Japan Travel Diary: In Search of Motocross In The Homeland

The All Japan National MX Championship Series gets underway this weekend in Kumamoto, Japan, and for many motocross enthusiasts around the globe; this is one of the most exciting races of the year. Though much of the pre-production testing that goes into developing new motocross bikes goes down in the United States, Japan is where the machines actually get race tested and seen for the first time. Though the super-exotic works bikes of the past are far and few in between these days, the MFJ series is where new technology and pre-production bikes live.

The Japanese metro system. New York City, eat your heart out!

As American journalists, making our way to the Japanese Nationals is a challenging affair due to the fact that renting an automobile for transportation is not only cost prohibitive, but navigating the roads and highways is a near impossibility for foreigners. Navigating the complex web of metro trains and bus lines is a must, and knowing someone in Japan who can help you is almost a requirement. Though having experience in the subways of NYC is beneficial, the Japanese metro system makes the Big Apple look like child’s play.

Thankfully, I’ve made a few friends in Japan through the years, and I’ve visited enough times to know my way around. [Insert “blending in” joke here…] Still, this is my first trip back in three years, as Brendan Lutes braved the voyage in 2010, and the earthquake and tsunami tragedies of 2011 not only made travel to Japan a risky affair, but also postponed the series kickoff for several weeks. In the weeks leading up to my trip, some investigative work leads me to believe that this weekend’s event could be a gold mine as far as cool bikes are concerned. Be sure to check in both here, and on the TransWorld Motocross facebook on Saturday!

Takeshita Street in Harajuku. Think Gwen Stefani has really braved the crowded streets? I don't think so...

The flight to Japan is a full 12 hours, and there’s no way that I’m going to invest that much suffering on a plane for only a few days in the country. That said, I always enjoy a few says in Tokyo beforehand. Several years ago, Gwen Stefani drew international attention to a trendy neighborhood with her “Harajuku Girls” hit single. Though there have been years where I’ve seen some truly odd things in the alley known as Takeshita Street, the fashion trends in the area seem to have calmed down dramatically. Still, no trip to Japan is complete without a visit to Harajuku.

Nico Izzi really IS big in Japan.

One of the newest additions to the area that I was most excited by was a Volcom store. Tokyo Volcom features everything that you’d find at any other Volcom store around the globe, but I was hoping to find a T-shirt emblazoned with the store’s logo on it. I was excited when I found what I was looking for: a shirt with the Tokyo Tower, a samurai and some Japanese cherry blossoms on it, with a huge Volcom Stone plastered across all of it. I was crushed, though, when they only had sizes small and medium left. Since Japanese sizes run so small, I likely would have needed a XXL, anyway. I was shocked to spot one of Nico Izzi’s old Bell Moto 8s on display in a glass case near the front door. Pretty cool!

Shibuya crossing: it's a lot like the Elsinore vet track on Sunday afternoon after the Anaheim Supercross..

Outside the Shibuya train station is one of the world’s most popular intersections. When the lights flash green, thousands of people cross in five different directions, every three minutes. You really have to see it [and be in the middle of it] to understand. If you saw “Lost In Translation” with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, you probably already know what I’m talking about.

Attention Kelly Louch: I think I found the next Monster Energy Girl outfits.


According to NYK, these are straight-up gangster flowers.

For a few weeks in spring, the Sakura—Japanese cherry blossoms—bloom and people come from around the globe to indulge in the festivals held in the flower’s honor. [On a side note, Nick Wey has these tattooed on his forearm arm and says that, “The tattoo artist told me that this was like a gangster tattoo in Japan, son.”] Earlier this week, I took a trip to Ueno and spotted a ton of the trees in Ueno Park, which is laid out, smack-dab in the middle of the city. Ueno used to be known for its abundance of motorcycle dealerships and accessory shops. When I first came to Japan in the 90s to cover the Tokyo Supercross, I spent hours and hours walking the streets of Ueno, checking out all of the cool foreign [to me] gear, parts, and accessories. Sadly, I was only able to find a couple motorcycle shops this year, and neither of them had anything resembling a motocross bike on the showroom. Contrary to what one might assume about Japan, motocross is not very popular in the Land of the Rising Sun. In fact, in order to purchase say, a Honda CRF450R, you have to special order it from a Honda shop, then wait several weeks, of not months, for it to arrive. Though this is the country that manufactures four of the five top motorcycle brands and two of the best helmets in our sport, the participation levels here are disproportionately small.

YOLO, even Japan.

Today, I got to GO RIDING! Click over to page 2 to read about it…