Japan…as Seen by an American Motorcyclist

An Oriental Tour

By Bill Montgomery, Photography by Bill Montgomery

From the April 1935 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine

This last Fall a friend and I had the pleasure of a trip to the Orient. Through the services of the American Express we arranged for two motorcycles with which to tour Japan. We sailed upon the “President Coolidge” and after two weeks at sea arrived in Japan to find two Harley-Davidson machines awaiting us on the. The trip across was enjoyable but nevertheless the two motors looked good to us and fired our ambition to get started upon our tour.

A guide at the dock told us we would have little trouble in getting to Tokyo, a mere 21 miles from our landing place at Yokohama. We made a fine start, for Yokohama is not too large and the traffic situation was fairly easy to grasp. We saw a few signs in English which directed us toward Tokyo, and, they were the last we saw until we got into Tokyo.

The road leading out of Yokohama was fine-about 100 feet wide, concrete, and had double street car tracks down the center. There were plenty of safety zones to avoid, but those were the least of our troubles. Pedestrians held no fear of cars or motorcycles and seemed to place the burden of carefulness upon drivers and riders. They would dash suddenly across the street whenever the idea struck them. Time after time we were forced to slam on both brakes to avoid hitting someone, and more often than not it was to save a grown-up rather than children.

Signals were much the same as in America, hung from overhead cables. However, there were about six lights; one to get ready, one to get set and the rest for all the fine shades of going or stopping.

As far as we could see, as strangers, there was no division between Yokohama and Tokyo. The wide street just kept on going and we kept on following it. On each side was a continuous line of shops, all selling the same things. I still don’t see how one makes any money with all his neighbors selling exactly the same wares.

On the whole ride to Tokyo we saw not one gas pump. This seemed odd for there were many cars and motorcycles. Many of the cars were new Fords; most of the motorcycles seemed to be English makes and with sidecars, if you could so name the flat car contrivances they hauled along loaded with china and furniture. The economy of motorcycles seems to appeal to the Japanese. All the stores use them for delivery purposes instead of trucks.

We finally wound up in the city we were seeking but that road was the longest 21 miles I had been on since I once crossed Nevada. Once within the city it took us two hours to hunt up our hotel. That accomplished we pulled ourselves together and set out to see the town. Tokyo isn’t so large but what you can comfortably review it in a day, without rushing. We even toured the palace grounds. That is, we toured what we were allowed to. No one is permitted nearer than a mile to the palace.

By Bill Montgomery
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