KR Meeting, Japan 2005     2005 KR Meeting : Karuizawa and Tokyo, Japan

2005 KR Meeting, Tokyo, 06/03/05

こんにちは 私 の 日本人 の 友達。    すみません、 私 は 少し 日本語 を 話します、 だから 勉強 を して います。    おー元気 で。    宜しく!

When Tono sent me a few pictures of his  KR250 20th Birthday Party  at Akashi, I jokingly replied that my passport was already packed in anticipation of the next one...

...which is how I found myself arriving at Tokyo airport in early March 2005 following many hours of delayed flights and blizzard conditions.  Confronted by a mass of signs covered in squiggly writing, I somehow correctly identified the express train that whisked me from the airport into the centre of the city.  There I switched to one of the famous shinkansen (Bullet Trains) that took me north into the mountains to a little town called Karuizawa, where (after a small breakdown in communication that we'll put down to jet-lag...) I finally got to meet Tono in person for the first time.

We jumped into Tono's little truck and after five minutes driving on snow-covered roads we arrived at... Silverstone.  Eh ?  Not the famous Northamptonshire race circuit of course but a little B&B owned by Ken Suzuki, manager of the Kawasaki Grand Prix team in the 80's.  Open to paying guests, Ken's home is a shrine to Kawasaki's racing history, every spare inch being filled with photographs, trophies and priceless bits of race bike.  Yes, that's a genuine works KR500 square-four racer in his hallway, and no, it wouldn't fit in my suitcase.  That particular weekend, all the guests were members of KROG, the Japanese bike club dedicated to both the tandem-twin and the KR-1/S/R road bikes.

Pension Silverstone, Karuizawa, 06/03/05 Pension Silverstone, Karuizawa, 06/03/05 Reg, Kiyo and me Hime's lovely red/white KR Pension Silverstone, Karuizawa, 06/03/05 Ken, Kiyo and Kork The only way to travel

Oh yeah, nearly forgot - Kork Ballington, 250cc & 350cc GP World Champion in '78 & '79 was there too as the special guest-of-honour of KROG !  Also present was Akihiko Kiyohara - known as 'Mr Kawasaki' in Japan, he was a test rider and race star for Kawasaki with a 2nd place at the 1977 European GP on a KR250.  These days he runs his own tuning shop and races his own KR250 and KR500 in classic events.  Kiyo-san had been present at the Akashi meeting (and the original tandem-twin road bike launch) but sadly illness meant that KR development test rider Shintani-san couldn't make it to Silverstone this time.

My delayed arrival meant that I'd missed the afternoon session when Kork and Kiyo had been interviewed by a journalist from Kawasaki Bike magazine, but I was thrown quickly into the deep end when Tono decided to arrange everyone in a circle and let them introduce themselves.  To make it more fun, he decreed that all the native Japanese must speak English and vice-versa.  International relations were then firmly cemented when someone produced a large bottle of sake.  I suddenly realised I'd been up for 32 hours and went to bed...

Pair of KR's in the snow KR500 GP bike Pension Silverstone, Karuizawa, 06/03/05 Kork, Ken, Kiyo, KR500 and me Tono's KR-1R (with USD front end) between two KR's

The next morning, everyone was up early for a photo-session in the snow (and in the shadow of local volcano Mt.Asama which was spewing hot ash hundreds of feet into the air).  The weather was hardly conducive to bike riding but there were a few bikes there nonetheless.  Whilst Tono was meeting Kork at the airport, his wife Hime had been driving her red/white KR and Tono's trick KR-1R to Silverstone in the back of a truck.  Another KR250 was looking fantastic in a 500-replica paintjob and there were another couple of KR-1's and even an AR50 there too.  Hundreds of photographs later, the bikes were all then loaded into vans to be taken down to the afternoon meeting in Tokyo.

KR250.ORG promotional gift Kork autographed my owners handbook ! Me explaining to Kork how to ride properly... My KR brochure autographed by Kork, Ken and Kiyo Asama-san blows his top, Karuizawa

Kork, Tono, Kiyo, Kiya and myself followed on later by shinkansen following a couple of hours chatting at Ken's.  It was great to hear all of Kork's old racing stories, from the tandem-twins through the 500 and even the development of the X-09 upside-down V-twin 250.  Sadly, I can't publish any of the factory secrets on here but Kork's got a book coming out soon !  On arrival in Tokyo, we jumped into a taxi and quickly arrived at a big hall in Asakusa.  Parked outside were the bikes we'd seen earlier plus a whole lot more.

KR's and AR's as far as the eye can see Hime and her KR Half a KR500 Kork makes an AR125 owners' day A trick AR50

This meeting was to give those members of KROG who couldn't get to Silverstone a chance to meet Kork and Kiyo and to put questions to them.  This was ably assisted by the lovely Yasuko - sister of one of the KROG guys - who acted as translator to overcome any potential communication problems.  Once again, Kork was asked to autograph various magazines and brochures and even a fuel tank hastily removed from an AR125 outside.  I was honoured to be made a member of KROG and presented the chairman with some KR250.ORG promo items I'd had made up before my trip.  We also watched a video of Kork in action on - and off - the KR500.  A photoshoot on the banks of the river followed the Q&A session, and the whole thing was attended by representatives from Riders Club magazine.  I started to get nostalgic for my old AR80 and I think I also promised Hime I'd buy a KR-1S when I got home...

Autograph session Photosession by the Sumidagawa river Me, Kork and Tono at the Kaminarimon Gate in Asakusa Beginners luck as Tono wins at Top Trumps At the airport

After the meeting broke up, Kork and I did a bit of sightseeing with Tono and Kiya and they treated us to a fantastic Sukiyaki dinner.  I introduced them all to iconic British card game 'Top Trumps' and Kork revealed he'd actually featured in a pack back in the 80's.  I thought we might be heading towards a karaoke bar (or pachinko parlour) at one point but we had an early night at the airport hotel instead.  The next morning, Kork treated us all to breakfast and we took some last photographs before waving Kork off on his flight back home.  Tono turned to me and said 'Mission Complete'.  I told him he should be very proud of himself for what he'd managed to achieve.

Now read Tono's English-language  KR Meeting  page !

I'm very proud to be an official member of KROG Kork DVD presented to me by KROG KR magazine presented to me by Tono Kork autographed my radiator cap cover !

Of course, I wasn't going to fly straight home again myself.  My wife Sara flew out to join me and we spent a fantastic couple of days staying with Reg and Brenda Bolton, an English couple who'd lived in Japan for 15 years.  Reg had owned a green/white KR and was riding it one day in his home town of Gifu when he saw another one - it turned out to be Tono's.  When Reg finally wore the KR out - he's a racer - he snapped up a red/black 'S' whilst trying to find a spare engine for it.  One day he let Brenda ride the 'S' and she wouldn't give it back - Reg had to get himself an Aprilia RS250 instead !

Reg and Brenda had been with us at Silverstone but missed out on the Tokyo bit of the meeting.  They really looked after us, showing us the local area and giving us a slice of Japanese life we'd never have seen normally.  We saw some stunning scenery around Gifu including a bizarre forest where the dead trees come back to life and squeezed in a day trip to Kyoto to see some of the temples and shrines.  Hime popped in to see us again too.  Incidentally, that black bike Reg is posing on in the photo is his 1952 Vincent Rapide which he's raced with some success at Daytona, and in England, France and of course Japan.  Reg keeps the bike in the lounge and knew he'd married the right woman when she was more concerned about the state of the Vincent crank than the oil stains on the wooden floor.

Fuji-san, taken from the Hikari Shinkansen Ginkakuju Temple in Kyoto Brenda & Reg at a little shrine in the 21st Century Forest Reg going for it on his Vincent racer Downtown Shinjuku, Tokyo

Another shinkansen whisked us back to Tokyo and we had another four nights there to sample the city life.  We stayed in Shinjuku to experience all the bright neon lights and vibrancy that Tokyo is famous for, but we also visited the districts of Harajuku, Shibuya and Ginza and went for a look at the Imperial Palace (the Emperor wasn't in).  Of course, a couple of hours was spent perusing the motorbike shops in Ueno too.

KROG's website      Tono's website      AROC's website

This was the trip of a lifetime for me and I'd really like to thank :

Tono and Hime for all their hard work in arranging everything and inviting me in the first place.
Red, Tetsua and all the members of KROG and AROC for making me feel so welcome.
Ken and Noriko Suzuki and their son for sharing their fantastic home with me.
Kork and Kiyo for being both down-to-earth and genuine heroes at the same time.
Reg & Brenda for their outstanding hospitality.
Yasuko for making the Tokyo meeting run smoothly and for taking all my photographs at the riverside.
Kawasaki Bike Magazine and Riders Club magazine.

Oh, and the man who drives the snowplough at Schiphol airport for saving my trip at the last minute...

Kawasaki Bike Magazine, Vol 53, May 2005 Kawasaki Bike Magazine, Vol 53, May 2005 : Page 4 Kawasaki Bike Magazine, Vol 53, May 2005 : Page 3 Kawasaki Bike Magazine, Vol 53, May 2005 : Page 2 Kawasaki Bike Magazine, Vol 53, May 2005 : Page 1 Kawasaki Bike Magazine, Vol 53, May 2005          Riders Club magazine, No.373, May 2005

6 weeks after we got home, a thick envelope arrives on my doormat with a Japan postmark.  Inside, a copy of both Kawasaki Bike and Riders Club magazines.  And I'm in both - how cool is that !  Click on the pictures above to read their full features on the event - big thanks to Tono & Hime for sending them to me.  Thanks also to Kork and Reg for keeping in touch and sending the photographs below.

Another corner of Ken's treasure trove (thanks Reg) Memento's of the KR meeting on display with some of Kork's trophies Kork's KR250 and KR500 on show at his home Banzai ! (thanks Hime)

Postscript : In 2008 the VJMC asked their members to submit features and articles for the club magazine 'Tansha'.  Not possessing any useful technical knowledge or tips for restorers I decided instead to submit this story, rewritten slightly to bring it into context within the magazine.  They kindly published it in the Feb 2008 issue, using pictures from here to make an attractive 4-page feature.

Tansha (VJMC club magazine) Feb 2008 : Page 1 Tansha (VJMC club magazine) Feb 2008 : Page 2 Tansha (VJMC club magazine) Feb 2008 : Page 3 Tansha (VJMC club magazine) Feb 2008 : Page 4