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TOUGH CLUB: RWB Serendipity

December 29, 2017

Our friends in New York and the day-one followers of PRIME may remember Akira Nakai’s first Porsche build in NYC — the RWB Brooklyn that we covered last April. It was also the first time some of us got to meet Nakai-san in person, myself included. And if you were there to witness the build, then you’ll understand his brand of organized chaos. It’s a manic 48-hour sprint from start to finish that requires relentless tunnel vision and an extreme level attention to detail.


But this also made Nakai-san a difficult person to approach. It’s not because Nakai-san is hostile or anti-social, but do you want to be the guy that interrupts Nakai in front of everyone else? RAUH-Welt’s lore guarantees an anxious crowd waiting to meet Nakai wherever he builds, but it also means fans will have little time for anything more than a photo-op.

Earlier this spring, my friends and I made a trip to Japan for the first time. The main goal of our trip was to make a pilgrimage to Ebisu Circuit’s Spring Matsuri, but I was more eager to make a trip to Nakai’s RWB home base in Chiba. Flying to Japan was just half the battle — Nakai doesn’t do social media and it’s not a secret that his superhuman work schedule will deliver him to any part of the world at any time. There’s no guarantee Nakai will be home and catching him might as well be a game of Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego.


Because of this, I reached out to Christian Coujin on Facebook in advance. Coujin is one of Nakai’s closest friends and a brand ambassador with no less than six RWB Porsches. Tough luck — Coujin said our dates fall on a build in Germany and Nakai-san would not be around. Regardless, RWB is worth the hike as some of Nakai’s most iconic builds are often found sitting outside the Chiba garage and the opportunity to see the likes of Rotana, Stella Artois and Natty Dreads in the flesh is a worthy consolation.


In fact, we learned a couple times over the course of our trip that there’s no such thing as perfect timing. Apparently, Spring Drift Matsuri fell on Golden Week, a national holiday where overworked salarymen and women in Japan receive mandatory time off to spend with their family. Not only was it difficult to figure out the holiday store hours for the places we wanted to visit, but it also meant we’ll have to battle insane crowds during our commute. We didn’t know what we were in for. We were strangers visiting a strange land and we did the only thing that we could—we fucking YOLO’d it. There’s no time like the present and we were determined to make the most out of every experience.


Not to sound cliche, but sometimes it’s hard to believe how far positive thinking can get you. After spending the first couple of days acclimating in Tokyo, we made our way to Drift Matsuri with our plans for what to do afterward still up in the air. Long story short, I managed to stumble upon Kenichi Hayakawa’s IG page on our last full day at Ebisu. Hayakawa-san is the owner of the dark olive Porsche 964 RWB Angelina and knew enough English to help us out. As luck would have it, Nakai will return to Chiba after all, albeit only for a night on the day we return from the Matsuri. He would leave first thing the following morning to build a pair of Porsches in Vienna, Austria. That was the narrow time window we had to work with.


The night before, we voted against a hotel and started the long trip from Ebisu Circuit back to Tokyo in our trusty rental Toyota Alphard (which we lovingly nicknamed Alfred), ending our long trek in the parking lot of a Family Mart convenience store for a couple hours of shut-eye. This was how we began our most hectic day in Japan. According to the car rental company, we had to return Alfred by 12 p.m., but our Akihabara Airbnb wouldn’t be available for check-in until 4. Because of this, we unloaded our luggage first and carried it all to the roof of the Airbnb’s seven-story walk-up. Chinzo and I waited on the roof until our room was available while Darren and Paolo drove to drop off Alfred about an hour out of Tokyo and meet with us later in the afternoon.


When it was all said and done, we didn’t manage to regroup until late and all of us forgot to eat a meal or shower the entire day. We were exhausted and would have even stayed in for the rest of the day, but nothing is stronger than that fear of missing out. We had to get moving — Chiba is another hour and a half out of Tokyo and it’s already past normal shop hours in Japan (though everything about RWB is abnormal).


You’d think a world-renowned shop like RAUH-Welt Begriff would be prominently located on a busy street. Instead, we walked another 30-minutes from the train station through a quiet residential neighborhood before we finally found Porsches dotting an overgrown field. Natty Dread Jr., Rarmintra, and Nakai’s own 964 cabriolet welcomed us just outside a half-open garage. Inside, Hayakawa-san worked on Angelina while Nakai-san and his friend Hackey chilled by the billiard table.


While Nakai-san’s build schedule abroad requires military-like precision, the vibe at the Chiba home base was chill. Nakai-san was extremely welcoming, showing us around the shop and also a closer look at some of the Porsches inside, including one Rubystone 964 that was rebuilt from a prior crash. Other notables in the shop include the Lomianki and a white 964. But perhaps the most fascinating thing we saw was a file cabinet in the middle of the shop. Sticky notes covered its sides, each piece of paper an order sheet of a future Porsche build with the location that he must travel to next. Reading the notes is like looking into the future — and the future looks really, really busy.


Somehow, Nakai-san is untroubled about the overwhelming number of customers on his waiting list, nor does he let fame get to his head. He’s undoubtedly passionate and knows his creations are something special, yet during his downtime, it’s remarkable how he can turn it all off and appreciate that there’s more to life. He was also curious about our stories from New York and what sort of stuff we were up to. In turn, I unabashedly behaved like a fanboy and explained how Porsche and RWB greatly inspired my own 350Z build, which features a color change to Porsche Sport Classic Grey as well as a TOUGH-Club banner in the RAUH-Welt font. I somewhat expected Nakai-san to scoff, but he was good-natured about it. TOUGH-Club is a car team I created for my friends and I back home and Nakai-san invited me to apply our team sticker on the RWB shop door. Hayakawa-San was also happy to apply a sticker on Angelina’s rear glass. It was an incredible honor and I can’t even begin to describe how I felt.


Finally, Nakai-san asked if we were hungry before the night ended. Who can say no when the boss invites you to join his friends for dinner? The four of us were excited to hop into some RWB Porsches and ride to a fancy restaurant, but instead, Nakai shepherded us into the back of Nakai’s Ford Econoline box van with initials “RWB” spray painted in red on the side (suspicious, much?). Inside, instead of bench seating, we saw hammocks hanging from the roof and garden chairs epoxied to the floor. The chairs surrounded a small table with a lamp that had star cut-outs on its lid. When the light turned on, the light shined against the roof of the van to create this constellation-like effect. Not gonna lie, I appreciated the weirdness of it all and found it pretty cool.


Since the panel van didn’t have any windows, our destination was a surprise, especially when we heard the gravel road. Finally, the van door opened and we found ourselves at a dusty neighborhood soy ramen joint. Parked alongside us was a dope shakotan Toyota Mark II that apparently belonged to a family that was enjoying their meal at one of the picnic tables by the car lot. We sat down at the picnic table next to them and just spent the of the night eating chatting about food, travel and life in general.


RAUH-Welt Begriff, as we recognize it today, didn’t exist until Nakai-San purchased his first Porsche 930. Before Nakai built the original RWB Stella Artois, he and his band of AE86 friends in the drift scene called themselves “Rough World.” At the time, Nakai believed the “rough” way of life was universal and was confident that like-minded folks from around the world are building their cars with a sense of style and intent that’s similar to his own. Clearly, there are a lot of us and it’s great that RAUH-Welt is able to connect us all.


I thank Nakai-san, Hayakawa-san, Tomomi Hakii-san, and Takahiko Asada-san for the generous hospitality and can’t wait to do it all again next year.


Until then, One Love.

Special guest post by Danny Choy of Tough Club.
Photos by Brian Chin