The Nagoya, Seto Aichi area of Japan is known for its custom motorcycle and car building scene. Junichi Shimodaira straddles two cultural worlds at his Paradise Road shop: one foot in his area’s impressive custom scene, the other in SoCal’s Cholo low-rider culture. The mid-sized port city of Nagoya is Japan’s auto manufacturing hub; the vibe is working-class and down to earth compared to glitzy Tokyo and historic Kyoto. People in Nagoya are not afraid to get their hands dirty. During the early days of post-war globalization, Nagoya became the sister city to both Los Angeles, California and Mexico City, Mexico. Over the last thirty years, SoCal inspired Cholo style custom car and motorcycle building has become the lifeblood of the city’s motoring culture.

Junichi in his Nagoya workshop, Paradise Road, with one of his amazing Galaxian custom that took Best of Show at the 2008 Mooneyes show. [Michael McCabe]
Many of Japan’s talented builders live and wrench in the Nagoya area and most would agree that Junichi Shimodaira and his “Low and Slow” Paradise Road shop – opened in 1987 – has been a key inspirational player. The shop focuses on rebuilding and customizing less emphasized car and motorcycle models. Junichi founded the Pharaohs Car Club in Nagoya, borrowing the name from the cult film classic American Graffiti. It is now the oldest custom car club in Japan.

Junichi Shimodaira with the Triumph 500 he rescued from scrap to become a Cholo-inspired custom. [Michael McCabe]
During the late 1980s with “nada” English language ability, Junichi followed his gut and visited LA, and met iconic custom builder Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. Roth returned the favor in 2001 with a visit to Junichi’s Nagoya shop and blew the doors off the shop’s mild mannered but growing reputation. Junichi’s customizing cred was firmly established after his 2002-3 RODriguez rebuild of a 1930 Ford Model A Tudor sedan won best of show at Shige Suganuma’s Mooneyes 2003 Hot Rod and Custom Show. Five years later, Junichi dropped a 1959 Chevy 348ci big block, triple carb V8 onto the rebuilt rails of a 1927 Ford Model T Roadster, added some over-the-top body stylizations and his Galaxian took best of show at the 2008 Mooneyes event. These cars pushed other builders as the Japanese custom scene continued to take shape.

Junichi shaping the rear fender of his Triumph custom to suit his talisman – a plastic water cup he made into the taillight. [Michal McCabe]
“In 1987 I quit my truck driving job and went to LA,” Junichi said. “When I came back I decided to open a shop. My first shop was small; I sold American antique car toys and smuggled car and motorcycle parts. The shop became a place for car and motorcycle guys to hang out. More people in Japan were becoming interested in Low Riders and motorcycles. 1987 was the first Mooneyes Tokyo Street Car Nationals show. It was good timing. Shige Suganuma at Mooneyes brought together a lot of car and bike guys for the first time in Japan.” The combination of Junichi’s growing reputation and his SoCal-inspired sensibility has influenced many builders. His open door policy welcomed the curious into his shop, and introduced them to what was (for young Japanese fans) a very mysterious, exotic and cool cross-cultural experience. At that time before the Internet, Japan was still an isolated and conservative culture. Young Japanese wondered about the outside world but had limited access. Within a few years, Paradise Road with its ‘crazy’ cars and motorcycles became a go-to destination.

The cup! Looking simply outstanding in the shapely multi-colored rear fender of Junichi’s Triumph, Psicodelico. [Michael McCabe]
“For many years I was deeply involved in the Nagoya Low Rider scene,” Junichi said. “Then 2004 I was looking around Yahoo! and found a pre-unit Triumph 500 Speed Twin. The bike was very bad shape. Everything broken, nothing worked but it was a full original bike. I started a new project to create a new bike. I stood the bike up under the lights in my workshop. For a long time I had saved a red plastic drinking cup that had cool shape. I was saving this cup to make a cool tail light. I held the cup over the rear fender… It was like an inspiration. To rebuild the bike so I can use the red plastic cup. Make a cool, perfect custom tail light from this cup. I took the bike apart and broke it down,” Junichi said. “I had different sections of my workshop for every part of the bike. I had to keep everything organized. It was like a cool puzzle── engine here, transmission there, frame against the wall, no seat, front forks next to frame. Electrics were 100% throw away. I opened up the engine cases. Wow! What a mess! Everything was bad. The flywheel, the rods, the pistons, intakes. I took apart the transmission and it was dried out solid. I knew this was going to be a big project but a good project. Bring back this great motorcycle. It took me three months to clean up this bike and rebuild the major components.

The candy stripe paint scheme Junichi explains is Cholo-inspired with its complex mix of spraying and hand-brushing over many layers. [Michael McCabe]
“Paint was important,” Junichi said. “So I asked my friend at Freddy’s Custom Paint in Nagoya to do the paint. It is real Cholo style. Very flashy colors combined together and many different layers. Some brush, some spray. Thick lines and very thin detail lines. This is Cholo. I really like this style. It’s a very deep way of doing paint design. Motorcycle does not have much space to make a statement with paint. I talked with Freddy about making a tank paint statement. Has to be perfect but tank is small. I think this tank is good statement.

The finished Psicodelico in Junichi’s Paradise Road workshop. [Michael McCabe]
“Rear fender was important,” Junichi said. “I had to fit my red plastic drinking cup tail light to fender. I had to cut the shape in the fender and cut the cup so everything will fit. I made a jig and carefully cut the angle of the red plastic drinking cup. Had to be careful. Had to be perfect. I wanted to balance bold tank color with fork chrome,” Junichi said. “Balance shiny to paint color. If no balance then the bike look won’t work. I brought the forks to guys at local plating shop. We did many layers of chrome to give forks a good look.”

Yes, folks like to sit on a small and exquisitely made custom Triumph. [Michael McCabe]=
“It has been many years but I still add to this rebuild,” Junichi concluded. “That’s OK. Custom build projects are never finished. I bring the bike to shows and everyone likes to look at the bike. Everybody likes the paint colors. The bike is a good size; people like to sit on the bike and experience ‘Kustom Kulture’. This is good.”



Michael McCabe is a New York City tattoo artist and cultural anthropologist. He is the author of New York City Horsepower, Kustom Japan, New York City Tattoo, Japanese Tattooing Now, Tattoos of Indochina, and Tattooing New York City. For New York City Horsepower, Mr. McCabe spent two years discovering and documenting underground custom motorcycle and car garages in the City, as rapid gentrification put their culture under tremendous pressure. He interviewed and photographed New York City customizers about their personal histories and creative sensibilities.
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