If you were asked to find a new motorcycle grand prix rider in Japan, a place called Chiba, on the eastern side of the Greater Tokyo Area, would be a good place to start.

The city - which has produced Tetsuya Harada, Shinya Nakano, Youichi Ui, Shoya Tomizawa and Hiroshi Aoyama - will next year boast the first full-time Japanese MotoGP rider since Aoyama in 2014: Takaaki Nakagami.

Nakagami is rising to the premier-class on an Idemitsu-backed LCR Honda after spending eight seasons in 125cc and Moto2, claiming 14 podiums and two wins in the intermediate class.

"Shinya Nakano lives very close to me. Also Tetsuya Harada, Shoya Tomizawa, Hiro Aoyama - all only 20 minutes from my house!" said Nakagami. "Many good riders have been born in Chiba. It's like a riders' factory!"

And the Chiba production line doesn't look like stopping any time soon. Those already following in Nakagami's footsteps include Moto3 racer Tatsuki Suzuki.

But Nakagami's own childhood hero came not from a place half-an-hour north of central Tokyo called Saitama: "My hero was Daijiro Kato. That's why even now I put his number, 74, on my leathers."

Kato's tragic death robbed Japan of a rider many felt could finally hand the country its first premier-class world champion.

Instead, despite the pivotal role its manufacturers have played in the history of motorcycle grand prix, a Japanese rider hasn't won a premier-class race since Makoto Tamada in 2004.

Perhaps for that reason the sport lags behind in the popularity stakes, something Nakagami feels a responsibility to try and help change.

"In Japan, football or maybe baseball are the number one. Then sumo. Then after that Formula One or MotoGP. So it's not like in Europe, especially Spain and Italy, where it seems to be football or MotoGP!" he said.

"Let's see for the future. Next season I'll be in MotoGP and if I do my best and can get some super-good results maybe it will change. This is my small target for the future. We'll see."

Born on February 9, 1992 - the year before Harada romped to the 250cc title in his first full grand prix season - Nakagami's road to MotoGP began in pocket bikes at the age of 4.

He then progressed 'step-by-step' through the ranks, becoming the youngest ever winner of the Japanese 125cc Championship, in 2006, moving to Europe, making his grand prix debut the following season and getting the racing number he still uses to this day. 

“When I was 14-years-old I was racing in the Spanish championship with the MotoGP Academy managed by Alberto Puig and he chose number 30 for me. I liked it and I decided to maintain this number in the future."

But after struggling to make an impact during two seasons in 125GP, Nakagami returned to Japan and began racing 600cc machines with almost instant success. That led to a grand prix return in the Moto2 class, where he has raced full time since 2012.

Speaking English confidently and based - like many racers - in Barcelona, Nakagami has long adapted to the European way of life. Even the food.

"I live in Barcelona and have stayed in Europe for many years already. There is no stress to travel because there are so many races in Europe and nice food.

"Of course sometimes I miss Japanese food, but if I stayed in Japan I would lose 24 hours to go there and back from each race! So it's better to stay in Europe and I like Spain. The conditions are very good for riders living in Spain."

That includes the training opportunities, although Nakagami is openly cautious about off-road activities.

"Unfortunately we cannot do many tests [with race bikes] so if I want to train I have to ride other bikes, but I don't want to take too many risks. That's my first priority.

"I train with off-road bikes, but some riders have been injured and it's difficult during the season because sometimes it can be too risky.

"At the moment I haven't tried motocross, with the jumps. Without jumps of course I try and also I ride dirt track, because it's good training for the physical side and for control of the bike and tyres."

Nakagami - who qualified the Harc-Pro Honda in fifth place for this year's Suzuka 8 Hours, only to fall while chasing down race leader Michael van der Mark - looks set to battle former Moto2 rivals Franco Morbidelli and Thomas Luthi for top MotoGP rookie honours in 2018.

"The Rookie of the year Title is doubtless my target for next season," Nakagami said.

All three are on RC213Vs and, while Luthi is yet to debut due to injury, so far it looks like being a close contest between Nakagami and reigning Moto2 champion Morbidelli.

Nakagami was just 0.081s slower than Morbidelli at the official Valencia test, then a mere 0.069s behind the Italian's best lap at the private Jerez test. The other rookie, Xavier Simeon on a two-year old Avintia Ducati, was 1.3s behind the Honda pair at Jerez.

Team-mate to double MotoGP race winner Cal Crutchlow, Nakagami will next be on track for the official Sepang test in late January.

“Cal has a lot of experience with the MotoGP machine. I think I’m very lucky to have him in the garage for next season. I will try to learn as much as possible from him. And he is also a very funny person."

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Always enjoy the rookie of the year contest, interesting to see who can adapt to the big bikes. Maybe Simeon.