Globalization: Social & Geographic Perspectives

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Creolization Essay: The Spread of Drifting to America

March 9th, 2011 · 1 Comment
Assignments · Creolization Essay - Assignment # 1


Creolization refers to the creation of new cultures through the blending and adaptation of older cultures.  It is an ongoing process amplified by technological innovations, as distant parts of the world are now able to communicate and express ideas instantly.  One influence that has spread to North America, Europe, and even the Middle East in recent decades is Japan’s automotive tuning culture.  Japan has a rich automotive heritage based around both legal and illegal automotive competitions.  The most recent form of Japanese competition to spread around the world is underground “drifting”, which has been popularized by movies such as The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.

Drifting is a form of racing very different from NASCAR or drag racing, both of which are both very popular in the United States.  Drifting is a style of competition where drivers purposely slide their cars at extreme angles around corners while maintaining control of their vehicle.  In these competitions, it doesn’t matter who finishes first, but rather, who demonstrated the most skill and who can put on the best show.  In a nutshell, drifting is an art form that relies on driver skill and car balance instead of high horsepower, and some would consider it “ballet for cars”.

Drifting, as we know it today, was invented in Japan in the 1970’s by professional race car drivers who believed that sliding around corners, although difficult and dangerous, would allow them to maintain higher speeds and therefore win more races.  This technique quickly spread through Japan’s automotive tuning culture, where it evolved into illegal competitions on Japan’s mountainside roads.  Japanese tuners no longer built cars meant for racing at high speeds, but rather they built cars that were well balanced and designed to slide around corners and curves at extreme angles while the drivers maintained control.  Underground (illegal) street racing in Japan became based around this new form of competition throughout the late 1970’s and 1980’s, and by the 1990’s  the drift culture gained enough support that drifting grew into a highly organized event.

As drifting grew into an underground culture in Japan its influence slowly trickled out to other parts of the world.  In the U.S., drifting caught on in the Southern California region as well as in the Northeast, where car enthusiasts often import both automotive styles and ideas from Japan.  Through the early 2000’s, car enthusiasts in America quickly flocked to drifting, and the lifestyle associated with it.  No longer were cars modified for high horsepower or to be flashy, but instead they were modified in order to obtain perfect balance and control for drifting.  Cars were built to be lightweight and functional instead of loud and flashy, just like in Japan.  Drift enthusiasts here in America bought and built cars almost identical to those in Japan, including Toyota Supras and Nissan 240sx’s.

Although the American adaptation of drifting is very similar to drifting in Japan, some differences exist in America.  For instance, while Japan is seemingly full of winding mountain roads, New York City is not.  Therefore, drifting in America mainly occurs on city streets late at night, or in large, empty parking lots.  Another key difference is that American drifters actually drift at higher speeds with less finesse while Japanese drifters are known for drifting at lower speeds with more finesse.  Also, drifters in America have adapted larger, heavier, and more powerful vehicles for drifting, including American “muscle cars”.  Even though American drifting has been considered less “pure” than drifting in Tokyo, American drifting styles are beginning to make their way back to Japan and Japanese car enthusiasts have started incorporating American styles into their cars.  It’s not uncommon to find cars in Japan modified with American produced parts in order to attain the authentic “American” look.

As drifting continues to spread around the world, international organizations have formed to support drifting as a world wide motorsport.  Although Japan is credited with the creation of drifting, each country has their own spin on the sport.  Increased communication between countries and car enthusiasts of the world allows the sport to grow and change, but most importantly, it allows everyone to be get a piece of the action.

DC shoes Sponsored Drift Commercial

Japanese Mountain Drifting


Andrew Ganga

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1    Prof. Hala // Mar 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Excellent piece, Andrew. “Ballet for cars”! I love it.

    What an excellent example of creolization. Besides the usual geographic mix of influences, this case builds on two totally different domains of social life — function (power, technical capacity, etc.) and form (balance, style, etc.), art & sport, etc.

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