Today’s amazing person is the legendary rally driver, Mr Kenjiro Shinozuka, the man who sparked the craze for the Mitsubishi Pajero. A man known as the representative of Japan and its manufacturers in the world of cars, and a rally driver who helped the industry flourish. Such marvellous driving stimulated a whole generation to follow in his tire tracks
The childhood that opened his eyes to a love of vehicles
Editorial department of Amazing Japanese people Daily (from here on referred to as E): Thank you for coming today. On the eve of the Amazing Japanese People Daily renewal publication, we are honoured to be able to cover your story, Mr Shinozuka.
Mr Shinozuka (from here to be referred to as S): Thank you for having me.
E: sorry to ask this question so soon into the interview, but what is it that led you to become a top star of Japanese rally history. Please tell us the secret of your success.
Perhaps you had a much more active childhood than other children?
S: No, no. In fact, I was quite sickly until I reached the age of 10. I often caught colds or was running a fever, now that I think about it I may have had asthma.
It wasn’t so severe that I had to be hospitalised, and I was able to regularly attend school, but I wasn’t able to sit calmly and study. I was the sort of child that didn’t stand out at all.
E: That is completely unexpected.
S: My parents were naturally worried that my illness might worsen. So one day unexpectedly my family drove to the embankment in Tamagawa, where there was a horse riding club. My father said to me, “why don’t you try horse riding”, so I started horse riding. This was in my 2nd year at elementary school. As I practised riding my body also grew stronger.
E: It wasn’t a car, but it seems that you liked things you could ride, right. How long did you do riding for?
S: In total I think it was for about 3 years. Whilst I still had a small body I couldn’t do jumps, so I competed in dressage competitions.
Whilst I never managed to win a first prize in a Tokyo competition, I managed to get 2nd and 3rd a few times.
E: As expected. From that time, you were able to quickly gain results right. Is not horse riding a rather unique choice for making your body strong, unlike for example, a martial art? It’s also quite an expensive hobby, I don’t think that a regular family would choose such a method.
S: At that time we were reasonably well off (laughs).
E: I expect your father had a job linked with cars?
S: He was a salaryman, but it was completely unrelated to cars. I rode horses for 3 years and after that I became obsessed with bicycles.
E: Of course, another thing you can ride!
S: Yes, I’ve always had a soft spot for things you can ride. With bikes I didn’t take part in any competitions, just regular cycling.
I did this until I was a middle-school pupil. When I entered high school it was a different era to now, and rather than 18, at 16 years old you could get a licence for 360 cc light motor vehicles and 2 wheelers, so I drove some bikes and light vehicles. Of course this wasn’t rallying, just touring.
E: Always riding (laughs). Was there ever a moment where you had the tingling sense of excitement like with your later rallying days?
S: Up to this point, there wasn’t really that sort of thing (laughs).
E: I can’t believe it, at this point you didn’t even dream of difficult competitive driving. Did you do horse-riding or cycling with your family?
S: Not really, my older brother didn’t have a weak body so he had a very different life. I was a sickly child so I was introduced to the world of horse riding for that reason.
E: That’s right isn’t it. Mr Shinozuka, your body was a bit weak, so to toughen it up you started riding, which led to a fated chance.If your brother had also done likewise, perhaps the two of you would have become rally drivers together.
S: My older brother is just a normal salaryman, you know.
E: Having such a famous younger brother, surely many people at your brothers workplace ask him about you?
S: Maybe. Rather than about me as an individual, perhaps people talk about my family.
E: Without a doubt it’s like that. (Mr Shinozuka’s wife (Hiroko Miura, used to be an actress and is the elder sister of Tomokazu Miura.)
By the way, your family runs the boarding house La Verdura in Kiyosato, right, and you yourself help out with the hospitality side of things right?
S: That’s right, I help.
E: What a luxurious boarding house. Your wife, Hiroko Miura has also written a recipe book called “Easy Hospitality Cooking”, a truly amazing family.
S: La Verdura is Italian for “the vegetables”. Each room is named after a different vegetable. Therefore, we use lots of free local vegetables.
The salad is the simplest and uses 10 different types. Everyone reading, if you get the chance please come and visit.
E: Thank you. I’ll definitely go. So, during high-school your rode a bike, but after that you moved on to cars. At that time, did you have any experiences that led you to your later life?
S: That’s right. During my school years I enjoyed driving, but I didn’t even think about entering any rallies or races. The first time I entered a rally my car started sliding as I raced around the Fuji 5 lakes. As I fixed my car’s heading I felt that tingling excitement for the first time. In that moment my wish to replicate the sensation was born.
E: That really was an encounter with destiny.
S: Yes. Though, I think that anyone would have felt the tingling at that time. However, I think what you do with the experience is different for different people, whether you meet the experience headon, whether or not you pay attention to it or not. Your age and the timing of the event can have a big impact. I was lucky to feel it in my teens, but had I felt it in my 40s maybe nothing would have come of it.
E: For that reason it was good luck right.
S: Yes, to that purpose it was great. Is it not like meeting a person of the opposite sex? There are people whom you get tingling feelings when you meet them. There are also people it’s not like that with too right. After all it’s a wide world, there are lots of things to try. To meet that amazing person you have to meet many other people.
E: I see. This is some persuasive love advice.
S: In that same way, from my 4th year at university I drove a Mitsubishi rally, and that naturally led to me getting a job at Mitsubishi.
If I had driven a Honda car then I’d have probably ended up working at Honda.
E: Whether it’s timing or fate, this was destiny right?
S: Maybe, but, I was doing the rally driver job, but I didn’t get any special treatment, you know. I was just a regular company entrant, I had to do office work too.
E: For a company entrant to drive in rallies is in no way normal you know!
S: It’s the same for Mitsubishi, but from the start as it was me joining the company they thought they’d have me enter rallies too.
So nearly as soon as I joined the company they entered me into a rally. Now these days it would seem like a corporate sponsorship. Normally sponsored competitors work in the morning and practice after lunch. There are even people that don’t work at all, right. In my case, as an employee of Mitsubishi my mission was to make rally driving more popular, so if I didn’t work hard I wouldn’t be able to do rallying any more.
E: Doing both is difficult isn’t it.
S: But the conclusion was good. People believed in my, because I was taking the job seriously.
E: The weight of the words of a business like person is great, you know. On the other hand, there are also free racers who don’t join companies.
S: Afterwards many more came. With regards to that, when you have a company budget it’s good, but if the company falls on hard times they’ll just say “let’s finish”, and cut you off, without a penny for food. For that reason its difficult making proposals to a company, you have to do what you say you will do. Being a member of a company gives you a good perspective on what the company does and needs.
E: In the corporate world the budget is a problem, whether for a basketball league, or volleyball league, athletes and teams can feel the effects of cost cutting.
S: Yes, so, the rallies I partook in were a way for the company to show off their superior technological advancements more than to directly impact car sales, similar to general marketing, as a way to increase profits, an important job. With this sense of purpose I was able to face my battles.
E: This bright atmosphere had a sudden change with the 1973 oil crisis (continued in dabe continuedy 2).
(To be continued tomorrow)
Day 2,tomorrow, we will cover how after becoming a company employee the free sailing enjoyable rally lifestyle that Mr Shinozuka was just starting to experience was punctured by the arrow that was the 1973 Oil crisis, and the following turbulent years, that led on to the Paris Dakar Rally and it’s dramatic events.
Please wait with great anticipation.
Interviewer：ALLES Writer：MAYA English：Tim Wendland
1971 entered Mitsubishi Motors
1978 won at Dakar Rally
- Books “The Era of Rally Loving Idiots” （2006.Nikkei BP）
- Official HP https://shinozukakenjiro.jp/
- Shinozuka family owned hotel La VERDURA