MEET SHINJI KAZAMA

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SHINJI KAZAMA WANTS TO RIDE A MO­TOR­CY­CLE ON THE MOON.

It is the kind of thing a 5-year-old might say, or a bil­lion­aire. It’s a goal that, if ut­tered by any­one else, would have us laugh­ing. But Kazama isn’t any­one else. He has rid­den mo­tor­cy­cles to both poles, the sum­mits of Mount Kil­i­man­jaro and Mount Fuji, and much of the way up Mount Ever­est. Twice. He was also the first Ja­panese na­tional to com­pete in the Paris-dakar Rally, later won the race’s 500cc class, and sur­vived a col­li­sion with a truck on an­other at­tempt. His­tory has proven that Shinji Kazama’s am­bi­tions are not to be scoffed at.

Kazama will turn 68 this year, a fact that doesn’t seem to slow him down. He’s coached his son, Shin­no­suke, in the Dakar Rally for the past five years, and is per­son­ally plan­ning to com­pete in a car in 2020 and on a mo­tor­cy­cle in 2021. Be­tween now and then, he needs to con­vince his in­jured left knee to bend to 90 de­grees.

Kazama was born in 1950. Bikes took him early, and he blended his pas­sion for mo­tor­cy­cles with a love of na­ture, sum­mit­ing a 1,640-foot moun­tain near his home­town when he was 14.

“The moun­tain slope was quite steep, not a moun­tain that was easy to climb with a mo­tor­cy­cle,” he re­calls. “I tried a num­ber of routes and push­ing my bike. When I ar­rived at the sum­mit, it was evening. A daz­zling air and a re­fresh­ing breeze played over my cheeks. I found the sparkling Fue­fuki River in the dis­tance, and be­low was my home­town. I re­mem­bered tremen­dous ful­fill­ment and sat­is­fac­tion. This was the orig­i­nal ex­pe­ri­ence and orig­i­nal scenery of my ad­ven­ture.”

Kazama does not ex­ude the fre­netic en­ergy you get from the

Guy Martins of the world. He’s frank and re­al­is­tic, can­did about his fear of freez­ing to death or be­ing eaten by a po­lar bear. Maybe most sur­pris­ing is the fact that, for some­one who’s done what he’s done and seen what he’s seen, he doesn’t feel suf­fo­cated by every­day life. He’s not afraid of dy­ing qui­etly of old age.

“What I learned through sev­eral ad­ven­tures is that ‘daily life’ fos­ters dreams, ‘daily life’ sup­ports dreams,” he says. “A won­der­ful ad­ven­ture will be brought up for the first time with won­der­ful daily life, fam­ily, so­ci­ety, and friends.”

Even so, Kazama says, no­body is go­ing to hand you the op­por­tu­nity to run away when your of­fice walls start to close in.

“At first, ev­ery­one thinks that their way of liv­ing and ac­tions are not ‘I am be­ing forced,’ but are their choices,” he says. “My mo­tor­cy­cle ex­pe­di­tions were mostly long-term, which cost a huge amount of money, but I wanted to go there all the way.”

Even if “all the way” means “all the way to the moon.” In a strange twist, Kazama’s hu­mil­ity is matched only by his con­fi­dence in tech­nol­ogy and a thick vein of bravado.

“I think that there is no place I can­not go by mo­tor­cy­cle. Even though tech­ni­cally im­pos­si­ble now, tech­nol­ogy evolves in­def­i­nitely,” he says.

Kazama doesn’t have a re­li­gious or philo­soph­i­cal ded­i­ca­tion to bikes. He ini­tially set out to show peo­ple in Ja­pan that mo­tor­cy­cles are vi­able trans­porta­tion, that they are not just the do­main of the tat­tooed, drunken woolly mam­moths made fa­mous by Mar­lon Brando and Hunter S. Thomp­son.

“Rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle is of­ten seen from the world, the gen­eral pub­lic in Ja­pan, with cold eyes,” he says. “I tried to show the va­lid­ity of the mo­tor­cy­cle by my ideas and be­hav­ior.”

That de­sire nearly cost him every­thing. In 2004, rac­ing a Dakar Rally stage in Morocco, Kazama col­lided head-on with a 10-ton, 750-horsepower big rig com­pet­ing in the event’s truck class. The ac­ci­dent left him hospi­tal­ized for 14 months and re­quired 18 surg­eries and 500 stitches. It nearly claimed his left leg.

There was no guar­an­tee that he would get around well enough to do an­other few Dakars, let alone aim to ride a mo­tor­cy­cle on the moon.

“I have not over­come [the in­jury] for 14 years. In the case of many peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, it seems to take 10 to 20 years to re­set the wounds of the heart. I do not like giv­ing up, but it may be some­times im­por­tant to give up in such a case,” he says. “Al­though giv­ing up is not per­mit­ted for dreams, res­ig­na­tion is im­por­tant [to keep from] en­vy­ing oth­ers. I was able to learn from hav­ing a dis­abil­ity.”

His in­jury led him to be­come an am­bas­sador for the Bone and Joint Decade, spread­ing aware­ness with in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult treks. In 2009, he drove a Subaru Forester from the top of Africa to its south­ern­most tip. In 2010, he and three oth­ers rode mo­tor­cy­cles, bi­cy­cles, and dog sleds from the south­ern tip of Chile to the top of Swe­den on a pole-to-pole ex­cur­sion.

The man seems un­stop­pable like the phys­i­cal, con­cen­trated force that com­pels all of us to ride. But long be­fore he be­gan sum­mit­ing the world’s high­est peaks, rac­ing through the planet’s most chal­leng­ing ter­rain, and putting mo­tor­cy­cles where they’ve never been be­fore, Kazama’s mo­ti­va­tions were much sim­pler.

“The se­cret...is that I liked the bike more than any­thing. And se­cond, I tried to con­vey the ex­cel­lence of rid­ing mo­tor­cy­cles to the world in my own way,” he says.

It’s a suc­cinct sum­ma­tion of why any of us ever straps on a hel­met and slips off down a wind­ing road to nowhere, or a new length of jagged sin­gle-track. For­get the twad­dle about the Zen of man and ma­chine, or the higher pur­pose of ex­plor­ing what it re­ally means to be free. Shinji Kazama has spent his life in the pur­suit of do­ing some­thing that he en­joys. That’s all the mo­ti­va­tion any of us should need.

LEFT Kazama celebrates his con­quest of the North Pole on a Yamaha TW200 with Yamaha TY250 two-stroke power.

ABOVE The ex­treme cold, wind, and ex­po­sure on the North Pole ex­pe­di­tion meant Kazama was forced to per­form near-con­stant main­te­nance and re­pairs to his TW200. The go­ing some­times was as slow as 10 me­ters an hour.

LEFT Kazama takes a juice break next to his Suzuki DR500 dur­ing his 1982 Dakar Rally cam­paign. Kazama was the first Ja­panese na­tional to fin­ish the race on his in­au­gu­ral try in 1982; he won the 500cc class in ’84. BE­LOW Kazama coaxes his TW along an ice sheet flanked by his sup­port team. The wa­ter was so cold that res­cue would have been im­pos­si­ble had he gone in.

be­low Odds weren’t the only thing stacked against Shinji Kazama on his trips to the North and South poles. Huge voids in the ice threat­ened to swal­low him and the bike while frigid weather com­pounded his ex­haus­tion. Here, ju­di­cious ap­pli­ca­tion of throt­tle was the only an­swer.

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