What is JDM? Part 1

We love JDM culture and JDM sports cars, that much is obvious. We have spent countless years devoted to our passion, made the dream of living in Japan a reality, and also incorporated the term into our name. As clear and straightforward as it might seem to most people, the term JDM still gets thrown around and used loosely when it really doesn’t apply. So what does it stand for, what classifies a car as JDM, and how should we use the term correctly? Let’s get into it.

What does JDM stand for?

Put simply, JDM stands for Japanese Domestic Market. The meaning of these three words individually is quite clear- “Japanese” meaning from or of Japan, “Domestic” meaning within a certain country (i.e. not internationally) and “Market” means the area or range that goods/products are sold. Put it all together and JDM becomes an acronym defining a market where products are sold locally within Japan for Japanese consumers. Simple right? So how and why is there any confusion?

People who are starting to take an interest in JDM cars might ask a simple question like “Is Toyota considered JDM?” and here’s where it starts to get misunderstood. As Japanese cars, and particularly Japanese sports cars, became popular around the world in the 90s, many people applied and used the term JDM to mean any and every vehicle manufactured by the popular Japanese brands Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Mazda. The first thing to remember is just because something is made by a Japanese manufacturer, it does not make it JDM. Being made in Japan also does not make it JDM. The key thing to consider is not where it was made or who produces it, but the market where the vehicle is sold new. That’s because different markets often have different requirements when it comes to safety, emissions and often performance and optional specifications. There has often been a wrong assumption that “Japanese” means made by one of the Japanese manufacturers, and that “Domestic Market” means the local or national market in which a consumer is living. However, the domestic market being referred to is the one within Japan and not the subjective area someone is living. It’s an easy mistake to make, especially if you’re just beginning to take an interest in this area.

JDM Nissan Skyline GTR R34 R33 R32

How much JDM can you fit in one picture? R32, R33, R34 GTRs at Okayama International Circuit.

 As mentioned, Japanese in the context of JDM means “in Japan” or “for Japan” rather than “from Japan”. When talking about cars, it specifically means a vehicle that was produced with the intent of being sold in Japan, and not outside of the country. After all, the acronym isn’t JIM- Japanese International Market. Therefore, a Toyota made in the US and sold in the US is obviously not JDM, and a Toyota made in Japan and sold new in the US is also not JDM. This is because the US models are made differently to meet the demands of differing consumers. Let’s look at a couple common examples that express this point.

Nissan Silvia - USDM 240SX vs JDM 180SX

The Nissan 240SX as it was sold in the USA is not a JDM car because in Japan it was actually sold as a Nissan 180SX and had totally different engine options - the first generation had a 140hp 2.4L KA24E in the US and a 170hp 1.8 CA18DET in Japan. For the second generation, the USDM model got a power bump in the form of a KA24DE which was now DOHC but remained NA. Meanwhile the JDM 180SX remained turbocharged but also received the venerable SR20DET engine. Without looking under the hood it could be difficult for some people to tell the difference. However, a dead giveaway signaling a 240SX not being JDM is that it is LHD- new cars are only sold as RHD in Japan. The 180SX was also sold outside of Japan as a 200SX but again with different specifications from the Japanese model. For much more detail on these differences, check out this great article from 180SX Club.

JDM S-chassis S13 S14 S15 drift event

JDM S-chassis in Hiroshima. 

USDM Integra Type R vs JDM Integra Type R

The Honda Integra Type R is an example of a JDM vehicle as it was sold new to Japanese consumers and differs from the USDM Acura Integra Type R (note also that the Acura brand is not sold in Japan). The USDM model differs in things like the bumpers, headlights, seats as well as slightly different compression ratios and power figures for the engine. Some owners will go to the trouble of installing the different Japanese parts onto their USDM model making it harder to tell at first glance what it is- however, an Acura chassis will always remain a USDM model no matter how much it is modified.

In summary

These two examples illustrate just how different JDM models can be from their overseas counterparts. Sometimes it can be purely cosmetic changes and other times it can mean entirely different engine packages (or a combination of both!). Calling all Japanese cars JDM would be similar to calling all Dodge Chargers a Hellcat, or all BMWs an M3. That’s not to say one is better than the other, but it is clear there’s definitely a difference! While the difference in some models might be hard to tell apart, there are still those that are unmistakably JDM. Going into finer detail and distinguishing these “true JDM” models from other JDM vehicles is all covered in Part 2: True JDM.