Yoji Hamawaki, the man who brought Kawasaki to the United States and firmly established its foothold here, died on April 18, 2023. Full details of the circumstances have not been made public, but what’s an absolute certainty is that he will be missed by many.
In 1966, Hamawaki first established the American Kawasaki Motors Corporation on US shores. Together with Alan Masek, the pair built up the Kawasaki dealer network across America. To effectively market to a new customer base, though, Hamawaki quickly understood that they also needed to study that customer base to find out what it needed and wanted.
The results of those studies into customer desires helped inform what Hamawaki and Masek relayed back to Kawasaki headquarters in Japan. It’s widely understood that, without that careful study of the American market, the 1969 Kawasaki H1 might not have changed the course of motorcycle history. Later, similar study and observation of the US market led to the development of the 1973 Kawasaki Z1 900, nicknamed “New York Steak.” Incidentally, it’s also Hamawaki’s work with Masek and another American Kawasaki employee, Paul Collins, that led to coining the long-running company tagline, “Let The Good Times Roll.”
Hamawaki wasn’t only important to the development of some of Kawasaki’s most iconic street bikes, though. In January 1974, the American Kawasaki Motors company announced what was then a completely new concept: It would build its own manufacturing facility for its vehicles in the US. Both production and assembly would be the focus of the new Lincoln, Nebraska plant. They set ambitious goals of producing around 100,000 units per year and hiring over 1,000 people to start.
In 2023, major motorcycle and automotive manufacturers have opened and operated manufacturing and assembly facilities in plenty of countries outside of where they’re based. Back in 1974, though, Kawasaki was the first to establish such a facility in the US. Production began at the new facility in January 1975, and the first motorcycle off the line was a KZ400 in a royal blue finish, which was then gifted to Nebraska governor James Exon.
Hamawaki left Kawasaki in 1978. Over the course of his career after departing Team Green, he became the president of BMW Japan. Later, he became president of Japan’s Digital Equipment Corporation, and was eventually inducted into the Japan Automotive Hall of Fame.
We at RideApart send our condolences to all of Hamawaki’s family, friends, and everyone whose life he touched in the motorcycle world.