Hiroshi Aoyama is the only Japanese rider in the premier class and has faced difficult circumstances since the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami.
No MotoGP rider has been more affected by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northern Japan than Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212). The only Japanese rider in the premier class, Aoyama was already at his European base in Barcelona when the earthquake struck. The early days were difficult for Aoyama and the rest of the vast Japanese contingent of riders, mechanics, engineers, and technicians, but eventually the country turned a corner and the island nation began to rebuild.
Being the only Japanese rider in MotoGP put Aoyama in a difficult position. Many of his fellow competitors have come out in opposition to attending the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi, which was postponed from April to October because of the disaster. Some fear radiation, others fear the reactor isn’t stable. But rather than criticizing the others, Aoyama says he understands their concerns, even if he doesn’t agree with them.
More than anything, he’s looking forward to the race, which he believes can boost the morale of the country. His own family has fully recovered from the earthquake, he discovered, when he returned to his family home in Chiba, outside of Tokyo, during the summer break.
When we spoke to Aoyama it was clear the March disaster was still fresh in his mind. His answers, given in excellent English, were heartfelt. Most of all, he wants to go home and he wants the rest of the paddock to go with him.
Where you when the earthquake struck?
When the earthquake happened I was just going to the Qatar first race, so I was just in the airport. I saw the TV. I thought it’s a kind of movie. I could not believe what’s happening there. I realized that it’s happening in Japan and I tried to call my family, but, at that moment, I could not call. So I took my flight to Qatar. When I arrived in Qatar I called my
Hiroshi Aoyama: “When the earthquake happened I was just going to the Qatar race, so I was in the airport. I saw the TV. I thought it was kind of a movie. I could not believe what was happening there. I realized that it’s happening in Japan and I tried to call my family, but, at that moment, I could not call.”
family so I could reach my family. Was OK. We live like 200 kilometers from Fukushima in Chiba. Also we have two kilometers to a fuel factory, where there was an explosion because of the earthquake.
So they had also some damage from this. But anyway, the family was OK, my friends were OK, so I was quite distressed and had a strange feeling, because I had the first race in Qatar, I had to focus. I felt I should not race because I felt not nice. But then I thought about if I should race to give some good news to Japan, bring some news, so that’s what I can do. I am not a professional to rescue the people¸ I’m professional to ride the bike. So that’s what I thought and I continued racing, but it’s still hard because there are a lot of people still suffering, losing the house, losing the family and that’s a lot of damage into your heart and brain, so it takes time.
When you were in Qatar, how were you keeping up with developments in Japan?
I was trying to check TV, but there was many news around and it’s difficult to reach what is the latest news. But I could check also the internet. Internet was where I could get good information. Like, telephone was down the first few hours or few weeks, because they have no electricity, but somehow internet was working, so I could contact my friends, my family. I could get what really happened to my town. They showed mainly the nuclear plant and other things. They don’t show much my town.
How is your town now?
Hiroshi Aoyama: “The first couple of weeks my family didn’t have water, food, fuel, anything. The lifeline was down, so I think for my family it was a little bit tough for a couple of weeks.”
Not OK. I mean, we didn’t get so much damage, but the first couple of weeks my family didn’t have water, didn’t have food. No fuel, everything. The lifeline was down, so I think even for my family it was a little bit tough couple of weeks. I was there in Japan, I came back one month ago. I could see everything is OK, everything is fine. They have electricity, water, food, fuel.
Everything was going on like normal, so I was really happy to see that. But on the other hand if you go to the northern part of Japan it’s still a disaster. I saw some pictures. Still the cars are upside down, houses completely down.
Some places you can see nothing, like no house, nothing. Tsunami took everything. I could see how the tsunami is powerful. I think not only me, a lot of Japanese riders had a difficult situation to concentrate on the race, think about focusing. Was not easy. Even now when if I think about it deeply, it’s still really hard.
How long do you think it will be before Japan fully recovers?
Oh, it takes a couple of years. Maybe ten years. I don’t know. For sure a lot of years. It takes a lot of time. Even if you can fix the things, like houses, roads, but the people, inside of the heart it’s still broken, so this is the hardest part. We were lucky because many countries tried to help bring many things, bring some money. We were a very lucky country and I would say thanks to all the people who supported the Japanese people in Japan. And what I can do now is still try to race and try to give my best in the race and show good news. And cheer up the people who are still suffering inside. And so because of this, I would say let’s go to Japan to make a MotoGP race. You know, we checked, the independent company (ARPA) checked the situation of Japan, so they said it’s OK, we can go. So now the race is going on. I’m very
Hiroshi Aoyama: “I had a chance to ride for the Repsol team and it was a very nice experience. But unfortunately I crashed and I broke another vertebra in my back. So after that the situation was a little bit difficult to ride the bike.”
happy about that. But still some people are doubting or thinking-I fully understand the situation-but if they would go to Japan to race, I am very happy and I appreciate all the guys who go to Japan.
There was a meeting at Mugello at which were all of the MotoGP riders, but you signed a document asking for more ‘information.’
Yeah, yeah, I didn’t sign that, because I know everything is OK and we can go. And Japanese government said it’s OK. And afterward also Italy, Spain, America, they say you can travel to Japan. So that means it’s OK. So I trust this, so I didn’t sign this document. It’s a difficult situation for European people. I am Japanese, so anyway, I have a house there so I go home, even in a disaster situation. It’s a completely different situation. And if I’m in a different situation, like the other side, for sure I would think about it. But I try to believe this information and for sure we can go and for motorsports fans, they can make the people happy, for sure. That’s the most important thing.
In Indianapolis some riders said they hadn’t decided. They weren’t going to decide until Misano. What do you think about that?
Well, it’s difficult. This kind of situation nobody can push nobody. It depends on your point of view. If you believe this information, you don’t have to be scared. Just you can go without being scared. If you don’t believe, for sure you are scared. Actually, the life in Japan is going on, so that means everything-not everything, for sure-the things are like minimum level that you can travel to Japan. I would say please believe this and let’s go to Japan and show our race.
On the racing side, what was the biggest change from last year to this year?
Well, I changed the team. And now this team has a lot of experience. Also the bike becomes a little bit better and I can ride a little bit easier. And in Assen I had a chance to ride for the Repsol team and it was a very nice experience. But unfortunately I crashed and I broke another vertebra in my back. So after that the situation was a little bit difficult to ride the bike. But I tried to keep going on with the bike, but it was very, very difficult. But anyway this time, now, I feel much
Hiroshi Aoyama: “For me the second year in MotoGP it seems like everything comes easier. Of course, there’s a different team and different setup of the bike. But everything comes a little bit easier and I also can go a little bit faster.”
better on my back and I can push a little bit more on the bike. I’m very happy about that. So now we have six races more to go, so I try to show how I can be there. And I believe with this bike, which is my bike with the satellite team, I can be good and we believe we can be more on the top side.
How long did it take before your back felt 100%?
Well, still not 100%, but now, let’s say it’s 80%. This injury, it’s really tough.
How does it affect you on the motorcycle?
It’s blocked. I cannot move like what I want, so this was hard. But (Brno) and here I feel better on the bike. This is very important and so I am available to push a little bit more on the bike. For me the second year with MotoGP it seems like everything comes easier. Of course, different team and different setup of the bike. Everything comes a little bit easier and also I can go a little bit faster.
Are you looking forward to racing the 1000cc RC212V next year?
I don’t know yet for next year what’s going to happen to me, but if I have the opportunity to try the 1000, I would say yes for sure. But for that I want to improve a little bit more my position in general.
Which races are you most looking forward to?
For sure Motegi (laughing). And I have another race before Motegi, so I want to get good a feeling with the bike, a good rhythm on the bike and I want to go in Japan with good motivation and good energy.