Touring Japan with Kawasaki Part 1

July 25, 2007
Ken Hutchison
Ken Hutchison
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The ulcers keep piling on for the warden of the MotoUSA asylum. With the inmates running rampant around the globe, Hutch has opted to get in on the madness more these days than in years past and is back in the saddle again.

The KR350 is the last 350cc Grand Prix championship winning machine - Kawasaki Good Times World - Japan 2007
The infamous KR350 Grand Prix racer was piloted to the last 350cc Grand Prix championship in 1982 by Anton Mang of Germany. This is just one example of the cool history of Kawasaki that was on display during our tour of Japan. Stick around too, because we’re sure there is much more you need to know about Kawasaki.

The majority of us know what Kawasaki has accomplished during its 40-year history of building and selling world class motorcycles: But, are you aware of the company’s presence in the other aspects of day-to-day life here on Earth? While moto-enthusiasts everywhere have enjoyed Kawasaki motorbikes of all shapes and sizes, starting with the original New Ace 125 rolled off the assembly line in 1960 to the ultra modern ZX-14, they might not be privy to the fact that Kawasaki has been a leader in the development and manufacturing of everything from 100,000-hp engines for shipping vessels or rolling stock for 200-mph bullet trains.

In order to enlighten our legions of readers as to the global influence of the Japanese manufacturer, the good people from Kawasaki Motor Corp. arranged a stunning expedition to the Kawasaki Heavy Industries‘ (KHI) primary base of operations in the Land of the Rising Sun. Our entourage of American scribes participated in an eye-opening tour through KHI’s primary manufacturing plants, received a taste of the Japanese culture, enjoyed an afternoon watching the flamboyant festivities during an all-Japan Road Racing Series race at the Autopolis International Racing Course, then capped it all off with an afternoon of riding Ninjas on the same world class facility the following day. Now, are you green with envy?

For the next week you can ride along with us as we tour Japan with our hosts from Kawasaki. An editorial with interesting facts and technical information will be accompanied by a daily blog on Page 2 that will feature the behind the scenes events while the cameras were put away. Parts 2 and 3 of the story wil go live on Friday, July 27th and Wednesday, August 1st respectively. So do the right thing and Climb On!

The Japanese Superbike round at Autopolis featured the most colorful paddock that we ve seen in quite some time. After watching the races on Sunday  we got to actually ride on the track the following day. Sometimes  life is very good.
The Japanese Superbike race at Autopolis featured the most colorful paddock that we’ve seen in quite some time. After watching the races on Sunday, we got to actually ride on the track the following day. Sometimes, life is very good.

As it turns out, Kawasaki is more deeply involved in the world of transportation, construction and the incessant spending of discretionary income by members of the public than it might appear at first glance. Although the Ninja is the word most often associated with the brand, there are other important names that solidify it as more than just a motorcycle manufacturer. Ever heard of Shinkansen, LNG vessels, the Chunnel, the NY subway, Boeing or the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge? Well, Kawasaki has left its mark on all of these things and more.

These half dozen select entities represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg that is Kawasaki Heavy Industries. It all began with the Kawasaki Tsukiji Shipyard, opened in 1878 by founder Shozo Kawasaki, and now nearly 130 years later the company is one of the most respected in Japan, responsible for the development of many items that make daily life better for everyone.

MotorcycleUSA will take you alongside our Japanese tour, so be sure to check out the photo galleries, captions and video, because there’s just not enough room in the text to showcase everything our travels revealed. Grab a carafe of cold sake, place your shoes at the entrance of your cubicle and imagine yourself in a land far, far away where everything is new and clean, the food is raw and lean and the Gaijin, along with our multitude of peculiarities, are the ones running around in mass with cameras blazing and confusion emanating out of every pore. 

Blog Update: Day 1

One thing about a tour of Japan: You have to spend a lot of time in the sky. Thank you to Kawasaki for flying us business class to Tokyo!
One thing about a tour of Japan: You have to spend a lot of time in the sky. Thank you to Kawasaki for flying us business class to Tokyo!

My flight from Oregon leaves at the crack of dawn so I drag my butt out of bed and to the airport before sunrise. I fly into LAX and join about half of the group there in the Red Carpet Club for some pre-flight boozing. We tried to bring breakfast into the club at one point, but we got shot down by the United Security Unit at the door and had to scarf it down in the waiting area. Rules of the upper class folks are strange here in the US aren’t they? We finally boarded the plane after an hour or so and I was happy to see that I’m on the flight with the cool kids and that’s all that counts at this point. I was seated next to fellow ambassador of good will Steve Atlas of Cycle News. Good lord we put the stewardess through the wringer for the first hour or two! We ate some type of undistinguishable pasta then medicated ourselves with a heavy dose of Seagrams and passed out through the night portion of the flight to Tokyo. We woke up an hour or so before landing, took a sponge bath as part of our business class accommodations and received a breakfast omelet and OJ before hitting the ground with a thud. Were not in America anymore my pretties!

It took a while to round up the luggage in Tokyo and when we tried to get out of the baggage claim we were forced to show our claim tickets before being allowed to pass through. Crazy rules in Japan now too? Where will it end? Then we’re off to Customs for an hour – dragging our gear bags, luggage, camera bags and laptops behind us like some amorphous mass of confusion. After surviving the body cavity search, we were off to another random gate for our flight to Kobe on a national air carrier. While waiting for that flight we got our first taste of Japanese airport culture and peculiar snacks. Doesn’t anyone know the value of a bag of peanut M&Ms in this country? Sheesh. At long last, we packed ourselves into the coach seats for flight number two – and I must say it was an unusually tight squeeze.

The view from the Okura Hotel was amazing.
Our home base in Kobe was the Okura Hotel on the waterfront. The view was even more amazing than the accomodations.

Are the planes smaller in Japan? Apparently we all survived the flight since no body was missing, so we once again went through the baggage claim routine before making our way to the tour bus outside. We couldn’t fit all of our luggage into the bus though! Some poor suckers had to leave their stuff behind while we traveled to the Okura hotel by the Kobe waterfront. It felt like it was a long bus ride even though it was only a short one.

Once there it was up to my suite on the 25th floor for a power nap because the official tour starts the next morning. The view was amazing with the million lights of the city reflecting off the sea to my left and the lights off the stream of autos on the highway to the right serving notice that this is a land stuffed to the gills with people. Well – I’m wiped out so we’ll pick this up again in the morning: Good night, John Boy.

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