Even though there have been some 160 different makes of Japanese motorcycles, the history of the Japanese motorcycle industry didn't really get under way until after World War II. The rise of the industry was led by Soichiro Honda, an inventor-engineer who began in 1946 by converting government surplus generator engines to power bicycles.
Smoking Like a Chimney
Honda built his own "chimney" 50cc engines (so-called because they were tall and smoked a lot) and in 1948 founded the Honda Motor Company. In 1949, Honda was the first Japanese manufacturer to make both engines and frames.
For most people, the Honda race history starts with the 1959 entry of the Honda team in the Isle of Man TT. However, although practically unknown in Europe at the time, Japan in those days had a fast growing motorcycle industry, but their models looked very old fashioned, and the ones that did look (more or less) modern were often straight copies of German, British or American (read Harley) motorcycles. Honda visited the Isle of Man TT for the first time in 1954 In 1959, in its first TT, Honda won the 125cc manufacturers' award. Honda, even in those days already a very big motorcycle manufacturer, faced the problem that it would be very difficult to sell its bikes worldwide. Japanese products in general had a bad reputation regarding quality, based on Japanese pre-war products (the camera industry in Japan faced the same problem). So how do you overcome such a problem? By proving to the world, that your engineering and the resulting products are superior -in the case of motorcycles by winning Grand Prix with them.
An Exporting Phenomenon
The Honda motorcycle quickly established its own identity, with advanced features like overhead camshaft in 1955 and an electric started 125cc in 1958. In 1955, the maker opened an overseas branch in the United States. Honda offered world markets a new type of sporty, well-equipped two-wheeler. By 1960,Honda was building half of Japan's 1.8 million motorcycles and exporting 45,000. That was already more than the British were exporting, and the figure would multiply sixfold in two years.