Japanese Women competing in Motorsport

Japanese Women competing in Motorsport

Japanese women competing in Motorsport has evolved over past 5 decades. From the pioneering racer of Tomoko Igata who became the first Japanese woman to compete in the FIM Road Rally World Championship in 1994, to Keiko Ihara, the first woman from Japan to complete the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2014.

Tomoko Igata FIM Women Legend Award in 2016

The challenges were plenty, for these revolutionary women were not only resolute in pursuing racing careers against all male competitors, but also pushed aside traditional and cultural norms on Japanese women place in society. The cropping of hair by Igata and Tomiko Yoshikawa – rebel of her time in 1976- sent clear message to all that women racing were to be respected for performance on track, irrespective of gender.

The breaking down of barriers received boost when Ihara raced overseas in British Formula 3 Championship in 2000. Setting precedent on what Japanese women could achieve racing outside Nation, Keiko allowed sense of self-belief and individualism to carve her professional and personal goals on gaining successful results in single-seater racing.

Keiko: ‘There were language and cultural barriers to overcome, so instead of focusing on trying to be a perfectionist, I focused on what I was capable of doing’. 

Miki Koyama and Juju Noda represent new era of Japan’s women racing Motorsport. Following pathway from racing Go-Karts, to Formula 4 and taking up opportunities to race F3, has resulted in amazing experiences for both women. Miki was selected for 2019 WSeries and completed 6 Race Championship in 7th place Overall. Juju remains sensational rising star having raced Formula 4 at Okayama International Circuit at 11 years of age in 2017. In 2020, Juju completed Danish F4 Championship winning her debut race and setting 2 fastest laps over the Series.

Teruki Kitahara G-speed Tokyo supporting young riders at dirt track event.

Fostering growth of younger generation of female racers is fellow comrade Teruki Kitahara with his role at G-speed Tokyo. Encompassing mission of supporting young riders gain skills, experience and confidence on a bike, Teruki and crew have every reason to feel proud on what they have achieved.

Teruki: ‘We at GSPEED-TOKYO have been holding motocross schools for children and adult women since 2000. From 2004 to 2008, we contracted with KTM JAPAN to run a women’s professional race team’.

‘Currently, I am supporting female riders who want to play an active role in the world of Motorsport. As an activity to increase the number of young female riders, with the support of Honda Motorcycle Japan, we are holding an event where you can experience, practice and participate in races with rental motorcycles. The number of female motocross riders is increasing little by little’.

Manaka Kawai 2020 All Japan Motocross Female Class Champion.

Newly crowned 2020 All Japan Motocross Female Class Champion Manaka Kawai looks further afield for inspiration on achieving goals. In fact, when Italy’s WMX 6x Champion Kiara Fontanesi was invited to race in Japan at end of 2018, Manaka drew plenty of excitement upon meeting the World Women MX Champion.

Manaka: ‘When I saw Kiara Fontanesi racing I thought, I also want to play an active part in the World Championships! The purpose and admiration of my racing activities was born. This year I became the Japanese champion. In the future, I want to be in a position where Japanese children can feel what I felt when I saw Kiara Fontanesi’.

The articles below on Miki Koyama and Juju Noda appear in 8 page section covering Japanese Women in Motorsport, within first Issue of Women in Motorsport Magazine. Sales of magazine will be announced in New Year.

My special thanks to Teruki Kitahara and Masanori Inagaki. Words: Sharon Cox.



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