The world of motorcycle racing has always a special place for Japanese riders. Japanese people are known for being incredibly passionate in whatever they do. When it comes to motorcycle racing, some Japanese racers have wowed the crowd and proved that they should not be easily ignored.
Whilst Japan is known to have legalised sports betting, which includes motorcycle racing, a lot of punters are rooting for Japanese riders to make it to the podium. Some are lucky enough to become winners, but others not so. This list includes past and present riders.
Norifumi Abe was a professional Japanese motorcycle road racer. He was born to Mitsuo Abe, an auto race rider. Exposed to racing at a young age, Abe began racing in minibikes at age 11 and road racing when he was 15 years old. He became the youngest title winner of 1993 All Japan Road Race Championship for the 500cc category. He also raced at the 1994 Japanese Grand Prix as a wild card, where he impressed the Yamaha team and then 14-year old Valentino Rossi.
Abe was involved in a traffic accident with a truck that made an illegal U-turn in front of him causing his death.
Tadayuki Okada is a former professional Grand Prix motorcycle road racer. He won the 250cc All Japan Road Race Championship for three consecutive years from 1989 to 1991 while riding for Honda. Afterward, Honda entered him to race in the 1993 250cc World Championship. He became the series runner-up from 1993 to 1994. After his fourth-place finish in 1995, Okada moved on to race in 500cc which allowed him to help the V-twin Honda NSR500V, finishing the season in 7th place. The following year, Okada brought home his first 500cc podium win by finishing second to Mick Doohan in Indonesia.
Noboru Ueda is a Japanese former Grand Prix motorcycle road racer who mostly rode a 125cc bike. He started his Grand Prix career by winning his inaugural race during the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix. In 1994, Ueda finished second behind Kazuto Sakata during the 125cc World Championship. By 1997, he was second to Valentino Rossi. During his career, Ueda successfully brought home 13 Grand Prix wins. He retired at the end of the 2002 season. He now owns Team Nobby, which competes in All Japan Road Race Championship in the J-GP3 class.
Born in Gumma, Japan, Haruchika Aoki is a former Grand Prix motorcycle road racer who came from a family of racers. He is the youngest of the three Aoki brothers to compete in any of the motorcycles Grand Prix races. He won the F.I.M. 125 cc World Championship twice.
He began racing professionally in 1993 under Honda where he won two consecutive championships in 1995 and 1996 before stepping up to the 250cc class the year after. After two years of racing in 250cc, Aoki moved up again to the 500cc. He competed in the Superbike World Championship while on a Ducati. He retired after the 2002 season but returned to road racing in 2016 racing aboard a Yamaha YZF-R25 during the MFJ All Japan Road Race JP250 Championship.
Kaito Toba is one of the youngest Japanese winners who made a memorable debut with Honda Team by winning the Qatar Grand Prix. His win at the said race ended the 12-year drought for a Japanese rider to secure a win in the lightweight class. Toba was the Asia Talent Cup Champion in 2014 and a contestant at the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup in 2015 and 2016. He was signed up by Honda Team Asia in 2017 to race for the Moto3 World Championship.
The former Grand Prix motorcycle road racer is one of the top Japanese racers who was the 1993 FIM 250cc World Champion. Harada won the Japanese 125cc Junior Championship in 1998 and became Tadayuki Okada’s runner-up during the 1990 and 1991 All Japan 250cc series before taking home the trophy in 1992. His impressive performance allowed him to secure a sponsored ride during the 1993 250cc World Championship.
Harada moved up to the 500cc class in 1999 to complete Aprilia’s 380cc V-twin race bike. In 10 races, he was able to make top 5 finishes including a podium win at the Paul Ricard and Donington Park. Before retiring, Harada made 17 Grand Prix victories in the 250cc class.
This former professional motorcycle racer is one of Japan’s finest as he is one of the few riders to take home wins in both Superbike World Championship and MotoGP. Tamada won a regional 250cc championship in 1994 before spending four years in the main Japanese 250cc series. He competed as a wild card in the Superbike World Championship round at Sugo to finish second giving him international recognition. He was also one of the few riders to won a race in the 2002 season earning him a call up to MotoGP the following year for Pramac Honda.
After his retirement, Tamada now serves as a rider instructor in Suzuka Racing School.
One of the top Japanese motorcycle racers is Daijiro Kato. The Grand Prix motorcycle road racer was the 2000 and 2002 Suzuka 8 Hours winner and the 2001 250cc World Champion. Kato could have won more racers had he not died following a crash during the 2003 Japanese Motorcycle Grand Prix held at the Suzuka Circuit in Japan.
Kato began racing in minibikes at a young age. He was a four-time national champion in the Japanese pocket-bike championship. He started his road racing career in 1992, entering the Grand Prix in 1996 as a wild card rider. After debuting at Suzuka Circuit, Kato finished third in the 250cc class. In 1997, he won the Japanese Championship as a wild card. Kato has made significant races in the Grand Prix before his untimely death on the circuit.
After his death, several tributes were made in honour of Kato. FIM retired his number, with bike number 74 never been used by any rider ever since. The FIM also named Kato as the Grand Prix “Legend.” Fellow Japanese rider Satoshi Motoyama had placed Kato’s racing number on his helmet since Kato’s demise. In 2006, Misano World Circuit named the new access road to the circuit Via Daijiro Kato in honour of the racer, who lived part of the season in the area.
The former Grand Prix motorcycle road racer was a two-time FIM 125cc World Champion. He began his career in 1991 and only two years after was able to successfully finish second to Dirk Raudies. Sakata was the first Japanese racer to ride for a European factory when he joined the Aprilia factory. That same year, he won the Aprilia factory the 125cc Championship. He was also the 1998 champion. Sakata retired from professional road racing after the 1999 season.
Ukawa started his Grand Prix career in 1994, riding in the 250cc World Championships. He was second to Valentino Rossi during the 1999 World Championship. He moved up to the MotoGP class in 2002, finishing third overall behind Rossi. During his career, Ukawa has won five Grand Prix and five Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance races.
The retired Grand Prix motorcycle road racer and Superbike rider was the 1998 250cc All Japan Champion. He moved to international competition in 1999, securing a fourth overall finish with five podium finished. Nakano set the fastest 250cc lap at Motegi in 2000, which stood until 2008, making it the longest standing lap record.
The Japanese professional motorcycle racer was a top contender in the Superbike World Championship having finished as a runner-up thrice. Haga finished third in the World Superbike Championship from 2002 to 2006. He finished second in 2007 with Yamaha Motor Italia WSB with 6 wins and 15 podiums. He also finished second in 2009 with Ducati Xerox Team with 8 wins and 19 podiums. Early in his career, Haga won the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Race with Colin Edwards under Yamaha and the 1997 Japanese Superbike Championship.
Tomizawa was a Japanese motorcycle racer who has had a successful career in the All Japan Road Race before switching to MotoGP. He won the first race of the newly created Moto2 class in the 2010 season. Sadly, this top Japanese motorcycle racer died after sustaining cranial, thoracic, and abdominal trauma whilst racing in the eleventh round of the inaugural Moto2 World Championship at the Misano World Circuit. Only 19 years old, Tomizawa was announced dead at the end of the MotoGP race. As a mark of respect, Jorge Lorenzo wore a replica of Tomizawa’s helmet during the 2010 Aragon Grand Prix.
Takeshi Tsujimura is another top Japanese motorcycle racer who began his career with Yamaha. His best season was in 1994 when he won four races and placed third behind Kazuto Sakata and Noboru Ueda. He won the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance race in 2006 alongside Shinichi Itoh.