What Is JDM? (Complete Beginner’s Guide)

If you have delved deep enough into the world of automotive subcultures, or have a keen eye for Japanese car culture, you will likely have come across the term JDM. Although many will refer to any Japanese car as a JDM car, this is not the case, leaving many to wonder exactly what JDM is.

JDM stands for Japanese Domestic Market and refers to cars made in Japan by Japanese automotive companies with the sole intention of supplying solely to the Japanese market. JDM cars are uncommon outside of Japan, as they have never been produced with the intention of exporting.

The rarity of JDM cars, and their differences from western-manufactured Japanese cars in terms of both performance and style, means that they’ve developed interest from car enthusiasts outside of Japan. In this article we’ll discuss JDM cars in full detail, as well as the culture that surrounds them.

What Does JDM Stand For?

The acronym JDM stands for Japanese Domestic Market. This refers to cars that are manufactured specifically for the Japanese market by Japanese automotive companies. These cars will be both manufactured and sold in Japan only, meaning that not every car made under the badge of a Japanese automotive company will be a JDM car, as most of these companies tend to have factories worldwide. 

What Are JDM Cars?

JDM cars are built in Japan by Japanese automotive companies specifically with the Japanese market in mind. They are designed to offer a cheaper, more practical alternative to foreign-built cars imported from around the world. They are also built to comply with Japanese regulations and include features such as right-hand drive and fuel-efficient engines to fit in with Japanese laws.

Japanese manufacturers like to hold a higher standard for their cars than many mass-producing automotive companies around the world. This isn’t to say that the Japanese don’t mass produce cars in high quantities, as they are the second largest manufacturer of cars worldwide, behind China. However, cars made specifically for the Japanese market will often be kitted out with the latest technology.

Almost all modern JDM cars will feature hybrid technology, as well as more futuristic designs that you won’t find on the American market. JDM cars come in all shapes and sizes, from smaller cars to SUVs and minivans. The JDM market is broad and is a source of curiosity for many car enthusiasts outside of Japan, spawning a culture of fans and admirers over the years.


• JDM stands for Japanese Domestic Market

• JDM cars are built solely for use in Japan

• This makes JDM cars found outside of Japan very interesting to some car enthusiasts

What Is JDM Culture?

JDM culture is a name given to a lifestyle built around a keen interest in owning, driving, and tuning JDM cars. It is regarded as an ‘automotive subculture’ which are common when you delve deeper into the world of cars. These subcultures can be small and niche groups, such as those who love Subaru Imprezas from the early 1980s for example. JDM culture is one of the main automotive subcultures. 

JDM culture can involve social outings and car meets, where people bring their JDM cars from far and wide to display to other keen JDM fans. The culture doesn’t just thrive at events, but also through the power of the internet. Various forums and groups have been setup to celebrate JDM cars and those who drive them.

JDM Subcultures

Although JDM cars are only sold in Japan, they have admirers the world over, with gatherings of imported JDM cars taking place in multiple countries. There are also subcategories for JDM culture, which focus on different variations of JDM cars, for example, Bososoku. Bososoku cars feature enhanced body kits as well as large, upright exhaust pipes designed to catch the eye.

Other JDM subcultures include Itasha, which involves enthusiasts wrapping their cars in Japanese anime designs and Dekotora, another art themed subculture where people will elaborately decorate their cars. Not all JDM subcultures are centered around decoration, with the Kyusha subculture being based around older, subtly modified JDM cars. 

Less subtle modifications are made with Onikyan cars, with their excessively cambered wheels, and Shakotan cars, which are dramatically lowered and have huge intercoolers. These are just a few of the subcultures that have spawned from JDM enthusiasts, and there are plenty of others out there. 

Are All Japanese Cars JDM?

Not all Japanese cars are JDM, as JDM cars are built specifically for the Japanese domestic market. Japanese manufacturers, such as Honda and Mitsubishi, make cars for international markets too, and these cars do not qualify as JDM cars.

One of the most important things to note, especially if you wish to own a JDM car, is that not all Japanese cars qualify for the JDM title. JDM cars are manufactured for the Japanese market, taking national regulations into consideration, as well as being made in Japan with Japanese parts. Japanese branded cars are manufactured worldwide, so you’ll have to look harder to make sure a car is JDM.

A car can be made by an entire factory of Japanese people and emblazoned with the badge of a Japanese manufacturer, but if it was built outside of the borders of Japan, it cannot be deemed a JDM car

How To Spot A JDM Car

There are a few ways to tell whether a car is JDM, but also a few false tells to look out for. The most obvious clue is that JDM cars will be right-hand drive, as opposed to the left-hand drive cars manufactured in most countries around the world. Another thing to check is your car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). If the VIN starts with a J, then it would’ve been manufactured in Japan.

License plate designs are another way to tell if a car is JDM. Japanese license plates are rectangular in design and will have Japanese lettering above and to the side of the numbers on both the front and back of the car. These plates are also taller and wider than American license plates. The age of the car is important as well, for reasons we will go into later in the article. 

False Tells

It is widely and falsely believed that a green and yellow downwards facing arrow is a sign that a car is JDM. This is not the case. The green and yellow arrow is known as a Shoshinsha mark, which must be displayed on the back of the car by new drivers in Japan until at least a year after they have passed their driving test. It is a warning to other drivers, not a sign they are driving a JDM car.

Are JDM Cars Illegal In The USA?

JDM cars are not illegal in the USA, although strict rules must be followed before they are imported to avoid any legal trouble. You can only import a JDM car into the United States if the car was released in Japan at least 25 years earlier. 

For example, if a car was released in Japan in 2000, it wouldn’t be permitted for import until 2025

This is because of the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act introduced in the USA in 1988. The act states that imported cars must go through intense safety and emissions tests before they can be deemed legal to bring into the US. However, bizarrely, this law does not apply to cars over 25 years old, making JDM cars completely legal if they are old enough.

Japan is also willing to export their cars to the rest of the world once they begin to age, because of Japanese tax laws. Every car over 13 years old will cost the owner an extra 10% in tax per year. This law has led to ‘car graveyards’ popping up around Japan, as people abandon their cars to avoid paying the extra 10%. Instead of allowing the graveyards to grow, Japan exports the cars.


• JDM culture is extremely diverse

• Not all Japanese cars are JDM 

• JDM cars more than 25 years old are legal in the USA

Why Are JDM Cars Better? 

JDM cars have a very strong reputation among car enthusiasts for their unique style, performance capabilities, and efficiency. They aren’t always preferred by the masses, but to those with a keen eye for Japanese car culture, they are much loved. JDM cars usually have different specifications to foreign domestically produced cars, because of the differences in laws and driving styles in Japan. 

Low Mileage

One of the most notable strong points of imported JDM cars are their surprisingly low mileages, well below what you’d expect from a car that has been around for 25 years. This is because of the difference in lifestyle of the Japanese people compared to people in the USA, for example. In densely populated cities such as Tokyo, public transport is king, with many taking the bus rather than the car.

Intense pedestrianization makes it easier to get to where you want to be on time when using public transport and walking, rather than having to drive your way through crowds, and then trying to find an ever-elusive parking spot. This reduced mileage means that the internal parts should have a longer lifespan, reducing the chances of having to spend more on inauthentic replacements.

Unique Design

JDM cars tend to have more futuristic, unique designs to them. The Japanese have historically been very forward-thinking when it comes to design, preferring sleek shapes rather than the rigid, box-like cars formerly popular on the Western automotive market. Because of this, Japanese brands have catered their outgoing offerings to a Western audience.

This is not the case for cars sold solely for the Japanese markets. They are modeled and shaped with Japanese tastes in mind, meaning that imported JDM cars will be more unique looking and certain to catch the eye of onlookers. This is one of the main reasons that JDM culture thrives, with uniqueness and futuristic designs at the heart of the intrigue.

Performance Improvements

Japanese automotive manufacturers like to hold themselves to a higher standard than much of the rest of the world when it comes to producing cars. Most JDM models are built with high-performance driving as a priority, and often have better handling than most of their foreign-built counterparts. JDM cars are usually lighter than foreign-made cars, making them more agile and easier to control.

This lightness also makes them a popular choice for racers and drifters. As well as their ability to be controlled, they aren’t too bad at letting loose either. JDM cars often have great acceleration and can hold themselves very well at high speeds. These benefits are usually dulled down slightly for the foreign markets. 

Appreciating Assets

Unlike most cars, whose value drops as soon as you drive them out of the dealership, the rarity of JDM cars means that their value is likely to increase, as long as they’re kept in good condition. They are difficult to find outside of their homeland, as Japan has never officially exported them in mass numbers. This rarity lowers the risk of the original purchase as you should be able to find a buyer.

It is worth saying that if you are importing a JDM car, you should keep all important documents regarding the import, should you intend to sell it in the future. 

JDM cars tend to be in near perfect condition when exported from Japan. This is partly because the Japanese people are known for their impeccable tidiness and willingness to keep things in perfect condition. It is also because Japan has strict bi-annual car inspections to make sure the vehicle is in a roadworthy condition. This should guarantee your car arrives to you looking as good as new.

Final Thoughts

JDM cars continue to be a source of intrigue for many car enthusiasts around the world, encouraging a thriving subculture, especially in the USA. This is likely to continue in years to come, as US laws begin to allow JDM models from the early 2000s into the country. Overall, they offer an interesting insight into the trends and styles much loved in a unique and fascinating part of the world.

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