Yoji ‘George’ Hamawaki, Who Made the Good Times Roll at Kawasaki, Has Died
If you ever hummed along to the happy advertising jingle, “Kawasaki lets the good times roll,” or if you ever owned or even rode a Kawasaki here in the U.S., you have Yoji “George” Hamawaki to thank.
“Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. is saddened to share the news that former Kawasaki executive Yoji ‘George’ Hamawaki passed away on April 18, 2023,” the company said in a statement yesterday.
Hamawaki established the Kawasaki brand of motorcycles in the United States in 1966, and later made Kawasaki the first Japanese brand to establish a manufacturing presence here when the company invested $20 million in a plant in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1974.
“Although foreign manufacturers have made strong inroads in the United States automobile and motorcycle market, production and assembly here are a novelty,” read a 1974 New York Times article of the move.
Hamawaki was integral to all aspects of the brand, working with U.S. executives and employees to do everything a manufacturer needed to do to become successful in the U.S. market.
“In 1966, Mr. Hamawaki established American Kawasaki Motors Corp. and began working closely with Alan Masek to develop the Kawasaki dealer network across America with comprehensive policies, advertising materials and service training,” Kawasaki said in announcing Mr. Hamawaki’s passing. “While building the dealership and sales network, Hamawaki and Masek also studied the consumer needs and model features and communicated that information back to Japan.”
That studying lead directly to such iconic motorcycles as the 1969 Kawasaki H1 and later, the “New York Steak” 1973 Kawasaki Z1 900, which solidified Kawasaki as a superbike brand not only in America, but across the globe, the bike maker said.
Kawasaki was basking in high-performance at the time, having set a quarter-mile record for the Mach III 500 H1 and Mach IV 750 H2, established multiple national race wins, and won an AMA 500 Motocross title. All of these successes targeted performance enthusiasts, as did the national advertising campaign at the time, “Come Out Ahead on a Kawasaki.”
But that wasn’t enough. The idea was to expand the brand’s appeal beyond its motorsports success to the average rider.
“Created by advertising agency Cunningham & Walsh, the ‘Kawasaki lets the good times roll’ tagline was an absolutely perfect fit," read a press release from June of 2016. “In February ’73, the new slogan launched in the form of two 30-second commercials aired on national network television and local spots in selected markets—mostly during sports shows, primetime adventure series and feature movies—plus one-, two- and three-page black-and-white and color print ads. TV and print reigned supreme for reaching consumers, and the campaign always showed Kawasaki Good Times in an amusing manner that was fun to watch. A gorilla commuting on a streetbike? Check. A trail rider motorboating through a river? Even better. Newlyweds riding side by side on their new Kawasaki motorcycles? Perfect!”
Hamawaki oversaw it all, and his stamp remains on the company to this day.
“Mr. Hamawaki was the foundation for the Kawasaki brand as we know it today, having pioneered the brand as the Good Times Company,” Kawasaki said in a release announcing its founder’s passing.
Hamawaki stayed with the brand until 1978, when he became president of BMW Japan, then president of Japan’s Digital Equipment Company, followed by induction into the Japan Automotive Hall of Fame.
“The ‘Let the Good Times Roll’ campaign was so effective that Kawasaki trademarked the tagline, and it soon became an essential part of the company’s DNA,” Kawasaki said in the 2016 release. “It remains that way today, because 33 years later, the Good Times are still rolling strong.”
So if you have a Kawasaki, go take a lap in Mr. Hamawaki’s honor. If you can do it safely, for go ahead and pop a wheelie. And sing that song while you’re doing it. You know the words.
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