Itasha; “Japanese painful cars”, fast and the furious, eat your heart out!

Itasha (痛車), literally “painful car”, is a Japanese term for an otaku fad of individuals decorating the bodies of their cars with fictional characters of animemanga, or video games (especiallybishōjo game or eroge). These characters are predominately “cute” female. The decorations usually involve paint schemes and stickers. Automobiles are called itasha, while similar motorcyclesand bicycles are called itansha (痛単車) and itachari (痛チャリ), respectively.

The cars are seen prominently in places such as Akihibara (Tokyo), Nipponbashi (Osaka), or Ōsu (Nagoya).

In 1980s, when Japan was at the zenith of its economic might, Tokyo’s streets were a parade of luxury import cars. Among them, the “itasha”—originally Japanese slang meaning an imported Italian car—was the most desired. However, in 1990s, the term “itai” was adopted to describe intense, cultish otaku associated with serial killer Miyazaki Tsutomu. Since then, itasha (as the decorated vehicle) was derived from combining the Japanese words for itai (痛い, painful) and sha (, vehicle). Itai here means “painful”, which can be interpreted as “painfully embarrassing” or “painful for the wallet” due to the high costs involved. The name is also a pun for Italian cars (イタリア車 Itaria-sha), truncated in Japanese slang as Itasha (イタ車).

The decoration was started in 1980s with character plushies and stickers, but only became a phenomenon in the 21st century, when otaku culture became relatively well known via the Internet. The earliest known report of the decoration vehicle in convention began in 2005-08, in Comic Market 68.


In 2007, the first Autosalone (あうとさろーね Autosarōne), an itasha oriented convention, was held in Ariake, near the site of Comiket.

Involvement in motorsports

Nowadays, the involvement of itasha in real motorsport events has been one of the unique features in Japan’s motorsport industry. Race cars in itasha decals can be seen from regional club event to international-level races (including events under FIA). Participant are also not bounded by privateers amateurs. Many professional teams, or even manufacturer-backed teams would not mind to turn their race cars into itashas: This not only act as a alternative of sponsorship decals (if the character or design is provided by the sponsor), it is widely considered as one of the many ways of expanding their team’s fanbase or promoting the event they participating.

Similar involvement of itashas can be seen in motorcycle or even open-wheeler events.

International movement

Similarly decorated vehicles have been found in Taiwan, Philippines, (whose designs also influenced designs placed on jeepneys), Malaysia, and the United States.

Vehicles owned by character rights owner

ACID Co., Ltd. (âge games developer)’s executive director Hirohiko Yoshida was reported to own Muv-Luv-themed Lamborghini GallardoLancia StratosBMW M5. The cars were unveiled in 2008 âge×Nitro+ in Akibahara UDX Gallery.

An official Macross Frontier–themed Suzuki Wagon R was unveiled in Macross Galaxy Tour Final. It was later redesigned for the Macross Super-Dimensional Space Launch Ceremony.

Categories: history of Japan, Japanese customs, Japanese technology, Stories about Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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