Shunji Tanaka was Kawasaki’s head designer. He was responsible for bringing a sharper aesthetic to the Kawasaki motorcycles at the time. Models like the ER-6N, Ninja ZX-6R and ZX-10R were designed by him in the past, and he was also responsible for breathing new life into the Kawasaki lineup and ushering a new era of desirability for the brand’s motorcycles.
Even to this day, we see hints of Tanaka’s work in Kawasaki motorcycles offered in the showrooms. Back in the 80s and 90s, there was a lack of sharpness with regard to the designs of Kawasaki bikes, following his influence in the early 2000s, Kawasaki bikes began to take a new form, especially with regard to the Ninja and ER series of the brand. The rest of the models followed suit with models under the Z, Versys, and even H series of Kawasaki adopting a more modern take on Tanaka’s original concepts.
It wasn’t just motorcycles for Tanaka. He also had a hand in designing the legendary Mazda MX-5 Miata. He was a part of the team of Mazda in the MX-5 program. Being able to revolutionize the design language of a brand is one thing, but to contribute to the design of what is arguably the most popular two-door roadster-sports car in the market is another. The Mazda MX-5 is still being sold to this day, but we’re seeing a very stark difference in style compared to the original models of yesteryear.
It goes without saying, but Tanaka left a legacy that will be remembered for generations to come. He died at the age of 75, but it is safe to say that he will continue to live on in the automotive industry having a hand in some of the most iconic and most loved machines in the market. As enthusiasts ourselves, we appreciate all of his contributions to the automotive and motorcycling industry, and to that we give him a salute as he passes on into the afterlife. Rest in peace, Tanaka-san.