Mooneyes: Japan meets Americana

Cars Bikes People Culture

Mooneyes International Division Manager Steve Sare on the show that changed everything...

I am American. My father is from Nebraska and my mother is from Kyushu.

I grew up with Japanese culture in my daily life. In a way, it’s very fitting that I am here in Japan working at Mooneyes – which of course, represents a company that fuses something fundamentally American with an ethos nurtured and cultivated in a way that could only be done in Japan.

At the core, my responsibilities include organising what we believe is one of the most important and vital custom car and bike shows on the planet.

This year will be the 24th Annual Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show 2015 at Pacifico Yokohama in Yokohama, Japan. Almost a quarter century since its inception, Mooneyes is not your average corporate car show. It is quite simply a coming together of people from all over Japan and the world who are passionate aficionados and practitioners of custom culture. You meet a vast variety of people at the Mooneyes show – not just some of the most talented builders of cars and bikes, but a wide range of men and women who create everything from beautiful automotive themed artwork to apparel and everything in between.

Mooneyes is where the aesthetic relationship between Japan, America and the world of creative car and bike culture touches down and expresses itself most freely. And of course, the parties are almost as legendary as the cars and bikes that are exhibited!


The fact that the Mooneyes show is like a great big party is part of the reflection of the original way of the brand. I mean, what on earth is custom culture if it is not fun? And indeed the history of the Moon brand is encoded in the show’s values. When company founder Dean Moon died in 1987, Shige Suganuma, who was a Mooneyes dealer in Japan, was very keen to carry on the Moon tradition. He had been very close to Dean and the Moon family – and after a transitional period he became the owner of the brand and the company itself. Passionately committed to deepening and cultivating the founding father’s way of working, in a way he inherited the company rather than simply acquired it. The company is still in the same place, in the same building in Santa Fe Springs, California. We still have Dean Moon’s files dating way back to the 1950s, and we have retained the contacts and connections that were so vital a part in the culture of Hot Rodding and customising in post war America. I’m sure there were some misgivings in the beginning about someone foreign owning such an iconic brand that represented so much of what may be called ‘Americana’. But the way that the new owner did it gradually convinced people that this was still the Moon brand.

For me and for thousands of Japanese enthusiast Mooneyes is a fundamentally a lifestyle. As in so many other things, if Japanese people are passionately committed to something, they embrace it with a whole heart and make it their own. There is a tradition in Japan of craftsmanship in and for itself – and they believe in passing the knowledge and skills of this craftsmanship down through the generations. You’ll notice too, that this is a very family oriented show – with married couples coming along with their children. In this way each Mooneyes show brings a new generation into the culture – and it is amazing to see a new generations of customisers emerging here in Japan that weren’t even born when we began this thing!

The show itself has grown every year, and last year there were around 300 car exhibitors and 650 motorcycles in the show. There were 270 vendor booths and a pinstriper’s gathering that drew in fifty artists from all over the world. Eighty exhibitors entered the ‘Sign of the Times’ custom paint contest. We managed to accommodate over 15,000 people on the single Sunday of the show, and our push to be calm and quiet and respectful to our neighbours was a great success.

As I write this, preparations are being finalised for this year’s event, which will push things even further in terms of creativity and fun. Amongst a host of special features there’s a focus on the aesthetic of the period between 1949 and 1954 in American car culture, as well as a celebration of ‘Exotic Iron’ in the form of special gathering of beautiful choppers. We’re exploring the links between skate and hot rod culture with a ‘Sidewalk Surfing’ custom paint contest with legendary skater and artist Steve Caballero in attendance. To finish things off there will be an homage to Sixties Muscle in the form of a ‘Camaro A Go Go’ special.

Custom culture is all about taking forms and changing them into something better, more beautiful. I’m proud of the part Mooneyes has been able to play in the development of this culture here in Japan.

If you care about cars and bikes and creativity – once in your life you must make it to Mooneyes. We look forward to seeing you.