Japanese Itasha Cars: Painfully Embarrassing or Totally Awesome?

In the 1980s, when Japan was at the zenith of its economic might, Tokyo’s streets were a parade of luxury import cars. Among them, the “itasha”—originally Japanese slang meaning an imported Italian car—was the most desired. Since then, itasha (as the decorated vehicle) was derived from combining the Japanese words for itai (痛い, painful) and sha (車, vehicle). Itai here means “pain(ful)”, which can be interpreted as “painfully embarrassing”, “painful for the wallet” due to the high costs involved, or “painful to look at” (an eyesore). The name is also a pun for Italian cars (イタリア車 Itaria-sha), truncated in Japanese slang as Itasha (イタ車).

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