The death of flamboyant 62-year-old actor Nagare Hagiwara, killed last April while riding a motorcycle in Tokyo's Suginami Ward, came as a shock to Japan's veteran bikers.
But that hasn't stopped them from riding. Shukan Asahi (July 24) reveals a surprising statistic: the average age of riders of domestically produced two-wheelers is now 50 years.
Masayuki Takayama of Honda Motor Co's PR department explains it like this: "I think one factor is change in the family environment. More middle-aged people are putting less emphasis on raising children and placing more importance on their interests. Or, they are separating their interests from their work and doing a good job of achieving a balance between the two.
"The other factor is cost. Conversely, the number of riders in their teens and 20s has been declining."
In addition to a motorcycle, helmet, boots, gloves and other riding gear -- not to mention vehicle insurance -- the costs can come quite a bit of money. And for those who go on long-distance tours, expressway fees add to costs.
Honda's Takayama says that ownership by older bikers began accelerating from 2001, especially for models priced between 800,000 and 1 million yen.
Harley-Davidson models from the U.S. are particularly popular with this age group, both for their styling and the characteristic throaty vibration of their opposed V-twin engines. Interestingly the average age of Japan's Harley riders is said to be 41 years -- 10 years below that of owners of Japanese domestic models.
Six years ago when he was age 65, attorney Hiroyuki Kawai arranged to modify a Harley into a "trike" (3-wheeler), similar to the type used by traffic police in the U.S. While still a high school student he had his first experience on a borrowed 50cc Honda Super Cub, and never forgot the feeling of pleasure from the wind on his face.
"But at that time, my father was a humble salaryman, and our family wasn't well off enough to afford a motorcycle," Kawai recalls. "So I promised myself that someday I'd buy one with my own money."
But both Kawai's family members and clients tried to talk him out of driving a motorcycle, and he wound up delaying the purchase until he'd worked at his job for 30 years. His Harley "trike" can be operated with an ordinary car license -- instead of the special "jido-nirin" license required for driving a motorcycle of over 400cc engine displacement -- and he is not even obliged to wear a helmet.
Kawai smiles as he recalls the 10-day motorbike trip around Hokkaido during the summer, and how enjoyable it was to look for lodgings at mineral hot springs where he could relax. These days, while busily occupied with a federation of lawyers who oppose the restartup of Japan's nuclear plants, he still tries to make time to take his trike for a drive once a month.
In Japanese, the phenomena of middle-aged men taking up motorcycling a second time after having initially enjoyed it during their youth is called "return riders." To assist such fans to acquire a motorcycle license, a "senior riders school," limited to learners aged 50 and over, was opened two years ago at the Suzuka race track in Mie Prefecture. The school is said to be highly popular, with the oldest current enrollee over age 70.© Japan Today