NIHONMATSU, Fukushima Prefecture--Tourism may be struggling here with the radiation scare, but no such worries apply to the thousands of daredevils from all around Japan and beyond who flock to the racecourse dubbed drift driver's "holy place."
Nestled in a dense forest at the foot of Mount Adatarayama, Ebisu Circuit is a large multicourse motor race track complex. The circuit is one of a few race courses to allow drifting, as the sport wears down the track's surface.
Drifting spread in Japan from the 1980s. When Ebisu Circuit opened in 1988, it quickly attracted amateur racers who were drifting on winding public roads.
Now, even the Fukushima prefectural government is eyeing opportunities to cash in on the circuit’s popularity in light of its plans to sell itself as an outdoor leisure destination, including surfing, skiing and snowboarding.
Yoshihiro Agatsuma, head of the prefectural government’s tourism department, said, "As the 'holy site’ of drifting, (Ebisu Circuit) is the number one, and only one. We are hoping to make it our major attraction."
The Fukushima prefectural government produced a promotional video and posted it on YouTube in December 2015, gaining over 70,000 views as of July 2017.
As the presence of the circuit was covered by various magazines and social networking services, Ebisu Circuit’s fame spread overseas, and it became the "pilgrimage" destination for drift drivers around the globe.
Formula Drift Japan, a drift race competition, was held at the circuit in June. International competitors included people from New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong.
Aaron Paris, a 27-year-old Canadian who came to Japan to see the race, said he was "so happy."
Formula Drift Japan was live-streamed online internationally, and viewer numbers topped 80,000, of which fans from the United States, Australia and New Zealand made up nearly 60 percent of all viewers.
There are some dedicated enthusiasts from overseas who lodge for more than a month in nearby accommodation, and commute to the circuit to practice drifting during their stay. Most of them are men, but some female drivers have been among them.
The circuit holds "Ebisu Drift Matsuri (festival)" three times a year. During the festival, the circuit is left open through the night, whereas it usually closes at 4:30 p.m.
Over 100 international drivers regularly head to the circuit for the events.
Some choose to purchase vehicles converted especially for drifting from a specialist car dealer within the circuit to drive them during the festivals, and sell them back to the dealer at the end.
The Ebisu Drift Matsuri festival for this autumn is scheduled to take place on Nov. 11-12.
Admission fees for spectators are 1,500 yen ($13.60) for adults, and 1,000 yen for children.