Recently, Tuned Japan was fortunate enough to connect with Toshi and ask him a few questions:
Tuned Japan: Toshi, it's been awhile. How are you doing?
Toshi Hayama: I've been well, thank you. Been trying to stay busy.
Tuned Japan: You've been a mainstay in the import industry for a long time. How did your journey begin? (Pause) It's funny that I'm getting the chance to ask you this. You've always been a hero of mine! All I ever wanted to do was eat my Wheaties (a brand of General Mills breakfast cereals) and grow up to be like you.
Toshi Hayama: Thanks, but I don't necessarily think I deserve any special credit. I just did what I loved. My journey began like any other car lover. For me personally, I was in college driving a car that was slow and had no performance parts for it. Ironically, this was the US version 1989 240 SX SE.
Since I was inside my car a lot, it was natural for me to want to improve the performance, aesthetics, and convenience of my immediate surroundings. My car was my most expensive possession. It was my baby! I wanted to feel secure and I wanted to go faster! Being blown away by minivans was no fun! Going faster improved my driving skills and provided a glimpse into a whole other' world of enthusiasts in Japan.
One day on the limousine bus back from Narita to Tokyo, I noticed the same car in a Turbo configuration (180SX) on the highway and was instantly intrigued with this "sister" car .It had a Turbo!?
And why was it called 180 SX?
What was different from mine?
I immediately ran to the convenience store and bought "Option Magazine" to research parts that might be available for it. I started voraciously reading magazines and researching. Internet was limited back then, so my trips to Japan would prove invaluable for information on the Japanese Tuning market.
The information and subculture was so much more developed than anything else I had seen in the states.
I was hooked!
I would then apply this information into the development of the US market, making sure that it was pure, but not force- fed.
After that, I owned an Eagle Talon TSI. It was another minor car but had a "major" application 4G63 Turbo AWD.
I learned to appreciate the feelings of an owner who had a chuckles car with no parts available for it. I used HKS parts to make the engine Stage 7 + and badged it as the Eclipse GSR- 4.
(He chuckles before continuing) It was still acceptable back then.
As for Aero parts, I learned to use 1984 Ford Thunderbird turn signal bevels as air intake ducts and use the factory JZA80 lip spoiler as an extra chin spoiler. It was truly custom in that sense.
I love all my past tuning cars! I discovered the joy and depth of tuning through them!
I also made lifelong friends through this hobby. It was a pure motivation without thought for the future. It was never meant to be a career.
Tuned Japan: We have to ask you about A'PEXi USA. There seems to be a tremendous gap in product quality and line up between A'PEXi USA and A'PEXi Japan. What caused you to distance yourself from them?
Toshi Hayama: I don't know about any product quality gap because Japan still provides the parts to the US team. I am still very close to the US office and have great respect for them because they truly live the lifestyle. Heck, I hired many of them myself and took them to Japan a lot so they know what's up!
With that being said, it takes a lot of money to operate specialty factories (especially for mufflers, electronics etc…)
With competition from Chinese factories, I can understand, as a businessman, what A'PEXi management, HKS, GREDDY, BLITZ and many others are going through. They all face many trials and tribulations when managing their companies in this new market. It's not just USA, it's a global market so the US office always has a disadvantage.
With A'PEXi, I left before the financial collapse in 2007, completely on personal terms, to fulfill a promise to my grandfather to work in the fashion business in Tokyo for awhile. The industry was different back then, and to me, it was a good time to leave because everything was running strong .My experiences in Japan warrant a whole different interview so I won't go there, but I left to become a user again.
I didn't leave A'PEXi as much as I left the "industry" to test myself outside of the tuning world. I left to go to Japan.
One thing I do know is that good brands live long and A'PEXi still has a lot of good backing. Once I am a bit more established, it would be interesting to see if I collaborate with them, again.
Tuned Japan: You worked on "Tokyo Drift". What is your take on the latest instalment of the franchise?
Toshi Hayama: I think that the movie is much more entertaining today than it was before, but at the same time, it is less focused on the cars. However, I knew this would happen because Justin Lin (Director) was always trying to improve the quality of acting to save the franchise.
The most recent movie was so entertaining that I forgot it was a Car movie! It felt more like a Cop movie! I actually felt that the car scenes almost looked out of place sometimes! (He chuckles).
However, I have much respect for Director Justin Lin as he saved the franchise from doom and literally battled Hollywood to do it.
Trust me, he knows about the cars and has a deep respect for them. He could have sold out long ago but stayed with it. Sure he had to take some unwanted compromises on "Tokyo Drift", as did I, but it had to be done to prevent it from getting worse.A pure 100% accurate JDM performance movie will never come out of Hollywood. That is for us enthusiasts to make and I am happy with that. "F&F" is a movie. I would like to see more documentaries.
Tuned Japan: How do you think the scene has evolved since the first "Fast and Furious" about 15 years ago? Where do you think it will be in the next 15 years?
Toshi Hayama: The scene is definitely in reclusive mode. It went full cycle. From subculture to mainstream then back again. I think it's a good time to reset.
The general public has seen (or thinks) they know about our industry, so mainstream has gone elsewhere to find new subcultures. It's happened over and over again in history. Cars will be back in the spotlight again one day. As long as we have gravity and young people, cars will always have a place in human hearts around the world.
Many people got burned out! Many, as myself, don't care too much about the "industry" and all of the "norms" that seem to be out there these days.
"You can't tune like this! You can't do that!"
Whatever! There is no right or wrong in hobbies.
DIY cars show the owner's level of knowledge, ingenuity and taste regardless of whether or not it is super clean or a POS. Of course, Motorsports is a different story...
I think tuning minor cars is super cool because you have to use your head. You have to find, make custom parts and there are no rivals. It is truly your art creation. The machine is happy. Once the machine is happy, you become happy and people will respect that.
"F&F" was great in legitimizing cars, but it was a mouthful of color and unrealistic scenes. However, people who were influenced by that now can look online and see the real Tuning industry on YouTube etc… That is where I am focusing on now, to relay the real stories so that people can re- discover the cool smaller niches within the huge thing market.
Another thing I notice is that Tokyo changed my Tuning taste a bit (for the better I hope).
I think the young new enthusiasts don't want to be associated with the former styles of Tuning and I can already see them forging their own paths. These paths are infused with different hobbies that weren't around back in the day. I see good evolution. I just wish there were more platforms to enjoy this variation. Tuning the same models gets old after awhile.
Tuned Japan: What do you think are the differences between Japanese and American Tuning styles?
Toshi Hayama: Many of the differences come from mind-set. I think this question could be discussed forever. I think the US respects simple clean JDM, whereas the trend is losing steam in Japan. It's not that one is better than the other, however, cultural differences, local tracks and geography, available parts, budget, and social attitude all play a role in the individual development of tuning cars. Add Europe and Southeast Asia to the mix and you have a huge difference in Tuning taste, philosophy and culture.
Tuned Japan: You started Stage 10 Productions eight years ago and it looks like it's doing very well. What is the secret of it's success, or is it some sort of "X-Men" like power we don't know about?
Toshi Hayama: Stage 10 was idle for six years while I was in Japan, so I need to catch up. There is no secret, it is night time work, weekend work, 24/7 work. But for passion!
When re-starting the company, I knew that I needed to front my own money and to give back to the industry in order to be taken seriously by my colleagues and fans.
I believe you have to lead by example. That's why the first thing I did was get my underdog BRZ team going.
I also restarted Stage 10 as Grass-roots, as possible. This time, however, I have a good Driver, Mechanic and a platform to give the same level of service I wanted as a User.
I have never owned my own shop, but with the support of GTNET Japan, I now have GTNET USA where we can invite customers to hang out with us and try to build another Tuning haven in OC.
Tuned Japan: Recently, you guys ran Pikes Peak. Yoshioka was an awesome choice as Driver. How did the team do? Where do think you think Tuning technology will take us in 15-20 years?
Toshi Hayama: Tuning technology in the next 15-20 years will definitely have more variation. Our current gas based cars will become like hardcore specialty cars, while electric and hybrid cars will be the main stay. Alternative fuels not available today may take over the market, too. There's no way to tell. The technology is there but it's about public opinion. The technology that can build the infrastructure first will win. Tuners will always find a way to make it better after that.
Tuned Japan: What's next for Toshi Hayama?
Toshi Hayama: As of today, I don't know. I do know what I have, how I've grown, and where I am lacking. The only guidance I have is my love of Cars. How to spread the word, share the joy, and how to do it properly. This time around, I am ignoring the industry as I know it, and reaching out to the Customers and Fans direct to get more input.
I don't want to become stuck in my own ways, too. So, I am taking a one-hundred percent humble approach to everything and letting it take me where I need.
Unlike popular belief, I'm not rolling in money, now. It's actually the opposite after my investments. (Again, he chuckles).
However, I think there is beauty in that commitment and I hope that people with the same mentality will join me later on. Then together, we can do some cool stuff!
I am currently interested in throwing track events, local car meets at GTNET USA, making more car videos through Stage 10 video, and just developing GTNET USA into a new "hangout" where people can have fun with cars.
Tuned Japan: Toshi, it's been a pleasure! Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with us.
Toshi Hayama: Thank you! The pleasure was all mine!