In the era of commercialized, big-budget rafting, grassroots rafting has had little bright spot compared to its heyday in the late ’90s and early ’00s.

In Japan, however, grassroots rafting is still thriving.

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In many countries, access to driftable tracks has become increasingly difficult as tracks are closed or banned, driving up the cost and regularity of events. In Japan, the situation is a bit different. Many tracks continued to run unimpeded, including a very special track in the mountains of Nirazaki – Sportsland Yamanashi (SLY).

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With its perfect elevation changes and smooth corners, SLY is considered the pillar of Japanese grassroots drift. While the track has its origins in motorcycle races and practice days, SLY’s ideal layout ensures that it is used for drifting almost every week.

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It’s important to note why grass roots are so important to rafting cultures around the world. Simply put, the sport would not have evolved into professional level competition without grassroots rafting.

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The grassroots is where culture takes shape. But, arguably, without one, the other would hardly exist. Pro-level driving attracts an audience that would otherwise not be interested in drifting, lighting a fire for a younger generation that keeps the grassroots alive. This is a life cycle that Japan seems to have settled on.

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Untethered from the stands or the pit lane, being able to get up close and personal with the action makes a grassroots drift event feel more immersive. It also makes them more fun to shoot.

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What I’ve grown to love about these events since I’ve been in Japan is the variety of cars and drivers you can see. With no rules or regulations governing car entry, you’ll experience every chassis possible, and there’s no shortage of cars that will surprise you.

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Lowbrain from Kanagawa is a great example of a grassroots drift team that continues to keep the culture alive through their events, including this one – the SLY Summit.

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The variety of models in the team makes it my favourite, from John’s Toyota Corona hardtop (stay tuned for this one), to Genki-san’s EG Honda Civic – obviously red is the only similarity in the team.

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Kota-san’s Sil80 is a good example of a drive “missile”. Drift Matsuri from Ebisu a few weeks ago, Kota easily enjoyed the most laps of the day and even ran out of fuel toward the end.

The paddocks of these grassroots events are always full of energy. There is a quality of hospitality here as everyone is just there to enjoy themselves and it makes for a great environment.

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Ryota-san’s RPS13 Nissan 180SX Type X was arguably one of the neatest cars of the day. It’s always refreshing to see a car like this enjoyed as originally intended.

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Grassroots Drifting proves you don’t need a purpose-built 800hp car to enjoy the sport. With no formal judging and competitive competition to get in the way of having a good time, nearly all of the day’s competitors rode home in the same car later in the evening.

Alex Pender
Instagram: Noplansco

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How to join the IATS program: We always welcome readers to contact us with examples of their work, and believe that the best Speedhunters are always the ones closest to the culture itself, right on the street or in the local parking lot. If you think you have what it takes and are willing to share your work with us, you should apply to be part of the IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER program. Read how to get involved here.

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