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”.