The Animal Boat custom shop is heaven for vintage enthusiasts. Here, Japanese customizer Daisuke Mukasa rescues classic motorcycles from extinction – and brings them back to the race track with his Curry Speed Club.
He has no idea how many square metres the shop has. “We measure in tatami, not square metres”, says Daisuke Mukasa. Tatamis are rice straw mats that are made in standard sizes and serve as a unit of area in Japan. This treasure island, called Animal Boat, probably measures about 50 tatami, roughly 80 square metres. It’s located on a busy road in Ōta ward in South Tokyo. Pretty inconspicuous. A few old bikes to the left and right of the entrance are the only hint of the world awaiting to be discovered behind the simple wood and glass door: a mixture of museum and junk shop. In this tiny space, the 46-year-old hoards motorcycles and parts, many of which are older than him.
There’s a narrow pathway between the sales counter and the workbenches where Daisuke practices his art. Most of the motorcycles are towards the back of the shop, about 50 of them. They’re tightly packed in, some of them on top of each other, the upper row supported by a steel bar. Exhaust systems and trim panels hang from the ceiling, dented tanks, analogue clocks and guitars adorn the walls. Like showpieces in a retro-chic art exhibit. There’s a stand-up bass leaning in the corner, rows of leather suits and helmets on the wall behind the counter and display cases of toy cars in their original boxes. Once your overwhelmed eyes get used to the chaos, you start seeing the order in it: everything has its place in this tiny workshop. “Here in Tokyo we’re forced to keep things compact and well organised”, says Daisuke. That’s because space is scarce and expensive in this megacity.
Noah’s Ark for motorcycles.
Animal Boat is a place of refuge. For Daisuke himself, for his customers, but above all for the clapped out motorcycles that really have no place in technology-driven Japan. “Basically this is a Noah’s Ark for motorcycles”. Daisuke speaks quietly. As though his story were delicate crystal. His cautious nature contrasts with his rough looks: chin beard, black clothes, flat cap and tattoos. He wears a necklace with a small skull and crossbones for good luck on the race track.
“When I opened the shop I didn’t have the money for expensive new bikes. So I bought old ones, restored and customised them. It felt like I was rescuing motorcycles”. Daisuke opened the shop in 1995, after working as a mechanic in a Tokyo motorcycle shop. “I started riding motorcycles at 19; I had a Honda CB 400. Motorcycles totally changed my life; they turned my world upside down.”
A normal open-ended job.
Daisuke opens for business at 11 am. His customers are passionate about vintage motorcycles and rely on his expertise in customising and restoration. “The nice thing about customising is that every customer comes to me with different ideas. Some value speed, others have a certain look in mind. I always try to surpass their expectations a little”. Always doing a little more than necessary is a motto that reflects the Japanese attitude, which places great importance on excellent work.
Customisers are no exception to this rule, quite the opposite in fact. To make it in the Japanese custom scene, you have to outdo yourself and, above all, work hard. “I close at 9 pm and then work on bikes until midnight. Sometimes it gets so late that I have to sleep here. I have a bed at the back”. Daisuke points to a hidden door in the back corner. “I feel at home here”.
The epitome of easy-going.
Since there’s no time for riding during the day, Daisuke sometimes meets up with friends to ride late in the evening. “We have the streets to ourselves at night. I love riding across Gate Bridge out to Yokohama or through the tunnels”. Many motorcyclists meet up at night at one of the tunnels in Tokyo. They experience pure freedom as they zoom through tunnels enveloped in dimmed light and the sound of the engines. This is where Daisuke gets his energy for the next day and the next challenges in the workshop.
“It’s not only just us customizers who place high standards on ourselves. Customers also expect perfect work. This attention to detail is probably typically Japanese; it’s bred into us”. But for Daisuke, details aren’t the only thing that make a perfect bike. Above all, the whole bike has to present a well-balanced picture. “It’s about balance and harmony. The individual parts have to be good, but I want everything to fit together and feel easy-going”.
Vintage racing with a curry flavour.
His fingers glide over the smooth surface of his racing bike. He completely rebuilt the chassis in a 1960s style and upgraded the three-speed, four-stroke, 60 cc Honda engine to seven horsepower. From the handlebars, seat, footrest system to the brake and gearshift levers – there’s hardly anything on the bike he didn’t make himself. He also treated himself to a few original Honda RSC racing parts. The machine is perfectly set up for the races that he organises and also competes in: B.O.B.L. – Battle of Bottom Link.
Four times a year, vintage enthusiasts from all over Japan meet on remote racing courses to pit their souped-up old-school bikes against each other. The riders compete in teams. So Daisuke and his friends started the Curry Speed Club. “Whenever we met, someone used to bring curry for everyone”, says Daisuke, laughing. “I enjoy racing with friends. Our respect for one another is a positive thing on the race track. Also, a little rivalry can be good for a friendship”.
Rock 'n' roll on the race track.
Vintage racing is a trend in Japan. Vintage bikes have made racing affordable again, especially for young people. That’s why most of the riders on the B.O.B.L. race track are between 20 and 40, and women are in on the action too. There are races all day long; the Curry Speed Club competes against teams like the Cool Beans or the guys from Drive Thru. The air is filled with the smoke from motorcycles, which mixes with the mist so common to Japan’s mountainous regions. The riders take their motorcycles to the limit and beyond, with footrests scraping the ground and engines howling. “I enjoy immersing myself in that era.
There was something playful about speed back then, you can enjoy it. I also enjoy the style which is important to me too”, says Daisuke. He embodies the vintage look down to the last detail. The motorcycles, the tools, the clothes, the rock 'n' roll. “I play guitar and make a lot of music with friends. Sometimes I get a song in my head during a race and I’m totally in my element”. Even here at the edge of the race track, Daisuke hardly raises his voice beyond his usual volume. Perhaps it’s a typically Japanese trait, but he barely betrays his strong emotions when he quietly but confidently says: “This classic technology will not die out. The spluttering, stuttering engine is true to our intuition. It gives us a good feeling”.