On this day six years ago, an earthquake hammered Japan.
The natural disaster was the most powerful quake to ever hit Japan. Its epicenter was a mere 18 miles from the coast. The force of the quake moved Honshu (the main island of Japan) eight feet east. The quake shifted the entire planet off its axis somewhere between four to 10 inches. The quake brought with it a tsunami capable of unfathomable destruction.
The cost in terms of human life and lives was staggering. Nearly 16,000 died. More than 6,000 were injured and 2,562 people went missing. 340,000 were displaced. Nucelar power plant Fukushima Daiichi suffered a meltdown and leaked cooling water. Radiation levels inside the plants reached 1,000 times normal levels.
This was the type of disaster that transcends generations; the sort of shocking, life-changing event that comes to define some people’s entire lives. One of the affected souls was Ikuo Yokoyama. Yokoyama, 29 at the time, lost three family members in the tsunami, as well as his home.
Just over a year later and more than 3,000 miles away, Peter Mark, a beachcomber in British Columbia, found a shipping container not far from the Canadian shoreline. Upon opening it up, he found a motorcycle inside and was able to use a come-along and boards to haul the bike into the back of his pickup truck. The bike, as you may have guessed, belonged to Yokoyama, who was still living in a shelter.
Harley-Davidson stepped in. Using their extensive dealer network, Harley was able to locate the owner by the bike’s VIN thanks to Harley-Davidson Japan. The Canadian dealer local to Mark was enlisted to get the bike set for transport. Initially, Harley-Davidson offered to restore the bike at their cost, and ship it back to Yokoyama. After assessing the damage, Harley-Davidson realized a great majority of Yokoyama’s motorcycle would need to be replaced. They offered Ikuo a brand-new motorcycle to replace his 2004 Softail.
According to the museum, Yokoyama declined respectfully, not wanting to be a “tall blade of grass among a shorter lawn.”
“Since the motorcycle was recovered, I have discussed with many people about what to do with it. I would be delighted if it could be preserved in its current condition and exhibited to the many visitors to the Harley-Davidson Museum as a memorial to a tragedy that claimed thousands of lives. I am very grateful to Harley-Davidson for offering me an opportunity to visit the museum, and I would like to do that when things have calmed down. At the same time, I would like to meet Peter, who recovered my motorcycle, to express my gratitude. Finally, I would like to thank all people around the world once again for their wholehearted support of the areas hit by the earthquake and tsunami. I would like to ask them to help convey messages from the Japanese people about the tragedy of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which was a disaster of historic proportions,” Yokoyama said.
Ikuo Yokoyama is all class in my book. I’d be proud to ride a mile next to him. His story, I feel, naturally resonates with motorcyclists more than most people. Imagine your pride and joy in this shape. Imagine the rest of your life being so badly changed that this wasn’t even high on your list of priorities. One day, Ikuo Yokoyama was riding around on his Night Train. One year later, he didn’t even have a home to call his own.
Harley, of course, honored Ikuo’s wishes, as the photos show. I am complying with Ikuo’s request as best I can by reminding you half a decade later to take pleasure in the things that are easy to take for granted. Clean water, a warm bed, and boots on your feet are big blessings we sometimes forget to value appropriately. The lives of your loved ones and friends are fragile and fleeting — celebrate them while they are with you. If a nice day happens to come along, maybe taking a motorcycle ride should rate a little higher on the ol’ “to-do” list. Who knows which ride will be your final one?
As the article title mentions, this bike can probably remind you of what's important much more personally in a way that my awkward, clumsy words will not. Take a sec and listen.