Photographer: Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg

How Mitsuoka Makes Adorable, Extraordinary Handmade Cars in Japan

You've probably never seen one, because if you had spotted a Mitsuoka Motor car on the road, you'd remember it. Hand-adapted from base engines and chassis made by other Japanese automakers like Mazda and Nissan, these automobiles end up looking a little akin to warped, futuristic versions of luxury cars from several different countries. But in truth, there's nothing like them in the world.  Photographs by Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg

Would you like to drive something that looks like a Rolls-Royce but is just different enough that it will make even a die-hard Rolls fan raise his eyebrows? Then you may want to consider a Ryugi by Mitsuoka Motor—an automaker based in Toyama, Japan. The Ryugi looks like a Rolls-Royce, but it has a smoother edge to it. And, more important, it runs on a Toyota engine, is offered with a hybrid option, and costs under $40,000. 

The MSRP for a base model Rolls-Royce Phantom is $417,000.

Now, the two cars aren't comparable. The performance and luxury that comes with a Phantom is second-to-none. But Mitsuoka isn't trying to compete with, or replace, the cars from which it draws inspiration. Rather, it hopes to appeal to a hip clientele that wants to drive something that stands out.

"Our priority is design, not cutting-edge functions," says President Akio Mitsuoka. "It has to be cool. It has to be cute. It has to be adorable. Just like fashion. Of course there are many cool and cute cars on the streets, but ours are different."

And the handcrafting is a key element to what makes a Mitsuoka stand out, he adds. "It takes time. We use machines in the process, but we have to use a human touch to make sure the surface is perfectly smooth at the end," he says. "We depend heavily on individual craftsmanship. It's our big headache securing the right people over the long term. I must admit we have low productivity. I believe the more time we spend, the better product we can make."

Below, see how the small team of 45 technicians builds the wonderful, weird Mitsuoka vehicles.


  1. Mitsuoka Himiko

    Mitsuoka Himiko

    A completed Mitsuoka Himiko, which is named after a legendary shaman queen of Yamataikoku—an ancient country in Japan. The Himiko is a two-door convertible built around a Mazda engine.

  2. Mitsuoka Galue

    Mitsuoka Galue

    Katsuo Saiki polishes a completed Mitsuoka Galue, which looks like a Rolls-Royce but is built around a 2.5-liter, inline-four engine made by Nissan. 

  3. Design


    A chief designer and manager of Mitsuoka Motor Co. Ltd. draws a concept design. Whimsy and attractiveness are of paramount importance.

  4. A New Body

    A New Body

    A worker wheels the raw hood of a car at the Mitsuoka factory. Craftsmen carry out all processes by hand at the manufacture in Toyama, Japan.

  5. Tools


    These are the tools the craftsmen use to assemble and perfect the new cars.

  6. The Trunk View

    The Trunk View

    Welders attend to the interior of a car body. 

  7. Building the Hood

    Building the Hood

    Workers treat the hood of a Mitsuoka Viewt, whose finished product appears to draw inspiration from mid-century Fiats, Rolls-Royces, and Alfa Romeos. The Viewt is built around a 1.2-liter, straight-three engine from Nissan. 

  8. Painting


    Kenichi Hirai sprays paint on a Viewt in the painting room at the factory.

  9. The Logo

    The Logo

    Shigeko Wakaki applies the Mitsuoka logo to the Viewt. 

  10. Near Completion

    Near Completion

    After the body and chassis are combined, workers check out a recently painted car. 

  11. Finishing Touches

    Finishing Touches

    Kenichi Nishimoto applies the last touches to the interior and exterior details. 

  12. Final Check

    Final Check

    Takashi Kurokoshi checks the condition of cars at the factory of Mitsuoka Motor.

  13. The Full View

    The Full View

    This car will be sold from the factory itself. Mitsuoka also has dealerships across Japan and in the United Kingdom. 

  14. Multiple Viewts

    Multiple Viewts

    The pastel colors add to the "cute" factor for Mitsuoka fans.