Wheelin' in Japan!
Story by Lance Clifford

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One of the best things about living the Pirate4x4 life is getting the opportunity to go to cool places. I've been all over this great country of ours, and have even had the opportunity to go to other countries such as Australia, Canada and Mexico in the name of four wheelin'.

This summer I got to spend a little time with Naozumi Tsuda at the Reno Rocks event at the Sands Regency Casino in Reno, NV. Naozumi owns a fab shop in the outskirts of Osaka, Japan called Tsuda Racing. They build competition rock crawlers, trail rigs, and even street rods. Not only does Naozumi have a fab shop, but he also runs the JRCA (Japan Rock Crawling Association). But to take it a step further, his family owns about 240 acres where they have a full blown off road park where they hold rock crawling competitions. After getting to know Naozumi and his brother Masa in Reno and watching Masa do some excellent driving, I knew these guys where the real deal. I knew I had to go visit these guys in Japan and see what wheelin' was like in the Land of the Rising Sun.

When Naozumi invited me and none other than Rock Crawling National Champion Tracy Jordan to come over to the JRCA finals to compete, I jumped at the chance! Some phone calls were made, emails exchanged, and the next thing you know Tracy and I met up in San Francisco for the 14 hour flight to Osaka, Japan. After what seemed like an eternal plane ride (due to sitting next to the only fat person in Japan) we were in a place that seemed so different than all of the other places I've travelled over the years. Signs were not only in a foreign language, but in a foreign "alphabet". We considered renting a car, but quickly changed our minds as we were positive we would immediately get hopelessly lost as soon as we left the airport!

Naozumi and Masa have some incredible property!

Tracy and I took the bus down to Uda City, where Naozumi picked us up. It was cool seeing so many different vehicles driving around that are not available in the states, including Naozumi's Mitsubishi EVO station wagon. We wound our way through the canyons and into the country. I really didn't know what to expect in Japan, and I certainly didn't expect such a rural setting. I guess I just had the stereotypical image of downtown Tokyo in my mind. The area where Naozumi lives is simply beautiful.

We were greeted by Naozumi's beautiful wife and his brother Masa. After a few introductions to some friends and a quick tour of the property, it was time for some dinner. Of course we *had* to try out some Japanese sushi! Wait a second, if you know Mr. Tracy Jordan, you know that if it isn't meat and potatoes, he isn't eating it. Or deep down does he have an adventurous culinary side? The sushi was good, damn good. But alas, Tracy didn't touch a single piece. He opted to go to McDonalds afterwards. Yes, there are McDonalds on almost every street corner in Japan, too.

Taking a tour of Todaiji Temple

Getting mobbed by "wild" deer!

So I was beginning to have my doubts that Tracy could survive a week in Japan. Could one possibly eat McDonalds every day?

Getting "adventurous" with some food!

Raw tongue, anyone?

To my surprise, on day two of our adventure, Tracy decided to get a little adventurous and ate some local Japanese grub, including raw liver! I was impressed!

Naozumi and his family live in the country side. It is definitely not what I pictured when I thought of Japan. They own approximately 250 acres, and not only have their fab shop, but their father has a wood working shop, they have a competition rock crawling site, and acres and acres of trails. This truly was a wheeler's paradise!

After a few days of playing, drinking, and getting to meet new friends, it was competition time. Naozumi let Tracy and I borrow his Moon Buggy for the JRCA National Finals. This was the last event of the year, and would determine the national champion. As Tracy and I walked the man made courses, we both were impressed at the courses Masa had laid out for the competitors. They were VERY difficult looking!

The tow rigs and comp vehicles began to pour in. There was virtually no trailers, with most rigs showing up on flatbed trucks.

There is no doubt what the 4x4 vehicle of choice was in Japan. Heck, they have their own series, so you know they are popular. The little brother to the Suzuki Samurai (YES, the LITTLE brother to the Samurai) the Suzuki Jimney. Powered by a 750cc turbo motor, these little rigs have a huge following in Japan. They are virtually not much larger than a Yamaha Rhino! Tracy and I both had the opportunity to drive a well setup Jimney after the competition, and now we both want one!

But let's not get ahead of ourseleves. We had a competition to run. The rules were similar to W.E. Rock rules, but there were a few differences. The two major differences was that there was no penalty for reverses, and no penalty for using a spotter strap. I was in heaven, as I am an old school spotter strap lover.

Tracy and I used these two rules (or lack thereof?) to our advantage during the competition. I used the rope on every course, and with my large belly and the light weight of Nao's moon buggy, we were able to edge out the Japanese boys and take the win. Tracy and I both agreed that this was one of the most fun events we've ever had. It reminded us of the early ARCA days. I think we both had grins on our faces for a couple of days after that event.

After an incredible week in Japan, it was time to go home. I couldn't believe how fast the week went by, and while I was happy to go home and see my family, I was sad to leave all the new friends I had made. I really do look forward to coming back and visiting again.

As we left the the countryside and wound our way back into Uda City and back to the airport, I couldn't help but think about what it would be like to live here. Virtually no police cars. What seemed like no crime, or shady characters. Everyone seemed to be very friendly, and happy. It's hard to explain, but it was an experience I will never forget.

Tsuda Racing

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