Cool Conversations: Shin Watanabe, Editor in Chief of Hot VWs Magazine
Posted on June 25 2018
We get to know the man with decades of experience in the global VW scene and learn about the Japanese ‘Beetle fortune-telling’ game as we talk cars, communities and today’s VW scene in the online era.
Born in 1970 in Toyko, Shin Watanabe relocated to Southern California in 1998. For 20 years Shin worked for a Japanese publishing company as an editor for the VW magazine Let’s Play VWs. Last year Shin landed the role of Chief Editor for Hot VWs magazine and he’s currently dedicated to promoting and preserving all aspects of the VW air-cooled hobby.
It all starts somewhere. How did your love of VW begin?
I think I became a VW nut when I was four years old. My uncle lived with me when I was a child, and he worked for an official VW importer/dealer in Japan. He drove a 1973 or 74 Super Beetle back then. When my uncle went out for a drive, I always wanted to go with him and sit in the luggage space behind the back seat - that was my favourite spot! The scenery from behind the back seat was just awesome! You had the dynamic view ahead, and I could see everybody sitting in the front and the back. It was fun. The coolest part was the sound and vibration of the engine right where I was sitting, behind the back firewall. It's a different experience when comparing to other cars. I always love these facts about VWs.
In the 70’s and 80’s in Japan, the VW Beetle was a part of the daily scene. We even had a Beetle fortune-telling game! The simple rules are as follows:
• If you see five of more Beetles, amazing, you are very lucky today.
• White or yellow Beetles count for 5, so catch one of them and you’re lucky!
• See a blue or a green Beetle, and your count resets to zero. You have to start over.
• If you see a black Beetles, then that’s game over. You are unlucky today…
All the kids during my childhood in Japan relied on luck from this fun game, and I still play it every day that I’m on the street! But now, no matter what colour Beetle I see, I feel lucky when I see one, and think: “Today is a good day”.
That’s a good philosophy for a fun game. ‘Keep cool if you’ve seen a Beetle today – it’s all good’. What was the first VW that you ever owned?
When I turned 18, I finally got my driving license, and worked as a tennis coach and saved for my dream future first ride. I joined a buddy from the tennis club in his Cal Look Beetle, biding my time with VW magazines, books and road trips to air-cooled VW shops, until finally I bought my first Beetle. A 1975 standard base model, 1200cc engine and just 40 hp. It was slow, but I drove it everywhere! And it was hard to say goodbye when, just after a year, my Beetle was near totalled in an accident with a Toyota which drifted into my lane. It was oncoming, and I couldn’t avoid it. My Beetle was wrecked.
I thought about getting involved in the VW world as a career as soon as I purchased and started driving my first Beetle back in 88. There was no going back.
And your career took off from there! What is your proudest achievement since starting your career?
Proudest achievement is a tough question – I’m always hungry for more, always looking for the next project. Publishing the book “Volkswagen Beetle 1937-2003’, which showcases 20 years of my photography of classic VWs around the world, has to be one of my proudest VW achievements. Soon after, I became editor in Chief of the “Hot VWs magazine” – this is something I never expected. A new challenge, a new start.
Shin, you have travelled all across the globe for your VW features, from Germany to France, Belgium, Canada, Mexico, Hong Kong… just to name a few! What’s your favourite thing about the globally followed VW culture - the people, cars or lifestyle?
I cannot pick just one aspect from this question. I have to say all. The whole package of the air-cooled VW scene is wonderful. No matter where you are from, what language you speak, or what your beliefs are, all that doesn't matter. If you own air-cooled VW, we have instant connection.
When passion meets passion, incredible things can be achieved. Over the years of work in the VW industry, what’s become your favourite kind of feature?
I always enjoy meeting VW guys or gals who have crazy passion. No matter what language people speak, you get an instant connection. I always love highlighting those crazy VW people. Personally, I am fascinated about vintage performance stuff.
Since the production of those first air-cooled cars, the VW scene has changed so much. Do you think the way we approach VW culture today should change, or stay true to its roots?
Thanks to social networking and the internet, we can now see anything that’s happening in the VW world, so everything just got closer, and you can more easily get involved. Thanks to this, the air-cooled VW scene is so diverse now. There are so many styles. The way we approach VW culture today is unlimited. Each VW with owner has different story. But I still always want to get out there and highlight something special. Meeting friends face to face will always be special to me, and beats seeing through a screen.
And the Hot VWs magazine has so much saved in its archives. This is what I love to share.
So the world changes and the community changes with it. The message here is to ‘Go with the Flo’ and change for the better. Sounds good.
To follow, what’s your feeling towards the world of digital magazines online? Do you see the future going this way, or is the charm of flicking through a printed magazine something that can never be changed?
Digital content is good because you can reach out instantly, with no delivery cost. But personally, I still like the actual "book" and "magazine". I still believe many VW people like the smell of ink.
The VW culture is a global one. Where would you say its strongest in the world at the moment? Are there any small communities that we would be surprised to learn about?
I would say the USA is pretty strong. Many aftermarket major players are based in USA. Recently, I am really impressed with the Indonesian VW scene. So many people drive VWs, and their passion is inspiring. Thailand is also a rapidly growing VW scene as well - definitely one to keep an eye on.
Shout out to the USA, Indonesia, and Thailand scenes! Now, onto the cars. Shin, what has to be your dream VW? How close are you to achieving that dream?
Type 64 Berlin Rom-Wagen, without a doubt. Unfortunately, I don't think I will achieve this dream, but I would absolutely love to drive at least once.
If you’re going to dream, dream big! How about the cars you own now?
I have a 1993 Intermeccanica Roadster (Porsche 356 Convertible D Replica), a 1958 Beetle Deluxe, and a 1972 Chevy Monte Carlo. It’s hard to choose a favourite – I’m so happy with all of them.
What’s your most memorable moment with a VW experience?
I had an opportunity to drive the VW30 when I visited VW Treffen in Mexico. It was the Disney movie car used in the shooting of the movie Herbie. Outside of the car, the whole year of 2017, when I joined Hot VWs magazine, was truly significant for me. New challenges, always celebrating the VW scene.
Finally, what plans or goals do you have for the future?
My goal is keep good up the tradition of Hot VWs magazine for as long as possible, and be the bridge of the VW community.
Thanks to Shin Watanabe for sharing his time in the Cool Flo Collective feature!
Don’t miss the awesome features and content for the globally recognised Hot VWs magazine, for enthusiasts everywhere: hotvws.com/