Fuji Blue Sky Heaven is a tradition in Japan. It brings together the massive glut of Japanese Harley riders for two days of events, activities, food, and spectacle. While 2011 might not have been as huge as previous years, it did have something that recent events have lacked: blue sky. Thankfully the heavens stayed closed and more than 7,000 riders made the trip up from all over Japan to attend.
Blue Sky is an event organized by Harley-Davidson Japan and is its way of giving back to its customers while strengthening the Harley riding community. For the event, the whole of the massive Fuji Speedway complex, located around two hours out of central Tokyo, is booked out. The main stage and most exhibitions and shops were up behind the grandstand, while dotted around the huge complex were the 17 different campsites. A minor detail for this fact is that many of those campsites were on the circuit’s numerous car parks, so for some this meant a very hard mattress to sleep on.
Most people came with, at minimum a tent and many in fact with Harley brand tents. The more prepared among them had folding chairs and other luxuries, but considering the two-day nature of the event, one item not in short supply was beer.
Many people booked their campsites under group and chapter names, so a lot of areas had cars bring in key pieces of equipment, like BBQs and shelters. Most riders therefore loaded up their bike and rode in. Naturally, the accessories and bags ranged from beautiful carved leather and expensive official gear, to junk. It seemed a common way to carry more gear is to cut down a particular brand of hardware store metal shelving, and just strap it on the bike.
Getting around from the camps to the main event site was made easier thanks to a free bus service that continually looped the inner roads. Conveniently riders could also park their bikes in a number of designated areas.
After dumping their stuff and setting up camp, many people made their way up the mountain to the main exhibition area. It was here that the many shops and food stalls set up giving people a chance to grab a jacket or other accessories if they so wished. A lot of the merchandise was discounted and swift business was done over the two days. As for food, the usual favorites such as fried noodles, curry with rice, boxed lunches, and American dogs, a.k.a. deep fried battered sausage on a stick sold strongly, as did others, like kebabs and beef on rice.
What sets this show apart is that its more family oriented than some other Harley shows. There were kids’ activities and bouncy castles as well as a custom Harley competition and a rock concert. The custom Harley contest wasn’t as successful as hoped due to its entry requirements being that all modifications must be road legal. On this, one Harley official quietly commented, “Yeah, many of the hottest bikes are actually at the campsites.” The main stage also saw fire breathing exhibitions, a talk show, and music at various times throughout the day.
Whereas some shows are all about the ladies, Blue Sky is all about the riders. While, thankfully, none of them were strutting their stuff up on stage, there were a few promo girls around to keep the guys happy. Their role was to officiate bingo games, pose for photos, and model outfits much to the appreciation of the, by then, mostly male crowd.
Aside from bike displays, the exhibition area also saw Harley’s offering on an issue still fresh in the minds of most people around the country: the then-recent Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. While the event was held two months later, it’s an issue that was still fresh in the country’s mind and naturally affected Harley riders and vendors. In memory of the victims, a number of large flags were set out for which anyone could write messages of support. These flags were then later sent out to the affected region for support. As well as this, Harley Japan had sent money and supplies, while Harley-Davidson America donated a large amount to the Red Cross.
As for the company, two Harley dealerships were lost in the disaster, while another had its ground floor showroom damaged by the tsunami. It’s not known whether they will be rebuilt.
Part of the excitement of Blue Sky comes from its live exhibitions and demonstrations. This year saw top fuel drag bike rider Takeshi Shigematsu demo his 2.5L methanol fueled monster down Fuji’s 1.5km straight. This bike runs an 11-inch slick tire meant for a car and is capable of a top speed of around 370 kph (230 mph). Of the run, Takeshi said, “Yeah, it’s a bit scary. When there is no traction the bike pulls to the left, but when it hooks up it pulls to the right.” Takeshi’s first of two runs of the Saturday resulted in the aforementioned no-traction situation, and an impressive tire-smoke trail.
Later at the top end of the facility three talented stunt riders hit the tarmac. Shinsuke and Tori, riding a Buell XB9S and Harley XR1200 impressed with a variety of two- and one-wheeled stunts while sporting minimal clothing or safety gear. Tori’s key trick this year was to get the slightly panicked MC to straddle the tank and commentate while he pulled the bike on its rear wheel. Dandy Kagawa’s main stunt was pulling long, high-speed slides while balancing the bike on one metal-soled boot. This allowed extreme angles of lean, and while arguably less spectacular than the other riders, no one could deny the skill and risk on display.
Without a doubt though, the most popular activity was the Chapter Parade. This involved around 1,000 riders gathering in the Fuji paddock area before riding out for a lap of the 4.5km racing circuit. There is a certain pride among riders participating in this, and a strong sense of community and group identity among riders lining up and waiting to go. Many people were chatting, laughing or checking out what people were riding and wearing. The parade itself was flush with chapter flags, laid back cruising, and plenty of thumbs-up to the cameras.
If people got bored of their own bikes, they had an opportunity to try new ones. Fuji’s drift track was taken over for the sole purpose of test rides. All anyone needed was a valid riding license and they could then line up, grab a helmet and gloves, and try out what new models Harley has to offer.
Ending the first night has traditionally been preceded by a fireworks display, and 2011 was no different. Bad luck struck, however, when thick fog rolled in only minutes after the show started and blocked the view of the explosions. Instead of colorful flowers of light, event goers had to make do with equally spectacular soft illuminations of the circuit and surrounding valley.
By the following evening most people had packed their bags, loaded up the bikes, and moved on. For the lucky ones, home was maybe an hour or two away, though some people would be riding through the night to get back in time to go to work on Monday. The common element for most of these riders? They’ll be back next year: rain, hail, or Blue Sky. B