Bell tolls for 53-year-old motorcycle shop outside US airlift hub in Tokyo
Stars and Stripes July 25, 2023
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A motorcycle shop that has served American and Japanese customers near the home of U.S. Forces Japan for more than a half-century is closing.
Bike Land Keisho — across from Yokota, an airlift hub in western Tokyo — opened in 1970, owner Sho Satake said Monday as he stood near a vintage Harley-Davidson and piles of merchandise.
Keisho is closing its doors for good this month, he said. New owners plan to knock down the store and build apartments.
His face, emblazoned on the shop’s sign, is familiar to people who drive to and from Yokota along Route 16. The avid motorcyclist said he opened his business after selling cars and motorcycles on the base in the 1960s.
“When [President John F. Kennedy] was assassinated, I was working on Yokota,” he recalled, noting that an American dollar bought more than 350 yen at the time.
U.S. spending on the Vietnam War subsequently devalued the dollar and the soaring yen prompted restrictions on the sale of foreign autos on base. So, Satake set up shop just outside the gate where the strong yen was a boon for locals.
“We started importing Harley-Davidsons,” he said. “It was a very low price.”
A photo in an old magazine from the 1970s shows the motorcycle shop with a big Harley-Davidson sign. On the same side of the street stood Pony, an electronics store popular with Americans.
Satake was an avid rider in his younger days but has swapped his iron horse for golf clubs. He’s visited the U.S. many times and, in 1984, rode from Baltimore to the White House, he said.
America is a much better place to ride than Japan, Satake said.
“In the States, it is so huge and beautiful, and the air is clean, and you can see wild animals,” he said.
In recent years, Americans haven’t bought many motorcycles from Keisho, Satake said, though they often do turn to his shop for repairs.
Yokota used to be home to the Japan Motorcycle Club, managed by Satake, which included Japanese and American riders. These days the Green Knights, a club geared toward active-duty riders with branches worldwide, is active on base.
Keisho is well known to motorcyclists, said Evan Hall, vice president of the Green Knights chapter at Yokota.
The shop had a collection of old, dusty motorcycle manuals and could get Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki parts quickly, the former airman, who works as a civilian technician on Yokota’s C-130J Super Hercules simulator, said Monday.
Japan’s aging population means many old shops are closing these days, Hall said, adding: “It’s a sign of the times.”