May 24, 2015

"Scared Straight" is a concept developed in the United States in the 1970's as a measure to deter juvenile crime by forcing "at risk" youth to visit prisons where they partake in tours, learn about harsh prison life directly from inmates and receive counselling. Often the youth are placed in in-your-face confrontational situations with inmates with the aim of literally scaring them out of a life of crime. But decades of research have revealed that such programs are not only ineffective but may also harm youth, and actually increase recidivism rates among participants. A report presented to US Congress in 1997 evaluated over 500 crime prevention methods and placed Scared Straight programs in the "what does not work" category. Despite this evidence such programs are still in use around the world today.

Yes even here in Japan, the concept of being "Scared Straight" has taken hold, but in a rather different way. In Japan we aim to scare our children into cycling safely by exposing them to a series of simulated accidents between bicycles, pedestrians trucks and cars at events hosted by local Junior Highschool, and I was lucky enough to be invited to view one for the first time over the weekend.

I've always had a negative view of the Scared Straight cycling safety programs based on my own experience as a child in which if I saw stuntmen simulating bicycle accidents as school in the morning I'd be at the park with my friends doing the very same in the afternoon, because when you're 12 stuntmen are cool and bicycle safety is a drag.  But I was determined to attend this event with an open mind, leaving all my preconceptions behind I set out to be educated.

Upon entering school grounds I was immediately given a handout, the first half of which listed a series of high profile accidents in which cyclists have injured and even killed pedestrians, including an incident in 2013 where the mother of a junior ighschool boy was forced to pay almost $1 million in compensation to the family of the victim injured by her son. This individual accident has become the boogieman with which the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, schools, lawyers and insurance salesmen have been using to scare everyone in the community into purchasing cycling insurance. Not a single piece of bicycle safety literature, nor poster goes out without making a mention to this tragic high profile case. Oddly no cases of motor vehicles killing cyclists or pedestrians was mentioned in the literature, nor was there a table listing fatalities caused by cyclists against fatalities caused by motor vehicles which would show cycling and cyclists are much safer than motorists. No, this event was about bicycle safety which in no way involves cars right?

I took some deep breaths and reminded myself I was here to learn, not pass judgement, well at least not until the spectacle was over.

Proceedings began with a speech by a representative of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department who basically went over the material in the handout which aside from scary stories about dangerous cyclists killing pedestrians included some road accident statistics and a quick rundown of what the police department consider the 5 most important rules of cycling:

  1. Always cycle on the road 
  2. Always cycle on the left hand side of the road
  3. When cycling on the sidewalk pedestrians have right of way (this contradicts the 1st rule)
  4. Obey all the rules (which means this list is more than 5 rules)
  5. Wear a helmet

When the officer stressed to this group of 12 to 15 year olds that they should cycle on the road I wanted to call out from the back of the crowd "Do you really believe our roads are safe enough for that?" But simply rolled my eyes and held my tongue. During his talk in which he noted that there had been a drastic decrease in traffic deaths the officer almost dislocated his shoulder patting himself on the back, but I wanted to ask if creative book keeping had not done more to reduce the numbers as victims of traffic deaths who expire more than 24 hours after an accident aren't recorded as road deaths. But I was not there to judge.

By the end of his talk the crowd was getting restless, they were here to see the action, bring on the gladiators and let the show begin.

When the car travelling at 40km/h hit a stationary bicycle with a dummy in the child seat it made a frighteningly loud sound and sent the dummy spinning through the air. This bought giggles from the children and gasps from the parents gathered. Many shocked parents averted their eyes, one mother even decided at this point it was all too much for her and went home. Maybe there is something in this I thought as the adult motorists in the crowd really do have no idea the damage a vehicle travelling at what many consider low speed it does them good to see what could be the consequences of their actions behind the wheel.

Presenters used this opening as an opportunity to chastise the children for laughing, driving home that cycling safety was a serious matter and that they should think of themselves or their family in a similar situation. Not so funny now is it? But for most of the children in attendance this was akin to the circus, 100% pure entertainment.

Following this two cyclists holding umbrellas collided. Entertaining, but hardly educational my cynical self noted. But after this the presenters demonstrated the difference in stopping difference between braking with two hands rather than just one which they emphasised is even greater in wet conditions. Seeing stopping distance for real, not as simply some lines and measurements on paper is much easier for people to relate to I admitted, thinking maybe this event had some merit after all.

A later demonstration involved 4 cyclists each doing something considered dangerous. One cycling with headphones, one cycling on the wrong side of the road, the two others I don't remember. As the cyclists collided with the rider coming in the wrong direction the entire group was struck by a car from behind. Students were asked to identify the 4 things the cyclists were doing wrong. I wanted to identify the fifth, that the driver of the car was not paying due attention to the environment around them and should be driving more safely in the presence of cyclists and pedestrians, but this was a bicycle safety event I reminded myself while biting my tongue.

Keeping myself in check I watched the remainder of the show, but was almost unable to contain my frustration at one point. The example consisted of a cyclist riding along the sidewalk in a straight line, crossing a pedestrian crossing with a green light before being struck by a left turning vehicle. What was the cyclist doing wrong in this case the students were asked. "The cyclist was on the sidewalk", said one despite sidewalk cycling being condoned in the police departments coveted 5 rules. "The cyclist should have slowed down before entering the crossing", said another. "The cyclist should have paid more attention" said a third. "The cyclist should get off and push their bicycle over the crossing" observed another incorrectly.

It was by this point in the training I knew the brainwashing was complete, there were two parties involved in the accident yet by now the students could only see the wrong doing of the cyclist despite the elephant in the room, or in this case the 4000 pound car in the crosswalk. The victory for motorists was complete.

Adding insult to injury the presenters explained to the students (none of whom are old enough to drive themselves) the concept of a blind spot, and that at the point when the cyclist entered the intersection the driver was physically unable to see the cyclist and hence the accident was unavoidable. Unavoidable? WTF? I almost popped a seam.

At no point was it discussed if the motorist could have taken extra precautions to avoid an accident before entering the intersection, the driver was absolved of all blame because the cyclist was doing everything wrong .. cycling on the sidewalk, which the police condone, and crossing an intersection on a green light.  The concept of strict liability in which the larger heavier road user is responsible for the safety of the lighter more venerable ones was not mentioned at all. The motorist was a victim of poor car design resulting in a blind spot, and struck the cyclist as it was the cyclist who was not taking due care. I wanted to scream!

So by the end of the event my opinion of Scared Straight cycling safety campaigns was not changed. Speaking with students afterwards revealed they were all impressed by he stunts, yet few had leaned any lessons of about bicycle safety. It was as I suspected, a circus, but even going into this with a preconceived opinion I was in no way prepared for how the the actions of the motorist in each of the simulated accidents was in no way questioned. The speed at which young minds were moulded to consider the motor vehicle blameless, or at the very least totally completely ignored as a factor contributing to each accident scenario was astounding. It certainly was educational for me to attend, but for all the wrong reasons.

May 09, 2015

In late April the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced a plan to establish 400 kilometres of recommended bicycle routes around the city before the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Targeting 7 areas the plan aims to provide a continuous network of safe cycling routes, but there have been little details forthcoming as to what from these "safe cycling routes" will take.

Surprising to many is the fact that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government regulates just 2,000 km of roads in the capital with the remaining 20,000 km being regulated by municipal governments such as wards, cities and towns. In the past this has hampered the development of continuous linked bicycle routes as there has traditionally been little co-ordination between the responsible parties. A central part of the plan announced last month was that the National Government, Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Local Governments would work together to establish a network that effectively ignores political boundaries and provides continuous service to cyclists.

But given the perceived lack of space that planners lament when discussing the proposed implementation of separated cycling lanes it is likely that Tokyo's "safe cycling routes" will be nothing more than a combination of 1 meter wide painted roadside lanes, sharrows (which are little more than direction indicators), and shared pedestrian and cycling paths (otherwise known as sidewalks). We must remember that this is a plan for "safe cycling routes" not a blueprint for protected bicycle lanes. In short, it's a rather disappointing effort.

Also disappointing is that this plan is focused entirely around the Olympics and offers very little value to the residents of Tokyo who, we must not forget, will ultimately be footing the bill.  The plan targets 7 areas surrounding Olympic venues and major tourist areas including Asakusa and the Tokyo Sky Tree, completely ignoring major stations, business and shopping districts, around the city ultimately limiting the networks usefulness to a short period while the Olympics are actually taking place.

It is overly obvious that little research has gone into creating a cycling network for the city. Nobody was out on the streets counting cyclist, mapping dangerous areas, or surveying cyclists needs. Research, that our Olympic planners have chose to ignore, shows that central areas of the city, the areas of these proposed safe cycling routes, have much lower cyclist numbers than surrounding areas and that pouring millions into infrastructure in these areas totally ignores the areas that could benefit from safe cycling infrastructure. Tokyo taxpayers should not stand for this inappropriate us of their money.

Cycling modal share by ward, shows that peripheral wards cycle more.
Outlying wards is where cycling infrastructure us needed.

Some may say "build it and they will come", but I would prefer cycling infrastructure is built where there is a need first.

Sadly this is purely a plan for the sake of the Olympics, completely detached from the reality of cycling in the city, and for that it is worthy of absolutely no praise at all.

The Olympics have given cycling advocates in Japan a unique opportunity to have cycling discussed at high levels of government, unfortunately it seems that those in positions of power can not see beyond the Olympics. They have no knowledge of the great benefits, financial, health and environmental that cycling can bring not only cyclists, but to the city itself, they're blinkered by the very event that put cycling on their radar.

As a cycling advocate I've put great effort into increasing public awareness about the benefits of cycling, and have worked hard to increase cyclist numbers in Tokyo, but in Japan where the majority of the public already understand the benefits and importance of the bicycle as a part of everyday transport I now realise that my efforts have been misguided. What Japan really needs is for cycling advocates to focus on educating politicians, officials, and those in positions able to affect change as to the benefits of everyday cycling so they can make informed decisions for the future.

Many decision makers see cycling infrastructure as little more than a frivolous waste of money catering for a fringe group whereas research from the Netherlands and Denmark concludes that a small investment in cycling infrastructure more than pays for itself by promoting healthy lifestyles that reduce a populations dependence on health care, increases worker productivity, and even results in a lower number of sick days taken by employees.

Each person on a bicycle is not only saving the city money, but contributing to the local economy by shopping close to home. Each person on a bicycle is reducing the cities total greenhouse gas footprint. Each person on a bicycle is reducing congestion on our roads, and public transportation network. Each person on a bicycle is an important part of the community which they travel through, not just a mere observer.

Moving ahead I will be refocusing my efforts from promoting cycling to a public that already understands its benefits, to making those benefits known to policy makers and people who are in a position to make a change.

Through my research, observations, and almost 20 years of cycling the streets of Tokyo I have built a vast collection of knowledge about cycling and cyclists in this great city and wish to share this knowledge with people who can use it to make a difference and am always available for discussions or to make presentations on the topic. Please don't hesitate to contact me.

April 19, 2015

Over the course of six months, while his girlfriend interned in a company in Tokyo, young graphic artist Florent Chavouet wandered the streets with a pouch full of coloured pencils and a sketchpad visiting many of its most well known and even some lesser known neighbourhoods sketching scened of everyday life in the city.

This 208 page book is filled cover to cover with beautiful hand drawn pictures from his journeys. The artist captures more than street scenes and architecture paying particular attention to smaller details such as posters, packaging and what many of us living in Japan consider to be most uninteresting everyday objects which when looked at through the eyes of a visitor are fascinating parts of Japanese life.

 Chavouet is also a wonderful people watcher, his sketches capture the various fashions of each district in the city, from elegantly dressed ladies in Ginza to the street styles of Shibuya and Shimokitazawa. His drawings of people are filled with movement and actions, these people were actually doing things hen sketched which he captures in the smallest of details. Handwritten comments often accompany pictures letting you know just what was going on in the scene at the time, or why a particular sticker on a lamp post caught the artists attention.

I love that in each area he visits the artist has paid particular attention to the Koban, or police boxes that can be found all over the city as he showed me something I've not noticed in almost 20 years of living here. He showed me that the architecture of police boxes varies greatly around the city. You'd think these essential public facilities would all adhere to a particular style to cut costs but the truth is there are an amazing number of different styles of Koban. In addition to this more than one page is dedicated to capturing the antics of the local constabulary, including random bicycle registration checks.

Taxis, politicians, laundromats, train stations, garbage bins, vending machines, parks, bicycles, people, stamps, power lines, point cards, cafes, advertising, absolutely anything you can imagine about Tokyo is captured in this book. The artists attention to detail is truly amazing and he even treats us to a detailed look at his bicycle.

Detailed hand drawn maps abound, and the fact that they re slightly dated drives home the point that Tokyo is an city that is undergoing continual change.

When this book arrived my daughters studied the most minute details of every single page from cover to cover, unable to put it down for hours. Over the course of a month I would flip through the book revisiting scenes I'd viewed before always finding something I overlooked on the last viewing, the details are truly amazing.

If you love Tokyo as I do then I'd highly recommend Tokyo on Foot.

April 13, 2015

Last Sunday 319 people and an equal number of bicycles gathered under clear blue skies in the tulip filled gardens of the Embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands in Tokyo to partake in the third Tour De Holland to Flanders, Belgium bicycle ride an annual event hosted by the embassies of the Netherlands and Belgium, sponsored by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

I arrived slightly before 9am to find the gates of the Embassy flung wide open (a rare sight indeed) and dismounted to walk my bicycle down a slightly curving driveway lined with trees and flowering tulips to a courtyard filled with hundreds of cyclists all enjoying a complementary breakfast, coffee and Van Houten hot chocolate. I grabbed myself a coffee before joining Deputy Head of Mission Cees Roels for a chat and a stroll through the sea of parked bicycles which consisted of almost every style of bicycle imaginable, mountain bikes, road bikes, mamachari, folding bikes, cargo bikes, and more Dutch bikes than I could have believed existed in Tokyo. Surprising there were also a high number of DoCoMo bike share bicycles indicating quite a number of casual cyclists among the crowd.

It was not only the range of bicycles that was surprising, but also the range of riders. I learnt afterwards that of the 319 registered guests 43% were women, an unusually high number for a cycling event in Japan. Attendees ranged in age from under 10 to over 70 while the group consisted of people from all walks of life including middle age men tight fitting bike wear to ladies in frocks clearly enjoying the warm weather after a week of dreary wet days leading up to the event. (In its three year history, this event has consistently been rained on!)

After a photo opportunity with the heads of the respective embassies, sponsors and other high ranking officials the ride got underway with groups of 10 to 15 cyclists setting off at regular intervals through the embassy gates. Rather than having each group lead by someone who knew the route each rider was given a map, and volunteers were posted at regular intervals cheerfully announcing where to turn left, right or continue on. I quite enjoyed that style of ride as it gave me the freedom to stop for photos without holding up the group as I could easily join the  next line of riders who cruised on past or continue along alone in confidence that volunteers would see to it that I did not stray off course.

The 13 kilometre course began at the Dutch Embassy, and circled Tokyo Tower before heading in the direction of Toranomon Hills. No surprisingly not a single cyclist in my group took advantage of the shiny new, but dangerously narrow, bicycle lanes on Shintora Doori preferring to take their chances on the road instead. After a short stop at Hibiya Koen to collect the KLM stamp in our "passports" we continued on ast Tokyo Station to the Imperial Palace where we mingled with even more cyclists enjoying 8 lanes of road closed to traffic on the Imperial Palace cycling course. From there we cycled through the gardens surrounding Nippon Budokan before winding our way through the backstreets, guided by even more cheerful volunteers before completing our journey at the Embassy of Belgium.

At the goal we were treated to Belgium waffles, fries and friendly conversation in the embassy's courtyard gardens. I took the opportunity to speak to as many European guests as I could to learn how they feel about cycling in Tokyo. The overwhelming consensus was the despite the lack of infrastructure it was a joy to cycle in Tokyo as the drivers were perceived to be more courteous to cyclists, something the people I spoke to attributed to the fact that the majority of motorists also being cyclists themselves. Others stated that suburban Tokyo's narrow streets acted as natural speed limiters for vehicles, and that the lack of sidewalks, forcing cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles to mix, did more to improve the situation for pedestrians and cyclists than worsen it.  Surprising comments indeed from nationals of countries with the finest cycling infrastructure on the planet.

But for me the highlight of the day was hearing Ambassadors Radinck J. van Vollenhoven and Luc Liebaut speak proudly of European cycling culture. Citing over 45,000 kilometres of cycling paths between their two countries they compelled Tokyo's cyclists to visit and experience cycling as it should be experienced everywhere. They also spoke briefly of the numerous benefits of cycling including social, economic and health benefits pointing out that cycling plays an important role in long life expectancies of Japanese citizens.

In short this was a wonderful event on so many levels. It gave many of us access to the beautiful embassy buildings and gardens which are normally off limits and also gave us the opportunity to share in conversation and exchange ideas with cyclists from many different countries, backgrounds and walks of life. Amusingly it allowed us to literally cycle from The Netherlands to Belgium without leaving Tokyo as technically the embassies are the territory of their respective nations.  But what I found most striking was how approachable, friendly and "normal" the Ambssadors and other top officials were, a point that was driven home at the end of the event after most people had already left when the Dutch Ambassador simply mounted his bicycle announced his departure and simply cycled off into the distance!

March 31, 2015

The moment it was announced in September 2013 that Tokyo would host the 2020 Summer Olympics cycling activists set to work on bringing cycling and cycling infrastructure to the attention of the Governor and the Tokyo Olympic Committee. Citing examples of how cycling infrastructure grew in London as a result of the Olympics in 2012 advocates seised the opportunity to use the Tokyo Olympics for similar gains.

Is this the final design of Tokyo 2020 Olympic bicycle lanes?
In the blink of an eye a new bicycle lane stretched across the Ariake area on the islands of Tokyo Bay where construction of Olympic venues was just beginning. It was with mixed feelings that I cycled the first of the proposed Tokyo Olympic bicycle lanes. Of considerable length the sidewalk level lane was a pleasure to ride, but was essentially a two meter strip painted on the sidewalk which was expected to accommodate bicycle traffic in two directions.

Feeling both excited about the new infrastructure, but disappointed that considering the space set aside for pedestrians at the site that more space was not allocated for cycling I approached a contact on the 2020 Olympic Marketing team for some answers. My contact spoke with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government official responsible for transport planning around the Olympics who assured us that the existing lanes at the site of the Olympic venue construction were merely temporary and that the final specifications for cycling infrastructure had not yet been decided. Encouraging for sure, but given that these so-called temporary lanes were an exact match of new lanes on Shintora-dori I wasn't entirely convinced.

Two meters is awfully narrow for a two way lane.
So imagine my surprise when hosing a Cycling Infrastructure Tour of Tokyo over the weekend the temporary bicycle lane suddenly stopped at a barrier beyond which appeared to be more permanent form of bicycle lane than mere paint on asphalt.

A 200m section of the existing asphalt bicycle lane, and sidewalk, close to the Ariake Sports Centre is currently being replaced by paving bricks. Continuing on from the existing painted bicycle lane is a 2 meter wide section of darker paving stones separated from the road and pedestrians by what will hopefully become hedges of flower beds.

Given the more permanent nature of this lane can we assume that this is the infrastructure that has been decided upon for the site of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? While more permanent and more effectively separated by a physical barrier preventing cyclists and pedestrians from mingling, the lane is still much too narrow for travel in both directions. But from a survey carried out over the weekend it appears that all around Tokyo 1 meter is the accepted width for a bicycle lane regardless of the differences in design or location. One meter is barely acceptable for one way travel. By allocating just 2 meters for two way travel between physical barriers which prevent cyclists from being able to swerve out of the way of inattentive oncoming cyclists is a recipe for disaster.

Existing "temporary" lane.
So once again we're left wondering is this the style of bicycle lane that has been decided upon for the 2020 Olympics?  We also have to ask why Japanese planners and engineers are not looking towards cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Utrecht where cycling infrastructure has been perfected and is a proven success for ideas rather than repeating the mistakes of the past?

Cycling infrastructure isn't rocket science, the answers, the design, the expertise is already out there. There simply is no excuse for getting it this wrong.

March 25, 2015

Last week Hyogo Prefecture passed a new ordinance requiring bicycle owners to purchase liability insurance making it the first (and hopefully last) prefecture in Japan to make such a misguided decision. The new law, which comes into effect on October 1st, applies to all cyclists regardless of the purpose of their bicycle journeys and is said by the Governor to be a response to a rising number of incidents where cyclists have injured and in some cases killed pedestrians. 

Bicycle retailers will be asked to confirm if customers have liability insurance at the time of sale and encourage those that don't to acquire an insurance policy. Parents and guardians of underage bicyclists will be required to purchase insurance for them, and companies will be encouraged to cover the cost of insurance for employees who ride for business purposes.

The Hyogo Traffic Safety Association will begin accepting insurance applications, which range in price from ¥1,000 to ¥3,000 and provide maximum compensation from between ¥50 million and ¥100 million, from the beginning of April.

But similar to the nationwide bicycle registration laws, there is no penalty for violating the new ordinance which makes one wonder just why the Hyogo Prefectural Government went to such lengths, and indeed expense, to implement a law that nobody will feel the need to obey. 

Despite being a "mandatory cycling insurance" law most cyclists will opt out without punishment. The government can "ask" retailers to "encourage" people to purchase insurance all they like, but at the end of the day retailers will still sell bicycles to uninsured customers. They can "suggest" companies cover employees who cycle till they're blue in the face, but can't actually enforce anything because the law carries no penalties.

What an epic waste of taxpayers money. How much did it take to plan, write, pass and implement such a stupid ordinance? How much will be spent promoting this "requirement" that isn't a "requirement" at all?

Since a landmark case in 2013 when the Kobe District Court ordered a mother pay the extra ordinate amount of ¥95 million in damages after her son struck and killed an elderly pedestrian, not a week has gone by without a newspaper article playing up the danger that cyclists pose to pedestrians, and pointing out that in such cases the cyclist is financially liable. This sudden media attention has made it easy for politicians to claim "increasing bicycle accidents between cyclists and pedestrians" without having to back these claims with hard facts. The insurance industry has been whipped into a frenzy at the possibility of expanding into an emerging market and have no doubt been fanning the fire by lobbying local Governments to pass laws that would make bicycle insurance mandatory.

So rather than provide infrastructure that would see pedestrians, cyclists and motorists all safely separated, and result in fewer accidents the Hyogo Prefectural Government have chosen to maintain a dangerous environment and place an additional financial burden on cyclists in the form of mandatory insurance which isn't really mandatory at all. 

This is the kind of idiocy we as cycling activists in Japan have to deal with on a daily basis.

How long before some misguided Prefectural Government implements a mandatory helmet law reducing cyclist numbers forever? I dread the day.

March 14, 2015

Bikevibe Tokyo is the first edition of the highly awaited Bikevibe Semiannual City Journal Series edited by Norway based writer, designer and photographer Mari Oshaug.

This beautifully produced softbound book consists of 200 pages packed with full colour photographs and enlightening articles that celebrate Tokyo's cycling culture and Japanese bicycle design.

Within its pages you'll discover a range of articles and interviews about cycling in the mega-city of Tokyo including stories about Tokyo's vintage bicycles, the first graduates of Shibuya's frame builders school, a look at the history and future of Tokyo Bike belong with an overview of Japan's famous (and not so famous) cycling brands which reveals a number of facts even I wasn't aware of.

Among the interviews is a short interview with me, how I arrived at where I am today, and my thoughts on cycling in this wonderful city of ours. For the infrastructure addicts out there I penned an article for the book on Tokyo's recent efforts to improve cycling infrastructure in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But by far one of the biggest attractions of this book is the hundreds of full colour photographs of bicycles and cyclists accurately documenting the current state of cycling in Tokyo, Japan.

As the Bikevibe Tokyo has been self published there are only a limited number available so be sure to get yours before they run out!

March 08, 2015

I grew up with a close cousin 4 years older than myself, his name was Michael and he was born with Down Syndrome. In our family he was never "disabled", instead he was "special". OK, so "special" was merely a poorly disguised cover word for "disabled", I know that now, but now I also know Michael truly was special.

Michael was gifted with a photographic memory. He stored away every moment he experienced and constantly reminded us of family events, who was present and what was said long after everyone had forgotten. He used this amazing memory to effortlessly remember names of players and statistics for his favourite sports of Australian Rules Football, cricket, tennis and golf. His favourite food alternated between a solid roast meal and a simple Vegemite sandwich. When sick, as he often was as a child, Vegemite sandwiches were the only thing that kept him alive.

Growing up with Michael helped shaped me into who I am today, he taught me compassion in a way nobody else could and for that I'm grateful. At an age when children point, stare and make rude comments about anyone "different" I had already learned to accept people based on more than their appearance or abilities and defended him fiercely. Often I'd cry "He's not dumb/stupid/fat/weird, he's special!" before getting into a vigorous childhood scrap.

As an adult Michael was entitled to a Disabled Pension, yet he spent his days painting surveyors pegs and sorting bottles at a local recycling facility. His payment was the pension he was entitled to all along. I've always been proud that he worked rather than simply accepted a handout.

As we grew up my life moved on, while his routine barely changed, and we saw less of each other. At the time he passed away I had been living overseas for over a decade with a family of my own and had not spoken to him for years. It pains me that I did not do more for him, a simple phone call, a present from Japan in the mail, anything.

He was special. He shaped me. I owe him.

In 2010 I ran the Tokyo Marathon successfully raising over $650 for Down Syndrome Tasmania who surprisingly asked if there way a particular way I'd like the money to be used. Being a parent of two children myself nothing brings me more pleasure than seeing them having a good time. A trip to the ice rink, an afternoon of horse riding, the chance to jump on a trampoline, small things to us, but to a child they're happy memories that will be treasured forever.

Some choose to support research, I choose to support fun times.

Frivolous? Maybe. Worthless, most certainly not.  

March 21st, 2015, is World Down Syndrome Day and I'd like to ask that if you're a regular reader who appreciates the time and effort I put in to Tokyo By Bike, or you've occasionally stumbled upon the odd article that struck a chord, then please support me by supporting my favourite charity, Down Syndrome Tasmania. Nothing will encourage me to serve you better than seeing the donations rack up and imagining the smiles those donations will bring to kids who deserve a good time.

This donations page will be active for 2 months, and I think $1,000 is a modest goal, so please give as little or as much as you can afford. Its all appreciated.

I will tweet my heartfelt thanks for all non anonymous donations.

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