Honda was born in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, Japan on November 17, 1906. He spent his early childhood helping his father, Gihei, a blacksmith, with his bicycle repair business. At the time his mother, Mika, was a weaver. At 15, without any formal education, Honda left home and headed to Tokyo to look for work. He obtained an apprenticeship at a garage in 1922, and after some hesitation over his employment, he stayed for six years, working as a car mechanic before returning home to start his own auto repair business in 1928 at the age of 22.
In 1937 Honda began producing piston rings for small engines, which led to manufacturing small engines to be used in motorcycles, and then in 1948 he started producing complete motorcycles as president of the Honda Motor Company. Honda turned the company into a billion-dollar multinational that produced the best-selling motorcycles in the world. Honda's excellent engineering and clever marketing resulted in Honda motorcycles out-selling Triumph and Harley-Davidson in their respective home markets. In 1959 Honda Motorcycles opened its first dealership in the United States.
Honda remained president until his retirement in 1973, stayed on as director, and was appointed "supreme adviser" in 1983. His legendary status was such that People magazine placed him on their "25 Most Intriguing People of the Year" list for 1980, dubbing him "the Japanese Henry Ford." In retirement Honda busied himself with work connected with the Honda Foundation. He died in 1991 from liver failure.