The Japanese Classic Car Show, known colloquially as JCCS, has established itself as the nation’s largest and most-renowned annual event centered specifically around vintage Japanese vehicles and car culture.
First staged in 2005, and intended at the time to be a one-year-only program event, the first JCCS featured around 200 cars. A second such event followed in 2006 and the show has grown annually, featuring more than 500 cars and 10,000 spectators in September 2019 (there was no show in pandemic-plagued 2020).
Such growth meant the organizers and the event had to evolve. For many years, the event was headquartered at the Queen Mary ship’s docking point in Long Beach, California, but recently moved to “Marina Green,” just a few miles away.
Founder and chief executive Terry Yamaguchi and her husband Koji are not only the leaders of the event, but members of the enthusiast base to which they cater. Terry has a collection of vintage Japanese cars including three 1970s Toyota Celicas and two Toyota pickups.
The Yamaguchis are most proud of the fact that JCCS embraces a “family” feeling.
“The event has been able to support the classic car hobby, with many families involved (in father/son projects, for example),” Terry said.
Applicants are asked to submit photos of their kyusha (Japanese for ‘old car’) in order to be accepted to the show, and the standards for exhibitors are high in terms of vehicle condition.
Ben Hsu, a journalist with Japanese Nostalgic Car, has been covering — and partnering with — JCCS since a move from the East Coast took him to Southern California in 2006.
“I want to do every car justice,” he said of his efforts as an event historian.
Hsu admires how JCCS has helped the Japanese collector car community gain more widespread acceptance. His own collection of Japanese classics is large, including two Toyota Land Cruisers, a Lexus SC300 5-speed manual, and a Mazda RX4.
“To me JCCS feels different from other import-themed programs. It’s great to see the recognition and growth,” he said
While the parameters for years, makes, and models invited to the show initially excluded any vehicles from post-1985, those constraints changed in later years. Vehicles through the mid-1990s are accepted. Considerations and exceptions also are sometimes made for later-model year vehicles that share infrastructure and design with years in the allowed range. Similarly, a vehicle like a Dodge D1 (hyperlink to previous JCCS article) is allowed because it is essentially a rebadged Mitsubishi pickup.
The momentum leading into 2020 was strong, and then JCCS – and seemingly every automotive event of its kind – was thrown a curveball in the shape of COVID-19. Terry Yamaguchi and her team adapted, launching what became known as World Matsuri Week – an 8-day online version of the original JCCS vision. It took place in October.
“We quickly decided not to just be sitting and feeling away from the annual event just because of the situation,” she said. “We needed good spirits to go on, and we were happy to meet all those out of state owners who excitedly and safely participated. The number of participations exceeded expectations.”
For many participants who had dedicated time and expense into their project cars in 2020, the event provided a rewarding opportunity to showcase those efforts via photos and videos.
Patrick Strong, who initially got connected to JCCS through Ben Hsu about a half-dozen years ago, has become more immersed in the program and acts as the “face” of the event through his contributions as event master of ceremonies. He, too, is an enthusiast and owner of cars in the Japanese classic realm.
When he’s not running his diecast business called Model Citizen, he can be found driving a 1989 Toyota cargo van.
“I see myself as an evangelist for nostalgics in the broader collector car community,” he said.
The most rewarding part of his involvement has been the ability to build personal relationships with that community.
“There is no more welcoming group of enthusiasts than the Japanese classic crowd. There are no marque rivalries; it’s a true mutual admiration society,” he added.
Going forward, the JCCS team is optimistic that the car show landscape can return to the “old normal” soon. A date for the 2021 event has not been announced, but the team is thinking late October.
Among the focus areas on the radar for future years, they hope to more broadly incorporate of neo-classic 1980s and ‘90s vehicles as part of the activities.
Regardless of how the world around us changes, JCCS organizers have demonstrated the ability to adapt in the face of great challenges. The online World Matsuri Week maintained the momentum as the team prepares to return the JCCS to its in-person format later in 2021.