The Japanese government has posthumously awarded the Order of the Rising Sun to Kunimitsu Takahashi. The revered motorcycle rider and race car driver passed away March 16 at the age of 82. The Order of the Rising Sun is the highest honor a non-government, non-royal individual can receive in Japan. Takahashi received the award for his contributions to motorsports.
Established in 1875, the Order of the Rising Sun is similar to the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the US. In Japan, it’s bestowed upon those who have made positive contributions to Japanese culture, advancements in their field, or for charitable works. There are very few individuals from the automotive or motorsports world who have received this honor. Others relevant to JNC readers include Soichiro Honda, founder of Honda Motor Corp., and Shoichiro Toyoda, former president of Toyota Motor Corp.
Takahashi’s life-long pursuit of racing began in 1958 at the age of 18. He went on to become the first Japanese to win a Grand Prix at the Isle of Man TT while riding for Honda. In 1964 he switched to autos, signing on as a factory driver for Nissan, where he helped the Skyline GT-R achieve its legendary 50 wins in Japanese touring car racing. He would repeat that phenomenon in the early 90s, helping the R32 Skyline GT-R once again dominate Japan’s touring car scene. Takahashi also won the GT2 class at Le Mans in a Honda NSX and led the Raybrig NSX team in JGTC and Super GT.
His storied career is too accomplished to recount here, but it’s worth examining in greater detail. Beyond the track, Takahashi also helped promote racing in Japan and worked to develop younger drivers, doing his part to keep the flame of motorsports alive. In 2020, he was awarded a Sports Achievement Award from Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. His kudos are well-deserved; it’s just a pity that Takahashi is no longer here to see how much his work has meant to racing fans and car enthusiasts.
Images courtesy of Honda, Nissan, MEXT.