ZELYONKA, GRAPES and CONTRABAND

THE MOTORIST'S MECCA

  • Photo: Andrey Haustov
  • Text: Vasiliy Avchenko

Among Vladivostok’s unofficial symbols, foremost is the Green Corner, referred to as “Zelyonka” (a diminutive form of the word meaning green) — Russia’s largest market for used Japanese cars.

In summer on the hills of Zelyonka, the asphalt melts from the heat, and in the winter the cold wind whistles. The market is visible from a distance: the different colors of paint shimmer and glass gives off an unmistakable glare. For the most part, the cars sold here are 3-5 years old, and have no mileage in the Russian Federation. The import tax for cars any older is much higher.

The choices offered here are similar to the domestic Japanese car market, but there are differences. For example, in Russia SUVs are more popular than in Japan, although in recent years a host of subcompact cars have appeared.

The import of Japanese cars into the then-closed Vladivostok began in the late 1980s and blossomed in the mid 1990s. Auto importing changed the face of the city, turning it into a real crossing point from which cars went to the west — to Siberia, the Urals…

The pulse of Zelyonka became the pulse of Vladivostok. It was truly the citizens' business, those left unemployed after perestroika: military men, fisherman, and scientists, became businessmen.

Russian Far East residents quickly became accustomed to the steering wheel on the right side, and saw in this heretical placement a symbol of freedom. Local sayings appeared — for example, “A left-sided steering wheel can’t be called good” (the word “left” in Russian also means bad or undesirable). And jargon that motorists from Western Russia do not always understand: The Toyota Soarer is nicknamed “sayra” (Russian for Pacific Saury), the Toyota Harrier is “khoryok” (meaning ferrett), and the Nissian Wingroad is “vinograd” (meaning grape).

The Green Corner opened in 1993. Today, in the area of Neybuta and Admiral Yumasheva Streets, trade is not only in cars, but also contraband: alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee, also from Japan. But the Port of Vladivostok traditionally turns a blind eye to these duty-free shenanigans.

In 2014, the import of cars from Japan to the Far East seriously declined due to the economic crisis. Nevertheless, Zelyonka continues, and each year Vladivostok is recognized by the analytic agency "AUTOSTAT" as the most automotive city in Russia by the number of cars per capita.

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