Japan is a country of contrasts. I'm sure you've heard about the futuristic bullet trains blasting by ancient temples, kimono-clad ladies buying drinks from state-of-the-art vending machines and all that. It's really true. How about the food? It's the same. Get to Tokyo and you'll find some of the best chefs on the planet and more Michelin stars than any other city in the world. But at the same time, it's also the place where you'll find fast food places serving burgers with 10 patties and convenience stores selling soda-flavored potato chips.
In other words, it's a place where the traditional and refined meets the crazy and strange. That's why I love the country. Car culture in Japan is the same - you'll find meticulously restored classic cars sharing the roads with some of the craziest custom contraptions the world has ever seen. This story very much stems from that latter category.
On one street corner in the city of Yokohama you'll find a used car dealer and workshop called Keishin. While it may look your like your typical Japanese car shop from the outside, it's certainly not the case.
One of the first things that tells you this isn't your average shop is a big sign in Japanese that says "Spectators and Photos OK". What could be so special to warrant this?
Then you walk inside and see it. A customized van that's unlike any other on the face of the planet. You've no doubt heard about Japan's crazy custom vans before, but this creation goes far beyond that.
Meet Naoki Mori, a former professional boxer and someone who has been customizing vehicles ever since he bought a Suzuki Katana motorcycle at the age of 18. Today, in addition to working in logistics and car sales, Mori-san has taken the art of customizing to an entirely new level. And for this da Vinci of the Japanese custom car world, the Batman-themed Toyota Hiace is his Mona Lisa.
To call the van a labor of love would be a massive understatement. It's been a project that's been constantly evolving over the last 15-plus years, and as you can see it's gone through several different versions - each one more extreme than the previous.
The garage itself has become less of an actual shop and more of resting spot for the insane van. Call it a Bat Cave if you will.
The upstairs area includes a special room where Mori-san displays all the awards his custom vehicles have earned at events over the years.
There are also photographs and memorabilia that chronicle the many media appearances of the van. As it turns out, Mori-san is a bit of a celebrity in Japan.
There's an autograph from George Tokoro, one of Japan's best known teleivision personalities and a massive car collector himself. He and Mori have met several times when stories have been run throughout the various stages of the Batman van.
In addition to its many TV and magazine appearances, the van was also featured in a music video for pop singer Yurika a couple years ago.
There's even this awesome plush doll of the van, which could easily be mistaken for a gundamtoy of some sort.
Coming down the stairs back into the garage, you can see just how insane the Hiace is.
Actually, to even call this thing a Hiace is huge stretch. It's been a longtime since this thing bore any resemblance to the 'normal' Toyota Hiace vans that you see all over Japan. Looking at it today you can't even tell where the original lines of the Toyota begin and end.
With all of its fiberglass additions the van now measures close to 40-feet in length and tips the scales at somewhere around the 8,000 pound mark. That's a whole lot of custom right there.
Because of the immense weight, the van was converted to double rear axle setup a few years ago. Not only does this help handle the mass, it makes for an even more radical look.
Needless to say, all of the body work on this van was custom made. It's not like you can open up a catalog or hop on the internet and order up some custom rear fins that make the van stand 13-feet tall.
The front end is completely one-off and is also motorized to rotate upwards.
But it's not all for looks. In fact, that tilt-front end is actually necessary to get the van fully inside the garage, and even then it's still a very tight fit.
Elsewhere, the exterior uses a a collection of parts sourced from all sorts of different vehicles. Let's see how many we can identify.
The front end comes from a Toyota Vellfire, and the entire thing has been affixed to the Hiace's normal flat nose.
The custom fiberglass tail panel features taillights originally made for a Nissan Juke.
While the center section comes from a Toyota Crown.
Vin Diesel would be proud that the van also has a few externally-mounted nitrous tanks. They aren't routed to the engine though. Instead they are used to shoot cool vapor streams from different parts of the van, like the breath of some robotic monster.
You wouldn't for a minute expect a van like this to have a stock interior, and in this case the inside might be even morecrazier than the outside.
The cockpit, for example, looks so complicated that it might require a commercial pilot's license to operate.
There are switches for everything: the air suspension, the tilting body parts, the lighting and a whole lot more.
With all of the lights, speakers and everything else, I'm guessing this thing uses more electricity than my house does in the middle of summer.
But who cares, because it's like a rolling party in there.
No, this isn't a still from 2001: A Space Odyssey - this is the area that Toyota originally intended to haul passengers and cargo. It's now a row of gigantic speakers, subs and amps going back to a fully functioning Batman pachinko machine. Because why not?
How money much has Mori-san invested in this project? He doesn't know the exact figure, but he says it's at least a couple hundred grand US. All for something that's so heavy it has trouble maintaining speed and has long lost any possibility of passing Japan's strict shakentests. Actually, I'd like to bring this thing to the inspection station just to see the look at the inspector's face.
Anyway, this van is completely over the top and completely nonfunctional - and I love it. Mori-san is all about pushing the boundaries of car customization, and I don't think there's anyone who can say that he's failed in his mission. For him, seeing the reaction of everyone from elementary school kids to old folks has been more than worth the financial cost.
So yes, I love going to a high-end Tokyo sushi restaurant or eating some legit Kobe beef as much as anyone. But I dig the strange-flavored sodas and the goofy snacks just as much. To me, it's that balance of the conservative and the wild that makes Japan so special.
There you have it, one of the strangest vehicles ever to appear on Speedhunters. Long live crazy Japanese custom style.