Coming to Japan has become a ritual for me… every four to six months I’m in Japan – 5 days in Kyushu 2 day and a 2 day ride with my “family” in Oita; and then 5 days in Tokyo for work and creative exploration!
A designer/adventurer’s hyper-intimate way to get to know Japan
Japan is captivating! It was the third year of the resurrection of the 100-year-old Black Bear Brand that I first visited Tokyo to create with some amazing craftsmen. Those business relationships quickly led to some very strong friendships. Early on, I was invited to visit Free Way Custom Motorcycles in the city of Oita for a vintage motorcycle ride. I have since become close friends Kenichi Mizutani, a legend for building custom and antique motorcycles. Like many that I’ve collaborated with in Japan, Kenichi is uncompromising in his craft.
Exploration, experiencing life and the quest for uncompromising design
A designer should embrace adventure, leaping at opportunities to travel, collaborate, and to find inspiration. Exploration, learning, and human connection are paramount to me. The quest is driven by a passion for design, materials, processes, and uncompromising details, which often leads to the places where ruggedness, beauty and romance collide.
A love for craftsmanship and romance of vintage motorcycles. Deep rooted tribute to the past.
This March, my travels landed me back in Kyushu, Japan. I arrived at Free Way Custom Motorcycles greeted by close friend and master bike builder Kenichi Mizutani. We caught up like family that hadn’t seen each other in months, joking, laughing; they asked about my new designs, jackets, boots, etc. I showed them everything that Black Bear Brand has coming and gave my ceremonial gifts to my friends. Following our greeting ritual, we walked the shop and talked about their current motorcycle projects and Kenichi presented me with a restored 1940 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead that would be my bike for the next two days. I couldn’t help but feel lucky to be here with Kenichi. I love motorcycles; I ride my motorcycle nearly every day, year-round. I’ve fallen in love with old motorcycles, they ignite my creativity and passion to explore. The craftsmanship found in Japan is second to none. The meticulous attention to craft found there is easy to fall in love with. What I design and produce is powered by these same specificities. The fabrics, leather work, food and of course motorcycles in Japan are a celebration of all the things I cherish!
Sensory overload; a collision of ruggedness and beauty
The day of our ride began at 7:30 a.m. About 25 of us met up at Free Way, some of my friends having traveled more than 400 km from Kobe. By 8 o’clock we were off. As a large group we roared through the city. The sound of 20 vintage Harley-Davidsons is powerful; it shakes your insides. The sight of us is intoxicating; folks on their daily morning routine stop from the sound and sight and wave as we ride by. I’m instantly lost in the moment as we put Oita behind us and enter the winding road into the countryside toward the mountains. My insides are smiling. I’m in heaven. It was like a dream to be taking in these sights on this 1940 Knucklehead.
This ride produced sensory overload in the best way, from every direction:
- Shifting the 80-year-old transmission
- Accelerating through lush nature and up into the mountains
- Arriving at the coast where the pristine skyline goes on forever
Fulfillment flourishes when we require a deep connection with everything we invite into our lives
Exploring is the ultimate tool in my quest to evolve. Kinship through the soulful history that is the essence of artful, vintage machines feeds my soul. Design is personal and should be uncompromising in its passion; what we design and make should be special. As this adventure concludes, and I begin my journey home, I smile; I’ve fallen in love again. As we say in Japan, I will see you again when I return.
Josh Sirlins’s Big Pilot’s
Josh starting his bike
Josh and his friends ride to the country side
Josh and his friends
Detail of the Big Pilot’s Watch
Big Pilot’s IW5004
Josh in Tokyo
Josh at the Tokyo fish market
Josh gets tattooed in a traditional way
Josh and tattoo master Horitoshi 1
Josh at a budist temple
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