executive impact

Harley-Davidson gains popularity in Japan

By Chris Betros

One of the most iconic symbols of American lifestyle is the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. For over 100 years, the large motorcycles -- with their distinctive design and customization -- have been a fixture on highways. Clubs and events organized by HOGs (Harley Owner Groups) have created a loyal community in many countries.

Japan is no exception, where HD bikes have been imported since 1913. Harley-Davidson Japan was established in 1989. For the last five years, sales have steadily increased with 15,698 bikes being sold in 2008. The most popular model in Japan is the Sportster, followed by the Touring and Softail groups.

Heading up the operation in Japan is Toyoki Fukumori. Born in Osaka, he joined Harley-Davidson in 2000 and became president in January of this year. Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Fukumori at Harley-Davidson’s Tokyo office in Shiba to hear more.

What is the image of Harley-Davidson in Japan?

Because of its long history in Japan, I think the name is well known. Most Japanese probably think of HD as being very big, expensive motorcycles, a luxury item. In fact, we are not just a motorcycle seller. Leisure and fun are what we are selling and we provide the means to achieve that through bikes, accessories, apparels and the Harley-Davidson community.

Who are your typical customers?

The average age is 40-41. That age group accounts for around 40% of our customers. After that, about 30% are in their 30s, 25% in their 50s and the rest in their 20s. Women account for 7-8% of our customers.

How much of your sales comes from bikes?

Bikes account for 80% of our business; the rest is accessories and apparel.

How is the recession affecting business?

In 2008, we sold 15,698 bikes in Japan, which was an increase over the previous year. However, since last September, sales have not been strong. Nevertheless, our goal is to exceed last year’s results and we are optimistic. There is no magic answer to recover in this recession.

What is your marketing strategy?

We advertise in motorcycle magazines, on dealers’ homepages and our own homepage, but the main strategy is through sales events organized through dealerships. There are 50-60 events a year organized by HDJ and more than 1,000 a year if you include dealer events. Usually, they are either rallies and get-togethers organized by HOGs to provide fun for owners, or they are motorcycle exhibitions and riding events to show the Harley world to potential customers.

What is Harley-Davidson’s share of the market?

Overall, the motorcycle market has been shrinking but we have about 35% of the large motorcycle market. That’s for bikes over 751 cc.

Any new models on the way?

Yes, this month, we launch 37 new models. It follows the July launch of new models in the U.S. Most are upgrades of existing series with design or cosmetic changes.

What is your best-selling group?

The Sportster. After that, the Touring group is getting more popular in Japan.

Are there any differences in bikes sold in Japan?

Yes. To meet Japanese noise and emission standards, some modifications are necessary. But the appearance and colors are the same.

Tell us about your distribution network.

Currently, we have 137 dealers and 202 outlets all over Japan. Around 40% are exclusive HD dealers. I try to visit dealers as often as I can to see how things are going.

How do you get feedback from customers?

Mainly at events and through dealers. We also have a call center.

How many staff do you have?

About 60 full-time and 40 part-time staff.

Do they ride HD bikes to work?

Some do. I ride a Sportster but not to work. I mainly use it for leisure riding on weekends.

What is a typical day for you?

I show up here about 5:30 a.m. to catch up on paperwork and emails from HQ in Wisconsin. Then the day usually consists of meetings or I go out to visit dealers.

How do you relax apart from riding your Sportster?

I go to the gym and I sing in a chorus group.

For further info, visit www.harley-davidson.co.jp

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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From my personal observations, I think this article is at least 10 years behind the times.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Good observation! I think I studied the same case study in college ten years ago.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Harleys- the campest, most effete bikes on the road (with the exception of those appallingly snaff scooter-like contraptions.) Which probably explains why they're so popular in Japan. Nothing wrong with high camp of course :-) however I wouldn't be seen dead on one unless I was on my way to fancy dress party (=costume party) dressed as the Blue Oyster Bar guy from the Village People.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Criminal gangs target Japan to steal high end cars and Harley-Davidson bikes, they get shipped to china and russia and resold. A friend of mine had his locked biked stolen from his garage, never seen again.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is old news!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Now that China has become such a huge market for passenger cars and small-displacement two-wheelers, I wonder if Harleys will ever catch on there. Last time I was in Shanghai I saw a local burning up huge quantities of fossil fuels in a Hummer.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As a non-motorcycle rider, I still look at this as good news. I'd much rather hear a Harley's growl and roar than the whine of a bosozoku's hopped up scooter.


0 ( +0 / -0 )

Almost all motorcycles need their mufflers replaced with mufflers that actually muffle the damn noise.


0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have recently seen and heard some of those bike roaring down streets. Just when you thought you were safe from the noise of Doctors and lawyers riding very expensive bikes. Now I have to hear these morons here in Japan. If the streets were not small enough. These morons ride their bikes through some small roads. You know that all they are doing is trying to be different. But in fact they just seem so bloody stupid.

HD was a very expensive fad in the states that thank the ancient gods died out. So they (HD) had to find a new market. What do they do? They sell their crap expensive bikes here in Japan.

I had many friends in the States that would have rather burnt out their eyes with hot pokers than paid $20,000 for those over priced noise makers.

My friends would find old torn up bikes and rebuilt them. But that is a different type of rider than the ones HD wants.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan can have Harley-Davidson, I am not a big fan of the bikes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All they need to do now is wear bandanas, open biker bars off the highways,learn how participate in drunken brawls and that will complete the ensemble.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They dont really need any help with this PR puff piece. Thse bikes are oversold all over for steep prices.

As municipal governments wise up, it will be harder and harder to ride them due to public nuisance laws regulating the amount of noise they make.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A few of my favorites:

Q: What's the difference between a Harley and a Harley owner's home? A: The Harley costs more and has fewer wheels.

Q: Why don't Harley riders wave at sportbike riders? A: Because they don't want to drop their tools.

Q: Why do Harleys have fringe? A: So you can tell if they're moving.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's funny how they have to ride in groups. My friend was asked to buy one from his colleague because they wanted him to join the team.

USNinJapan2, I'm definitely going to tell that to my friend! :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

haha Harley riders in Japan-- they are.. cute, to say the least. Living and motorcycling in Hokkaido.. we get all the honshu harley riders who come up here to, "play the part" from groups of Ojisan with their GPS equipped harley's with headsets saying "hokkaido hiroiiii naaaaaaaaa"-- to the dudes in their early 30's who "play it cool" chainsmoking American Spirits- and say "keitai daijoubuuuu" every time someone pulls out a camera. and of course, 400$ iron heart jeans-

and everyone has leather holders, for everything attached to their belts.

leather cell phone holder with indian stitched on, check- leather key holder, check- leather wallet, with chain, (with leather), check- leather pouch with native american motif, check-

**this isnt everyone, just a rant, just the majority, just the silly ones, I know a number of guys who rebuild panheads, they get nothing but respect-

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There are people that buy a bike to ride -actually for parts Harleys are cheaper. A typical Harley can pull 50-100k miles easy and then are rebuildable. Large aftermarket and custom parts network.

Honda Goldwing BMW

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Harleys are beautiful machines. There are those who love driving legends. Let them and you can have your own hobbies.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I hope those who ride HD in Japan/Asia are not going to be as obnoxious as those in NA. Extremely loud tail pipes that do nothing but to annoy the neighbors.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'd just get a similar domestic for less than half the price. Same experience, a ton more money in the wallet. I can understand the appeal of the big cruiser, even here, but not at the prices HD charges.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Harley Owners are nothing but HD nerds. All image and no common sense spending all that money on an image. It's like a Louis Vitton bag to be the envy of your friends. Too much inferiority complex goes on so some people can feel good about themselves. Oh well as long as it's not one of my relatives wasting their money on them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Harley bought MV-Agusta and Cagiva -so I'm waiting for a supersingle or smaller racing twin. Until then the XR1200 is as close as it gets.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I rather prefer H-A-Y-A-B-U-S-A than loud, obnoxious, fuel wasting, slow, outdated tech, overpriced harley bike..By the way at my place, harley bikers are consider as an old farts that has lost at the flow of time..they are pre-historic..hahaha..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

give me a 30 year old CB or Z1000 and ill be happy

0 ( +0 / -0 )

harley bikers are consider as an old farts that has lost at the flow of time

I see more youngsters riding Harleys than 'old farts'.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The new Harley's are not real Harley's. Give me my 65 Sportster anyday. (Have one in the garage back home in the states)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I personally find HD's ridiculous and pretentious with their loud exhausts and very much overpriced for what you get. They only came back from brink because movie stars started riding them. I own a Honda CBR 600 F4 and Kawasaki ZX 10R bikes and both of these will overshadown HD any day in speed and looks. Also, both bikes together cost less than a lot of new HD.

A friend has Ducati and it's ok but again, another overpriced bike that sucks your money in maintenance. It's too bad HD is forcing it's way to Japan. They must have tremendous advertising campaign because otherwise most riders I know here wouldn't ever touch one.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Presto345, I respect your opinion although I don't share it and I would not have so much a problem except for the loud mufflers. When I'm in the US my neighbor has a HD with big pipes and when he gets in late at night I'm always woken up and that's ridiculous. Like whatever you like but don't bother others in the process.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"I see more youngsters riding Harleys than 'old farts'"

You must be properly mature then?

At last this article debunks the theory that US products are rejected by Japanese dirty tricks and restrictive practices. I dont like the bikes much myself but they are an icon.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I wish the custom choppers will come across the ocean. I miss that fat back tire.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is a garage near my apartment with at least 10 Harleys. I am thinking that one guy owns them all. The garage door is rarely open and the one time I saw it open it was pretty full.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Currently, we have 137 dealers and 202 outlets all over Japan. Around 40% are exclusive HD dealers. I try to visit dealers as often as I can to see how things are going.

I suggest he visit the dealer in Hirooka City, it looks like a junk yard at first glance...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Say whatever you want about Harley Davidson it is still an awewsome sight to see a large group of outlaw bikers on a run riding their Harleys fast and in tight formation down the highway. No other bike will substitute.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

give me a japanese motor cycle any day for reliability and no oil leaks

0 ( +0 / -0 )


A good Spanish one goes:

What's the difference between a Harley and a vacuum cleaner? The position of the dirt-bag.

Don't fancy one myself (Africa Twin for me), but they are an icon (and more enduring than most race replicas).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

harley's commercials on youtube are hilarious. especially the one entitled: "RESPECT".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Oh yes. HD is a burly, loud,brute - however I prefer the smooth sophistication of the sleek Honda.. I have never ridden any motorcycle in my life, but I do feel admiration for the hum of the Honda. I make this my spectator sport......

0 ( +0 / -0 )

hi there , i am looking to find a OLD FRIEND of mine as we were in school toghter there in phx.AZ. in 1988 at MMI harley school there. he lived here in japan and was a great aset to harleydavidson company as he was in charge or helping all harley davidson shop here in japan and would come to PHX. AZ. with many machanice from here in japan.if any one knows my friend do have him email me at gilleyexpresso@yahoo.com as i am here in yokosuka japan liveing now. thank you warren gilmore

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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