Works in the Design Center’s Planning Design Division. Born in Shizuoka Prefecture. Since joining Yamaha Motor, she has worked on color design for motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs and more. Her work also involves coordinating with relevant company divisions and outside partners to develop technologies for color creation and application. Since 2014, she has been handling design planning and proposals for model styling and color schemes at the Design Center.
The day of our interview was cloudy and quiet, and it seemed like rain might fall at any moment. We’d arrived early and had some time to spare so the crew and I wandered around the neighborhood to scout locations for shooting photos. Only a dozen or so feet away from the tearoom where we planned the interview, we found a perfect spot—a beautiful riverside area lined with sakura trees in full bloom.
Thirty minutes later, Yoko Kubota appeared, wearing a beautiful kimono. Graceful and fair of face, she moved with elegance and poise. I was—in a sense—relieved to see that come rain or shine, the dignified presence she had would be entirely unaffected. We got off to a great start with some shots under the rows of sakura trees before moving to the dimmer ambiance of the tearoom to continue.
At present, Kubota is planning the designs for new motorcycles primarily destined for ASEAN markets. However, this was somewhat hard to get a clear idea of what she actually does, so to better understand her and her work, we asked about what led her to where she is today.
“My first memory of riding being fun was when I went for a ride on the back of my aunt’s motorcycle. I think I was in kindergarten at the time, but I can clearly remember how great it felt. When I grew up, I had the good fortune to be hired by Yamaha and learned that my first assignment would be to the motorcycle engineering and development department. Thinking that I’d better learn more about motorcycles quickly or I wouldn’t be able to get very far, I got my under-125cc motorcycle license right away together with one of my coworkers. It was then that I fell in love with how riding energizes you, so that’s when it all started,” she says with a laugh.
A perfectionist at heart, it wasn’t long before Kubota had stepped up to a 400cc license and then to a full, unlimited bike license. During that time, she toured the country avidly, riding through Kyushu, Shikoku, Honshu and Hokkaido. At the urging of her coworkers, she also took part in off-road races. Kubota had turned into a hardcore motorcycle enthusiast.
“There are even times when I get ideas from motorcycles for which kimono to wear for the tea ceremony. A kimono has a dominant color but the obi (sash), decorative cord and other elements can significantly change the impression it leaves. I draw on the color schemes of motorcycles when looking to use supplemental colors to enhance the overall look of a kimono. The unexpected color combinations I’ve come up with often surprise fellow practitioners,” says Kubota, laughing. “Conversely, the color coordination of kimonos has sometimes inspired my work in motorcycle design. For example, a black or dark-brown seat can take on a modern, stylish look just by adding light blue piping or stitching. The unique color combinations of kimonos often give me ideas for motorcycle coloring.”
Being in a position of responsibility to oversee the entirety of a design project likely means that people butt heads a lot more often than not. However, Kubota explains that seeing what she said or wrote down slowly transform into a real and tangible form is what makes the process enjoyable.
”At companies like Yamaha, the voices of people who really believe in the power of design are particularly valued, and having the ability to bring a design to completion is very important, but it’s also something I find personally fulfilling.”
As our time came to an end, Kubota added, “When I want to do something I get started immediately, but then I often don’t continue it for long. But I’ve never gotten bored with sadō, probably because it is so incredibly deep and multi-faceted. I like that there are no quick and easy answers, and I feel very fortunate to have found a ‘way’ that will bring me a lifetime of enjoyment.”