasn’t actually until I returned home that I started to discover quite how important Mizuno’s work has been in Japanese car culture over recent years. Yeah ok, call that somewhat naive, but I liked the fact that it gave me a fresh introduction to Mizuno and his workshop without any prior knowledge. I enjoyed going up to just see a guy and what he does for as living without much prior preconceptions or thoughts.

Now that I have spent time with Mizuno-san and his work, I have a newly formed respect and admiration for not only a person, but a whole ‘look’ and genre of car customisation, and that’s got to be a good result, right?

The first thing that hit me when we parked up outside was an immaculate and heavily modified Nissan Laurel. It was very low, very purple, and the attention to detail upon first inspection was off the scale. But, more of that later.

The location of Mizuno Works is definitely worthy of mention. Located out in a rural area, it sits on the edge of a small village, with a quiet country residential street to one side, a large factory opposite, and farming fields in all directions. It’s a small, single level workshop with a compact courtyard out the front, and a yard to the side with some parts donor cars stacked up two high like a little Mizuno-junkyard. Another lean operation, I instantly got the impression that a lot of high quality work is being pumped out from a compact, efficient space.

Mizuno came out to meet us with an enthusiastic handshake, and a huge beaming smile and welcomed us in. The main workshop is where Mizuno-san displays one of his loves; rare and collectable wheels. He was very keen to point out the sets that he has collected over the years and encouraged photos of them, so of course I obliged!

To be honest, we didn’t spend much time inside, as it was outside where the magic was happening. There were a couple of cars parked out on the courtyard that were pulling my gaze, and hopefully form the photos you can get a feeling for why. The first was a gold Skyline, a customer car that was near completion. The second was a 230Z in a striking green and black colour scheme sitting as low as I’ve ever seen a Z sit. I just had to know more about these cars and of course, extensive photo taking began.

I’d like to extend an extra thanks to one of our Melbourne readers, Shannon Crozier, who is a big Mizuno fan and supplied the interview questions:

When did your lifelong love for cars start, and where/how did you find this interest?

I bought a van for ¥10,000 ($100) when I was 18 years old, it was when I started loving cars. When people around me started buying expensive cars, I was thinking how to make my van cool because I didn't have enough money to get an expensive car. I painted it, made it low and eventually I started customising by myself.

You travelled around the USA as a teenager by yourself. How was that adventure for you?

I traveled around the states by myself as a backpacker when I was 22 years old for three months. I got a job and started living by myself when I was 18 years old, but I wasn't really satisfied with my life, so I suddenly decided to go to the states with a little bit of money.

I can't speak English, so I thought it was crazy. But, I was able to communicate with many people from all over the world by using some words I know. I went around the states by Greyhound to save money.

We hear that you are very interested in drag racing. How did that start and why?

I also became a fan of drag race car when I started customising cars. ‘Zero Yon’ was a big trend in Japan at that time.

How did your interest in the shakotan/kyusha style start?

It was always going to become Shakotan. I just thought it's cool, and no suspension is better than a car which is customised with a lot of effort in it. Naturally I tend to love classic cars.

What was your previous work history before Mizuno Works, and how did Mizuno Works begin?

I worked for paint and bodywork shops for regular cars. When I was 27 years old, I started Mizuno Works. It's been 17 years this year.

You collect rare & period wheels. How did that start?

There's no reason for collecting the rims, but I just really love them.

How have the shakotan/kyusha cars and the culture that goes with them changed over the years? What are your thoughts on how the trends/styles have been picked up by other countries?

I think custom car lovers always have custom cars. It just repeats itself forever since long time ago. I'm very proud of Japanese Shakotan culture.

The cars…

Green S30Z

What is this model and when did you first acquire it?

The green one is a 1975 Datsun S30Z. I have been keeping this Z for 10 years.

What modifications have you done to it during your ownership?

It has a custom L28 3.1L. Fully tuned!! Almost all the fibreglass parts of the exterior are one-offs. It has 4 wheel full tap ride adjustable dampers. The transmission is an old OS's 3-speed cross. The differential is a R180 Final 4.3 LSD. The motor has been bored up to custom L28 3100. Almost all of parts are from Kameari Engine Works and AS. Also it features 6 throttle 50π injection with Mortec control.

Where did your inspiration come from for this build? In what style is it made?

Japanese old racing style.

The colour is awesome! What is it?

The colour is khaki. I have changed to this colour 5 years ago to put it in Auto Salon. This colour is inspired by Japanese military aircraft.

What are the wheels?

The rims were used for old Nissan race cars, and they processed iron rims.

Gold Skyline

What is this model? Is it yours or a customer’s?

Customer’s. He has been keeping this car for 16 years.

What modifications have you done to it?

Customized L28 3.1L fully tuned.

The current colour is the 5th colour that we have painted it in, and it's been like that for 8 years now.  It has RX-3 Savanna Works for racing. The rear spoiler is a one-off made. The engine has Solex 44π, it generates more than 300 horsepower.

Where did your inspiration come from for this build? In what style is it made?

It's old Bosozoku style.

Why have you made the modifications that you have made? What decisions did you make during the build?

Flashy showy exterior is the trend now, so we tried an old flashy racing colour, but I think what we have now is the coolest. I discussed a lot with customer to build this car.

What are the future plans for this project?

We try to keep like this for long time.

This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 18.

Luke RayJapan, Bosozoku