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Shinka: Evolution Revolution

Shinka: Evolution Revolution

By Glenn Mitsui
NAP Contributor

▲Glenn Mitsui standing in front of his painted daruma image on display in the exhibition.
Photo by Sammy Davis.

The new exhibit at the LeMay–America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington explores the evolution of the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) cars and their influence on the global market. There is a familiarity to these cars because who didn’t start out driving a Civic, Accord, Celica or Supra back in the day?

The exhibit is called Shinka which means evolution in Japanese. Gary Yamamoto, the Executive Director of the museum had a vision to create an immersive experience for attendees. Steering the creative direction as the exhibit designer is me whose aim was to craft a narrative journey through the museum. This is the first time that the museum has dedicated the entire First Floor to a showcase gallery which is about the size of a football field. My creative goal was to showcase the cars with a backdrop of Japanese culture and artwork to convey the spirit of the automobiles.

As you enter Shinka, the idea of evolution is represented by the journey from late 12th century Japan to the neon lights of modern day Tokyo. Each car has a story to be told. I strove to tie the story of each car to its artistic environment. Kei cars which are the smallest category of legal automobiles are paired with wire bonsai trees.

Design inspiration was drawn from samurai culture, calligraphy, traditional wood craftsman, sumi brush work, origami, Hokusai (painter and printmaker of the 17th and 18th century) and Japanese anime. To do this, I had to enlist the help of a number of local artists and craftsmaen to breathe authenticity into the environment.

▲Kominka (traditional countryside-style house) designed and built by Glenn Mitsui as a background to the cars on display.
Photo by Sammy Davis.

The community support from my friends and family was overwhelming. My cousin Kiyoshi Ina made the two taiko drums that frame the entryway Shinka banner. (He drove them up from San Francisco, California.) The drums also frame a samurai helmet on loan from the office of the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle. Dean Miyauchi, a craftsman in automobile body and paint, crafted a four-foot golden Daruma (usually a hollow, round, traditional, Japanese doll modeled after Bodhidharma – founder of the Zen tradition of Buddhism) with RS Watanabe eight-spoke R type wheels (vintage looking wheels designed for racing) as its eyes. My friend Kyfu Bonsai made three 18-inch wire bonsai trees, each representing 90 hours of work. Craig Yamamoto (Gary’s father) created the wooden signs which were made in the traditional woodworking style without nails. Paper artist Akemi Yamane made a six-foot paper crane painted in the black and gold theme of the exhibit. I utilized 18 monitors throughout the exhibit to bring motion design to the environment. On an eight-screen monitor wall, I enlisted the help of motion designer Terry Wakayama to craft a video that would span the entire length of the wall. Lori Matsukawa graciously lent her wedding kimono for the exhibit out of her love of sharing her culture. Sharing culture became the unofficial theme of the exhibit. To better understand the JDM car culture, I sought the help of Walter Franco, the co-founder of NAMSAYIN, a lifestyle brand encompassing car culture, design and clothing. “Shinka is such an important exhibit because it acknowledges a car community that was seen as just a trend. The cars on display play an important role for not just American car culture but a diverse group of car enthusiasts in age and many different cultural backgrounds”. Walter Franco – Namsayin

Of course, the stars of the exhibit are the actual cars. Near the entrance you will see a 1967 Toyota 2000 GT valued at close to one million dollars that sits on top of a Zen garden with Mount Fuji in the background. Close by is a 1971 Nissan Skyline GTX which is very rare because the Yakuza (organized crime syndicates) revered this model and “strongly suggested” it not be exported out of Japan. There are close to 50 JDM cars in Shinka with two exhibit changes planned in the year-long run. My favorite car in the exhibit, a Datsun 240Z which is the car I owned when I was much younger.

“Sitting with Gary and Walter on opening day, we watched the crowd flow in and I felt joy because of the diversity that was flowing into the museum. I realized the exhibit had meaning beyond the cars, it was about representation.”