Perhaps more known for the “big four” manufacturers, Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki, Japan has also, over the last sixty years produced multiple world class pure road racers.
One of the most famous has to be Mitsuo Itoh, still to date, the only Japanese TT winner.
Mitsuo accomplished this unique feat aboard a Suzuki, in the 1963 50cc Ultra Lightweight TT.
Photo by Hemeyla Archief
Alongside the Suzuki stalwart, fellow Asian roads stars of the 60’s included winner of the inaugural Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix, Hiroshi Hasegawa.
Into the 70’s and Japan enjoyed a sustained front running presence at Macau, courtesy of the likes of Akiyasu Motohashi, Ikujiro Takai, Ken Araoka, Hiroyuki Kawasaki, Hideo Kanaya and three time winner at the East Asian based meeting, Sadao Asami.
1977 350 Grand Prix world champion Takazuki Katayama was also a highly accomplished roads competitor, in particular on the Mountain Course and at many of mainland Europe’s famous events, including Imatra and Oliver’s Mount.
In the modern era, Jun Maeda, Yoshinari Matsushita, Takahiro Itami and second place finisher in the 2015 Newcomers C Manx Grand Prix, Masayuki Yamanaka have maintained Japan’s real roads presence.
Sidecars wise, their most prominent racers include twice Pikes Peak winner Masahito Watanabe, who also competed in the centenary TT of 2007.
Looking to the future, it’s difficult to state as to whether in say 10 years time, we will see a front running, or potential top ten finishing TT racer from Japan.
For now though, it’s worth remembering, that alongside their world famous motorcycle brands, they have also been the home of many a unsung overseas roads great.
Words by Stevie Rial