Japanese Motorcycle History; the Early Years: 1900 to World War II

Author: Mark Bayer


Noted below are four lists of Japanese motorcycle manufacturers which were in operation from 1900 to the beginning of the Second World War period.  Some names come up on all four lists such as Miyata and Meguro, while Toyo is found on three.  All the lists note at least 10 manufacturers from the 1900 to late 1930's period while the longest lists include 26 brands.  Many manufacturers did not make complete motorcycles and some brands may reflect a mixture of parts from various companies.  Furthermore, some names may reflect models of motorcycles rather than specific brands of motorcycles.

Four lists of Japanese motorcycles built from 1900 to the WWII period recorded from different sources; 

                                                   List  (I)   

NS Shimazu  1908 - 1909

Hino               1910

NMC              1912 - 1962      (Nippon Motor Corp.)

Asshi              1912 - 1964      (Miyata Works)

Miyata           1912 - 1964      (Miyata Works)

Toyo               1920 - 1960     (Mazda)

Thunder        1921

Mushashino  1923                  (Kogyo Mfg.)

Giant(Wasp)   1924 - 1954      (Komine)

Komine          1924 - 1956

Meguro          1924 - 1961       (Meguro Manufacturing)    

Aero Fast       1925 - 1927       (Nippon Motors)

Thunder         1925 - 1938      (Watanabe Takeshi)

Lion                1926 - 1933      (Osaka Bicycle)

Yamato          1927 - 1958       (Yamato/Lucky)

JAC                1928 - 1934       (Japan Automobile Co.)

New Era        1928 - 1937       (Nippon Jidosha)

SSD                1930 - 1935       (Shishido Brothers)

Abe Star        1930 - 1959

Daihatsu       1930 - 1979        (Daihatsu Kogyo)

HMC              1931                    (Hyogo Motors)

Ideal Real Car  1931                    (Yokoyama)

Tsubasa         1931 - 1960       (Tsubasa Industries)

Cabton           1932 - 1958       (Mizubo Jidosha)

Aikoku           1933 - 1958

Rikuo             1935 - 1962       (Rikuo Aristone)___Pre WWII motorcycles above this line

Showa            1939 - 1960      (Showa Works)

Yamaguchi    1941 - 1964       (Yamaguchi - Hodaka)

Emuro           1945 - 1961        (Health Motor Co.)

Health           1945 - 1961        (Health Motor Co.)

Bis Motor     1946

Mitsubishi    1946 - 1965       (Mitsubishi heavy Industries)

Fuji                1946 - 1968       (Fuji Heavy Industries)

Honda           1946 - current   (Honda Motor Company)

IMC               1947 - 1961        (Itoh Motor Co.)

Toyo              1947 - 1961        (Toyo Motor Co.)

Maruichi      1948 - 1959       (Maruichi Bicycle Co.)

Tohatsu        1948 - 1966       (Tokyo Hatsudoki Co.)

Lilac              1948 - 1967       (Marusho Motorcycle Co.)

 (derived from: A Century of Japanese Motorcycles; Ganneau.  Page 192)


                                          List  (II) 

Lizuka Trading      1899   self powered 2 wheeler, no other information

Torao Yamba         1908   engine in a bicycle frame

Narazo  Shimazu   1909   400cc  belt driven motorcycle

Miyata                      1913   175cc 2 stroke  (Asahi)   

                                   1921   OHV engine built - no manufacturer noted 

Shimazu                   1927  250cc motorcycle engine built

JAC (Meguro)         1928  250cc motorcycle becomes available

Miyata                      1933  2 stroke Asahi returns to production

Cabton                      1934  350 single built

Rikuo                        1935  builds Harley Davidson motorcycles under contract 

Meguro                     1937  500cc motorcycle built, first complete bike  Pre WWII motorcycles above this line

                                   1945  first post WWII motorcycles built, 127 total units - no manufacturers listed

Miyata                      1946    resumes motorcycle production

Honda                       1947   Honda begins selling bicycles with engines

Meguro                     1948   resumes motorcycle production (in 1962 joins Kawasaki)

Kawasaki                  1949   begins production of 125cc motorcycle

(derived from: 100 Years Of Japanese Motorcycles;  Pavey. Page 2)


                                                List (III)

Maruyama       1895 - 1940's  bicycles to motorized bicycles to motorcycles

Miyata              1900 - 1940's bicycles to motorcycles

Shimazu           1907 - 1929    

Nihon (NMC)         1908         from Shimazu

Toyo                 1920's-1940's (Mazda)

Meguro            1924 - 1940's  continues after WWII

Showa              1924 - 1940's continues after WWII

Abe                   1928 - 1931     joins Meguro in 1931

Japan Mo.Co. 1929     from  NMC dating back to 1908

Riuko               1933 - 1940's  copies Harley Davidson motorcycles under contract

Tokyo               1934                produces Aikoku motorcycles (called the Patriot)

Muzucho         1934                produces the Cabton motorcycle

Miyata             1935                 builds Asahi motorcycle

Sankyo            1935                 builds HD's under contract, name becomes Rikuo in 1936

Ritsurin           1936               

Meguro            1937  

All of these are pre WWII manufacturers   

(derived from: Japan's Motorcycle Wars; Alexander  pages 22 -  50)


                                                List (IV)

MIYATA: 1909-64 Japan
KUROGANE: 1930-40s Japan

MEGURO: 1937-64 Japan

TOHATSU: 1935-66 Japan

SANKYO (Rikyuo): 1935-62 Japan
SUZUKI: 1936- Japan
TAIYO: 19??- Japan

YAMATARGO: 1929-? Japan

YAMAGUCHI: 1941-64 Japan        dividing line between WWII and post WWII motorcycles
RABBIT: 1946-68 Japan

POINTER: 1946-62 Japan
HONDA: 1948- current  

ABE-STAR: 1949-1955 Japan

TOYO MOTOR: 1949-Early 1960's

KAWASAKI: 1949- Japan

(derived from; Classic Motorcycles web page: www.classicmotorcycles.com

This list has been adjusted to reflect the first years of Japanese motorcycle production to the later years of production.)


                These lists range from 11 listings to 26.  Note the following listings related to the period of Japanese motorcycle development mentioned above:

                                         1896 to 1906:          1908 to 1916:        1917 to 1941:

(I)                                             1                                      4                              21      (26 total)

(II)                                           1                                       3                                7      (11 total)

(III)                                          3                                      1                              12      (16 listed)

(IV)                                          0                                       1                                9      (10 listed)  

As is evident from the above figures, motorcycle development was exponential in growth as the years progressed.  List number (III) varies a great deal from the other lists. but if period (I) and period (II) are added together, the same dynamic is evident.  In the early years there were very few builders, but after the late teens the numbers of companies more than doubled.   The accuracy of the above figures is not known, but what can be seen is that the numbers of people or companies involved in motorcycle manufacturing or development more than doubled as Japan moved toward the WWII period.  This was to again transform into exponential growth after the war!    As a comparison, I will list American manufacturers from the same time period.  Note the following from Floyd Clymers "A Treasury of American Motorcycles" pages 166-7:

            (1899 to 1907)     28         (1908 - 1916)       42     (1917 - 1940)   9

This is a total of 79 American manufacturers making machines before WWII. As can be seen, America had a large number of manufacturers early on with the numbers dropping more than 2/3 after the late teens.  The sales of the inexpensive Ford Model T automobile, and the great depression after 1929 killed the motorcycle industry in the US.  Furthermore, these numbers do not reflect the one-off machines, or numerous manufacturers which never produced bikes to sell.  After WWII, America was left with Indian and Harley Davidson as the only two motorcycle brands commercially available along with a handful of scooters, like the Whizzer, Cushman, Powell, and Simplex.  In Europe (including the UK), the numbers are so much larger, that it would take an independent study to even begin to calculate the numbers.  England alone had well over 100 brands of motorcycles built before 1910, and well over another 150+ between the teens, and the WWII era.  It was recorded that England alone has had as many as 685 (one book lists 1,100) brands of motorcycles in their history.  The same is true of other European countries.  France, Germany, and Italy have had at least 1000 total brands since 1900.   These are actually conservative figures!  The US and Europe mushroomed with different brands of motorcycles before WWII but the numbers radically decreased after the war (www.ozebook.com - "A-Z of motorcycles").  In that this writing is concerned with pre WWII Japanese motorcycles, post WWII developments will not be covered with any detail.  To sum up,  Japan started very slow and grew in motorcycle development till WWII.  The US and Europe did the opposite.  Their numbers were large from 1900 to the 1940's, but motorcycle production nearly disappeared after WWII (the US was different in that before WWII nearly all brands had already disappeared).  Since WWII, Japan has become the world's largest manufacturer of motorcycles, and the US and Europe have significantly decreased in volume (the US and Europe have produced many small specialty brands which were produced in very small numbers).  The point in the lists and numbers noted above is that Japan was growing in the numbers of companies which were building motorcycles, while America had a burst of new companies which began to die after the mid-teens.  Before WWII, Japan had seen a huge growth in the motorcycle industry while America had seen a significant decline.  England and Europe maintained their industry till the war (England in particular had large numbers of low volume manufacturers) then huge decreases in technological developments and production numbers ensued.