Motorcycle production figures [for Japan] before 1930 are not available, but in that year a total of 1,350 were made in Japan. The 2,000 mark was first topped in 1937, and the 3,000 mark in 1940. This was the peak pre-war year, with 3,037 motorcycles being produced. As the war advanced, production fell rapidly back to 1,029 in 1944.
At the end of the war, Japan was a bombed ruin with a total lack of almost everything, including everything needed to manufacture motorcycles. Only 127 were made in 1945, and the total the next year was a mere 211, climbing to 387 in 1947.W.B. Swim – The History of Japanese Motorcycles (Cycleworld)
By contrast, Indian Motorcycles (of Illinois) was producing 500 bikes per year in 1902, rising to 32,000 in 1913 (after which it declined), and Harley-Davidson produced more than 28,000 in 1920. In the UK Triumph produced more than 30,000 motorbikes during the First World War.
Led by the motor scooters, of which 1,623 were turned out in 1947, Japan’s motorcycle makers began to get back on their feet in 1948 when they produced some 1,000 machines. The next year 1,766 motorcycles were manufactured, and this went up to 2,633 in 1950.
The year 1951 was Japan’s blast-off year in motorcycle production, marking the start of this Far Eastern nation’s climb to world leadership. Makers nearly quadrupled production over the previous year when they turned out 11,510 machines.
This was only the start to the most phenomenal increase of production in the world’s history. The next year saw 48,800 new registrations, and the tremendous figure of 1,000,000 machines was topped only eight years later, in 1960, when Japan made 1,349,090 motorcycles.
The two million mark was bested in 1964, when 2,056,236 motorcycles were made in Japan.W.B. Swim – The History of Japanese Motorcycles (Cycleworld)
In less than twenty years, Japan went from post-war devastation to dominate the world’s production of motorcycles, and did the same with car production in the decades following.
Fast forward to 2018, and Honda alone produced more than twenty-million motorbikes worldwide in 2018 (Honda’s peak domestic production in Japan was almost three million bikes in 1982).
How did this happen?
The story has its roots in the early 1900s. It’s a story of import, adoption, imitation, military co-option, circumstantial coersion, innovation and determination – one that has transformed the lives of millions of people across East and Southeast Asia.
Rikuo: The Stranger-Than-Fiction Saga of Rikuo, Harley-Davidson and the Birth of the Japanese Motorcycle
The History of Japanese Motorcycles
Use, repair, copy, make: Tim Harford on bicycles and technological development in Japan
Soichiro Honda on success and failure
The Brilliance of Honda (and Mini Motor Man) (and YouTube)
Wikipedia: List of Countries by Motor Vehicle Production (sadly doesn’t include motorcycle production)
Indonesian Motorcycle Manufacturers