Young Japanese Rider Will Use Manga to Promote Motegi Moto3 Wildcard Ride
Motorcycle racing’s ties to Japan are unique compared to those of any other country, given the dominance of Japanese manufacturers at all levels of competition. The motorcycle itself has played an enormous role in Japan’s history, leading to the prosperity of some of the country’s largest and best known companies.
Yet for Japan’s important role in international motorcycle culture, and more specifically for this post, in MotoGP, the nature of motorcycle racing inside Japan remains mysterious to many of us here in the West.
Many of us are delighted with things like the MotoGP artwork of Ranka Fujiwara. I have been trying to get a copy of one of these posters for years, without success.
My plans to go to Motegi for the first time this season fell through some time ago, so it looks like I”ll have to wait another year to get my hands on one.
Given the success of Honda, Yamaha, and Suzuki in MotoGP, Kawasaki in WSBK, and all four in various series around the world, information about how Japanese fans feel about motorcycle racing is conspicuously absent in the United States and, at least to the degree I’ve been able to observe in my travels, Europe as well.
Trying to imagine motorcycle racing without the Japanese factories’ involvement is a fairly grim prospect. Surely Japan as a nation deserves more attention for its culture’s contributions. Personally I have felt this way for some time, and this is what we were aiming at with the MotoMatters ‘Japan’ t-shirt.
So I perked up this morning when I noticed in my Inbox a press release about an event-specific product tie-in for the Motegi MotoGP round. We’ve seen quite a few of these at other rounds, such as the various Marvel Comics characters and video game brands to appear on helmets and bike liveries. At Motegi, Moto3 rider Hikari Okubo will enter as a wildcard, his Honda NSF250R sporting a livery based on a popular manga series called Oh My Goddess.
The 21-year old rider is also manager of The Hot Racing Team. He has been competing in the J-GP3 class in the All Japan Road Racing Championship since the age of 19 and finished third overall last season. The images shown on his Twitter feed really make me wish I could read Japanese!
Oh My Goddess, a romantic comedy created by Kosuke Fujishima, has run in Japan for twenty-six years, was made into a movie in 2005, and has a comic circulation of over two million copies. The artwork composing the bike’s livery should be familiar to plenty of fans at Motegi.
Via the press release, Okubo-kun says: “Thanks to Mr. Fujishima and Kodansha Ltd.’s great support and cooperation, I will participate in the MotoGP MOTUL Grand Prix of Japan (Moto3 class) in collaboration with “Oh My Goddess”. I am a big fan of “Oh My Goddess,” therefore I am very happy to be able to challenge for the world championship with them. Thank you very much again, Mr.Fujishima and Kodansha Ltd. Please join us in our challenge for a world championship win! Thank you for your enthusiastic support as always!”
Judging from the press release, this appears to be an instance of cooperation rather than a financial/sponsorship arrangement; Okubo-kun is getting a crack at the big league and is taking characters from a beloved manga with him. Rather than speculate about this, I did some digging and found a Japanese friend who is familiar with the story and in fact, with Okubo-kun himself.
My friend was able to confirm that this is not a typical sponsorship deal, one in which the team/rider is paid to promote a product by including specific artwork into the event-specific livery. Rather this is a situation that arose from the rider’s love for the comic. He was able to arrange with the creator and the publisher permission to include a few images from Oh My Goddess! on his bike for this event, and also on some items like t-shirts and stickers which will be for sale at Motegi on the Grand Prix weekend. Any proceeds will go toward his wildcard fee. Fujishima-san and Kodansha have allowed this use of their artwork and comic in order to help young Okubo-kun succeed in his Moto3 wildcard appearance.
But the story doesn’t end there. As a young road racer with his own fledgling team, Okubo-kun wants also to help get Japanese fans interested in motorcycle road racing. This brings us back to my earlier point about how little we in the West know about how motorcycle racing is perceived in Japan, the land whose technology dominates MotoGP.
My Japanese friend said this: “Okubo-kun also hopes to increase road racing fans in Japan by collaborating with this very popular comic. Unfortunately, road racing is currently not popular in Japan. I do not have solid data, but currently the All Japan Road Race Championship is like AMA or even worse. No live coverage, less spectators. And besides, almost no new Japanese riders can step up to the world. So his collaboration is the best attempt that he can think of, possibly he can get comic fans’ attention to motorcycle racing and show them how exciting road racing is.”
Worse than the AMA? Yikes! But how is that for a twist? In the land of Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki, a 21-year-old Moto3 wildcard rider is trying to use a manga comic book to generate interest in motorcycle road racing.
While Jack Miller battles the Alexes (Rins and Marquez) for the Moto3 world title at Motegi (October 12th, 2014), I will be just as interested in how Hikari Okubo is doing on his Oh My Goddess machine. Now I really wish I were going so I could get some photos of this unique moment in Japanese motorcycling history. Good luck, Okubo-kun!