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Joe Frickin' Friday

Motorcycles in Japan

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Joe Frickin' Friday

This isn't a ride tale, but it is about motorcycles, so I'm parking it here in Motorcycle Talk.

 

I recently spent a couple of weeks vacationing in Japan. It was my first time there, and knowing of the population density and the expense of private vehicle ownership/storage, I expected to see a lot of motorcycles.

 

I was surprised to instead see a lot of scooters, both small and large. I did see some motorcycles, but not many at all – dozens of scooters, probably less than ten motorcycles during the whole trip. Granted, I was in cities the whole time. A friend of mine happened to be vacationing in Japan at the same time, and on a day trip from Yokohama to Mount Fuji, he said he saw lots of bikes burning up the twisties out in the countryside.

 

The licensing system for motorcycles there is tiered, based on engine displacement. Lessons are expensive, but the test is challenging. You can take the course for hundreds of dollars, though you still might not pass the test on the first go; the alternative is to skip the lessons and take the road test repeatedly (at $20 a pop) until you pass; this guy had to take it six times.

 

If you're cheap or unable to pass the moto test, a standard driver license lets you drive a <50cc scooter. Weather doesn't matter a lot. If it's chilly, you put a coat on:

 

2010-11-motorcycles-in-japan-001-L.jpg

 

 

If it's really cold, you strap a blanket on:

 

2010-11-motorcycles-in-japan-002-L.jpg

 

 

And cover your hands:

 

2010-11-motorcycles-in-japan-003-L.jpg

 

 

Helmets are mandatory, but I rarely saw FF helmets. It was almost always 1/2 or 3/4, although the 3/4 helmets often included a complete face shield, as in the first photo above.

 

As mentioned, the big scooters were far more popular than motorcycles of any kind:

 

2010-11-motorcycles-in-japan-004-L.jpg

 

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Occasionally you saw one that was truly blinged out, like this guy:

 

2010-11-motorcycles-in-japan-008-L.jpg

 

 

I'm guessing the popularity of scooters is related to their practicality. Having your legs together behind the fairing shields them from road grime, and the automatic transmission would be nice for stop-and-go city traffic. You can store cargo under the seat, or in front of you between your feet without having to fiddle with straps or nets. If you're really serious about ferrying cargo, you can get one of these:

 

2010-11-motorcycles-in-japan-009-L.jpg

 

 

Difficult to see, but the whole rig is articulated: driver and cargo lean into turns, while rear wheels stay vertical. I'm not sure of the advantage over a two-wheeler: clearly he can carry a lot of cargo in that box, but couldn't you do the same with a scooter with a single large rear wheel, and dispense with the articulating mechanism?

 

An official post office scooter:

 

2010-11-motorcycles-in-japan-010-L.jpg

 

 

We went to a post office one morning to mail out a post card, and happened to arrive just as the scooter fleet was hitting the road; it was like a bunch of bees leaving the hive. :grin:

 

 

Oh yeah, the motorcycles. Here's a few interesting ones I saw:

 

2010-11-motorcycles-in-japan-011-L.jpg

 

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Finally, a Japanese moto-cop on the go:

 

2010-11-motorcycles-in-japan-015-L.jpg

 

 

Piloting a motorcycle or scooter in Japan doesn't look too bad. Traffic can be dense, but people don't seem to drive aggressively; everyone is sedate and cooperative. One interesting thing I saw was forward-mounted side mirrors. Only saw these on taxi cabs, but my friend said he saw them on high-end personal vehicles as well:

 

2010-11-motorcycles-in-japan-016-L.jpg

 

2010-11-motorcycles-in-japan-017-L.jpg

 

 

Having cars' side mirrors mounted far forward like this would go a long way toward eliminating the blind spots that so often cause trouble for riders here in the US.

 

Another helpful feature:

 

2010-11-motorcycles-in-japan-018-L.jpg

 

 

You should be careful near this car, because the driver of this car has less than a year of experience. You can tell because of the yellow and green sticker on his trunk lid, which he is required to display for his first year of driving. The driver is allowed to display it even longer than that if he feels he's still not up to snuff. A similar sticker is recommended for drivers over 70 years old, and required for drivers over 75.

 

In the US, we have squids and biker gangs. In Japan, they have bosozoku. Didn't see any while we were there, but I understand they are annoying and occasionally problematic, and are sometimes associated with organized crime.

 

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kmac

WOW cool write up Mitch. Im a little concered with that big white scooter that is 2 up, it has a really low front tire.

 

Almost everywhere in the asian world it is all about small CC bikes and scooters. Fuel cost vs. income makes a 100 mpg scooter or 70cc bike really practicle. I like the blanket.

 

Thanks for the report.

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elkroeger

Great fun! Thanks for the post.

 

I like the guy with the chopper. Seems bikers have to push their choppers all over the world....

 

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Joe Frickin' Friday
Great fun! Thanks for the post.

 

I like the guy with the chopper. Seems bikers have to push their choppers all over the world....

 

In that particular case, we were waiting at a streetcar station in the center of the road (notice the tracks), and he had arrived via the traffic lane (parallel to the white van in the background). He then killed it and dismounted; I'm guessing he had to walk it while he was in the crosswalk with it.

 

After a bit of digging, it looks like the mail scooter is a Honda Super Cub, which has been in production (with improvements over time) since 1958. Wow.

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FlyingFinn

Also, "the Super Cub is the best-selling motor vehicle in history".

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outpost22

Geez, I don't know how any of them can pass the test when they all drive on the wrong side of the road.

 

:/

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flars

Re: the forward mounted mirrors.

The law used to be that you had to see your mirrors through the area of the windshield that was cleaned by the windshield wipers.

I think they have since changed the law...

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leikam

About the articulated rig, I can see an advantage while stopped if you have some heavy cargo. Fewer missed footings due to ice, oil, etc and no messing with kickstands. More convenience if the driver/rider is making lots of stops and getting off to deliver packages. If you were to drop a bike with that much cargo, getting it righted might also be a big deal not to mention the risk of damaging whatever you were carrying. I can see a niche for this kind of trike.

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Endobobdds
Another helpful feature:

1119802970_VzJDs-L.jpg

 

You should be careful near this car, because the driver of this car has less than a year of experience. You can tell because of the yellow and green sticker on his trunk lid, which he is required to display for his first year of driving. The driver is allowed to display it even longer than that if he feels he’s still not up to snuff. A similar sticker is recommended for drivers over 70 years old, and required for drivers over 75.

 

Very interesting post - thank you for sharing! :thumbsup:

 

I like the idea of novice and potentially slow to react drivers being required to have a special license plate.

 

My father who is 91 got a renewal of his Florida driver's license last week. No restrictions and it is good until 2017! Makes no sense to me.

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ltljohn

Nice write up Mitch, thanks for sharing!

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racer7

Scooters are the first step up from bicycles in any Asian country once some economic progress happens. In Taiwan, the scooter lanes (yes. special scooter only) are the fast way through towns with narrow roads meaning any place not new. When you add the low cost, speed and compare to the very high cost and sometimes impossibility of owning a car (in a lot of Japanese cities the bureaucracuy to buy a car is mid boggling and includes proving that you have rights to a parking space for it and they are mucho pricey to own or lease), one sees a lot of people who stay with them.

 

In some parts of China, bicycles are still more common but that is rapidly moving toward scooters and a lot more cars. Many Asian traffic jams far outstrip the worst of what we've got here.

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lawnchairboy

remember well the noise of the local Okinawan squids running up and down on Okinawa 58, mostly between midnight and 5 AM. They were truly nuts to see, even by US squid standards, and the local enforcement left them alone. When in mainland cities (Fuk, Nagasaki, Sasebo, Tokyo) mostly saw just what you saw, a great moving sea of scooters. Thanks for the memories.

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lawnchairboy

an aside, the Japanese on Okinawa mark the US citizen drivers in japan with a "yankee" tag, a "Y" on the tag followed by the rest of the tag number...

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Indy Dave

Bravo! Thanks for sharing and welcome back to the freezing midwest tundra!

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Rinkydink

Great stuff Mitch.

 

I'm all for the multi-tiered license system, just make it mandatory for four wheel vehicles too. :lurk:

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BendBill

Motorinis are everywhere in Florence. 99% of all motorcycles in town are scooters. In 3 months I've spotted only 3 Ducs, no sport tourers of any kind, a few GS, more R1150Rs, even more 600-750 Kawis and Yamahas.

 

The Italians ride really fast and honk a lot. Scooters in swarms

 

P1010205.jpg

 

 

The rare sportbikes in town [ up on Piazzale Michaelangelo ]

 

sportbikers.jpg

 

This older R next to the Duomo in Siena

 

P1010617.jpg

 

And a gratuitous shot of . . . um . . . the view in Perugia

 

P1010531.jpg

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BarOne

I am in Japan right now through Monday -- Nagoya actually. Saw about 20 bikes today. 19 scooters and one motorcycle -- small cruiser. Surprisingly few bikes for a nation that produces so many. Last time I was here (Kobe), I went to a Yamaha dealer just to see what they carried. Largest on show room floor was a 650 VStar. Others were smaller displacement cruisers and a couple small crotch rockets.

 

Weeaboo has some great shots there. I'll try to get some with my iPhone and post them.

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dhanson

Iphone rules. LOL

 

Don't get in a race with a three wheel Piaggio, just saying! Also, do not expect him to slow down for corners!

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flars

"... you still might not pass the test on the first go..."

Back in the day (i.e. before youtube, i.e when tires were still made of wood, and suspensions were made by Suzuki), I saw a video of someone taking the test. At that time, you did not ride your own bike - you rode a small 'for official use only' bike. One of the tests is riding along a 2x4 or 2xsomething. The video showed the official pushing the rear of the bike when the rider was halfway across the plank. Naturally the rider veered off the plank. Surprisingly, the rider failed the test :eek:

At that time, NO ONE passed the test on the first try. Ever.

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Haynes

Excellent post Mitch.

 

...I went to a Yamaha dealer just to see what they carried. Largest on show room floor was a 650 VStar....

 

I've been told that larger capacity bikes can be bought from outside Japan but not sold from within. If you want to buy a larger capacity bike from Japan, you must first export it and then import it back.

This was told to me by a friend who lives in Japan and I can't say it's 100% correct. Someone else might confirm this.

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Endobobdds
"... you still might not pass the test on the first go..."

Back in the day (i.e. before youtube, i.e when tires were still made of wood, and suspensions were made by Suzuki), I saw a video of someone taking the test. At that time, you did not ride your own bike - you rode a small 'for official use only' bike. One of the tests is riding along a 2x4 or 2xsomething. The video showed the official pushing the rear of the bike when the rider was halfway across the plank. Naturally the rider veered off the plank. Surprisingly, the rider failed the test :eek:

At that time, NO ONE passed the test on the first try. Ever.

 

I was stationed with the Navy and rode a 750 Yamaha for 3 years in Okinawa. Had no problems with using my US motorcycle endorsed drivers license. I was later stationed in Hawaii where, at the time, you had to take the Hawaii motorcycle written and drivers test to drive a motorcycle there. I was one of 3 people out of 20 that passed the test the day I took the driving test.

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Ponch
"... you still might not pass the test on the first go..."

Back in the day (i.e. before youtube, i.e when tires were still made of wood, and suspensions were made by Suzuki), I saw a video of someone taking the test. At that time, you did not ride your own bike - you rode a small 'for official use only' bike. One of the tests is riding along a 2x4 or 2xsomething. The video showed the official pushing the rear of the bike when the rider was halfway across the plank. Naturally the rider veered off the plank. Surprisingly, the rider failed the test :eek:

At that time, NO ONE passed the test on the first try. Ever.

 

I was stationed with the Navy and rode a 750 Yamaha for 3 years in Okinawa. Had no problems with using my US motorcycle endorsed drivers license. I was later stationed in Hawaii where, at the time, you had to take the Hawaii motorcycle written and drivers test to drive a motorcycle there. I was one of 3 people out of 20 that passed the test the day I took the driving test.

 

Driving on the left side would take some getting used to.

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