At first I wasn’t sure if the ‘Yamaha Communications Plaza‘, just outside of Hamamatsu City was actually the place I was looking for. A ‘Communications Plaza’? What I was looking for was a special place in the heart of Yamahaland where I could see, feel and smell a slice of the company history, and hopefully quite a few motorbikes along the way. I was assured by friends that this was exactly the place I was looking for. And indeed it was.
I’d been wanting to go for a while, but thanks to COVID, it was regularly closed as the waves ramped up and ebbed away, so I had to pick my spot. As it turned out, it was going to be open on weekends for the first time in a while in late May, so that last Saturday in May, I got my summer gear on, put the Givi box on the back of the Tracer, and off I went, all the way to the west of Shizuoka prefecture, all in glorious sunshine.
It’s a few hours ride for me, so I decided to take a more scenic route on the way there, and then take mostly expressway home. That scenic route took me on Route 1 for a bit, through the Hakone region, then through Mishima, some bypasses, then up on the old Tomei for a while, before getting off that and back onto local roads, just to the East of Hamamatsu – that turned out to be a good decision, since it really sets the scene.
I found myself riding on small roads between rice fields for a few kilometers (with a decent side wind). It’s a common place to be in Japan and always feels rural, even if you know it really isn’t. After a small industrial estate, then more rice fields, it felt like you went over a small hill and suddenly you emerge into this huge industrial town in which all the building signs indicated you were in the nerve-centre of Yamaha Motors.
Within this myriad of buildings, from some low slung assembly plant looking ones to some multi-storey office buildings, was the building I recognised from the website, due to its tall cylindrical section to one side, so I made a direct line for it.
Initially I actually parked in the wrong place. Well not wrong as such, but the Communications Center was hosting two owner group meet-ups in front of the main building, and a staff member had come over and apologetically told me some coaches would arrive later. He didn’t tell me to move to the larger public parking area I’d seemingly just rode past, but I got the hint and moved to the bike parking. I saw the same staff member later and he thanked me for moving the bike.
Let’s get to the main event here then.
The Center is easy to get into, I mean it’s free, so you just had to fill in a quick form in aid of COVID tracing, wash your hands, have a mask on and it was time to have a wander around.
The place takes up about two and a half floors open to the public (the rest, I think, are presentation halls and meeting rooms). It has a kind of atrium area, giving it a nice spacious feel. On the ground floor there’s some of the newer street bikes, in fact the day I went they had a brand new XSR900 on the turntable (or whatever that’s called). there’s also a lot of things I forgot Yamaha have done – collaborations on boats, F1 cars, a helicopter drone, over to the powersports gear like the water skis. It’s all interesting stuff when you read along with the notes.
To be honest though, I’m here for the bikes, but I’m also here for a little bit of history. The facility is well designed – it will physically guide you through the history, such as from Yamaha’s first bike (1955s YA-1), the links to the musical instrument brand and an explanation of how the logos are different. I wont spoil that (I knew before) but when you read/see it, it makes complete sense.
I’m not that interested in motorsports, but given Yamaha’s impressive pedigree in this area, you can’t blame them for having a herd (?) of Valentino Rossi livery bikes in formation, and a variety of other racing models, and definitely this is what most of the people had come to see.
For me though I liked the smaller and older bikes, just to see them, but I also liked the selection of ‘almost’ bikes – bikes which should have been huge, but just never performed in the market. Probably the poster-child for that from the Yamaha stable is the MT-01, and even now, it still looks like a very cool muscle bike. Albeit something which looks like it could rip your arms off.
They also have a few bikes which look like it’s only the rust holding them together, and there’s a card next to one of them explaining this is exactly why you should look after your bike, but also explaining how they go about restoring even these far-gone machines. It’s an interesting thing to put into a place like this to be honest, but it speaks to that part of the fan base, as demonstrated on the day I went, where owners clubs with 70s two-strokes were noisily revving outside and clearly took pride and enjoyment in keeping these fun bikes in rideable condition.
So amongst all this, what stood out which I hadn’t thought about before I went? Well not the Niken – that’s on my list of bikes I want to ride but will never own since it was announced! How about the gold trim GT50 Mini Trail from 1972? Maybe, I would have happily zipped all around the centre on that, but I suspect my bulk would’ve kept speeds down.
I think that’s the point of a few hours here; you get to see a selection of bikes you may have sort-of known about, and some you’d just never seen and so had never thought about giving a go to before. So, if you happen to be in west Shizuoka prefecture, or within striking distance, I recommend taking the ride and having a look at a slice of Japanese biking history.
I shouldn’t forget to mention the ride home either, whilst it was all along the Tomei, it was probably the nicest ride along the Tomei I’ve ever had. As I was riding east, the sun was setting behind me, and I got that long shadow in front, and the beautiful liquid yellow light of golden hour all around. I stopped off at an SA for a quick iced coffee and it was nice to look at the decent selection of bikes whose riders had had the same thought, and I had a chat with CRF owners with hardware shop bought boxes bolted on the back and those on fully custom Harleys with their design integrated side cases parked up next to each other. My bike fits somewhere in the middle I suppose.