No other phrase more eloquently captures the essence of Japan's car industry than jishu-kisei, or "mutual self-restraint."

In fact, whether in terms of maximum engine-power output, maximum speedometer readings or speed limiters, Japan is the world leader in automotive moderation.

It all started back in the mid-1970s, when the police and government became concerned about the growing nationwide problem of bosozoku — street gangs on motor cycles and in cars who were speeding around disrupting traffic and ignoring road laws. The Japan Automobile Manufacturers' Association (JAMA) stepped in, suggesting that domestic carmakers put a ceiling on the maximum speed of all future Japanese- built vehicles by restricting the top speed markings on speedometers to 180 kph and imposing a speed-limiting device at the same speed. Once a vehicle reached 180 kph, this "speed governor" would automatically starve an engine of fuel and stop the car from going any faster.