November 13, 2013

Seven Kinds of Japanese Cyclists That Make Me Smile

A mother cycling on a mamachari with her child in Tokyo, Japan
I've spent too much time of late slamming the bad habits of Japanese cyclists on this blog, so I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that I love cycling in Japan, I love that cycling is such a natural part of everyday life in Japan and I love the wide variety of people who cycle here in Japan.

So to lighten the mood and focus on the good, here is a list of Japanese cyclists I love a little more than most:

1) Parents With Kids.

I cycle to work each morning as mothers are dropping their children off kindergarten by bicycle. Nothing makes me smile more than seeing parents cycling with children in seats front and back smiling, laughing and chatting away happily. This practise is much derided by people who have not experienced the delight of singing nursery rhymes at the top of their lungs while cycling with their children front and back. Its a wonderful practise and one I hope is never legislated out of existence.

2) Teenagers In Love.

Sure its illegal, but there is something lovely about seeing a young couple sharing a bicycle. Usually, but not always, the boy is pedalling away in the saddle while the girl sits on the back of the bicycle, sometimes with her arms around her suitor, other times she sits elegantly balanced side-saddle on the rack. On occasion the girl will stand on axle spikes (also illegal, and not at all romantic sounding) while resting her hands on the shoulders of the boy. Who was the heartless bureaucrat who deemed this innocent practise, one which all teenagers should experience, illegal?

3) Elderly People In Love.

Perhaps even more endearing than teenagers in love is the sight of a well dressed old man cycling by with the love of his life dressed in her Sunday best perched side-saddle on the back of his bicycle. If that doesn't make you smile then you must be one of the aforementioned heartless bureaucrats. I love that they're in love, I love that they still choose the bicycle for transport given their advanced age, and I love that they proudly stick it to the man by breaking the law.

4) Children On Bikes.

As a child growing up in Australia my bicycle represented freedom, I could go further faster with a bicycle than I could on foot. The bicycle gave me independence. I always smile when I see small children cycling to their after school activities, sports practise other events in Tokyo. I love that children choose to cycle and that the neighbourhoods are still safe enough for children to venture out alone.

5) Gadget Lovers.

There is one in every neighbourhood, the man who has kitted his bicycle out with every accessory imaginable, most scavenged from abandoned bicycles. Racks, mudguards, baskets (front, back and side), lights, holders for folded umbrellas, holders for open umbrellas, drink holders, bottle cages, bells, horns, mittens in the winter and electric fans in the summer.  He collects hundreds of spoke reflectors and insists on placing them all on his wheels at once. If you don't see him cycling by in his fisherman's vest with pockets for every other accessory, you'll certainly be able to locate him via the loudly blaring transistor radio in his front basket. I love that he loves his bike gear so much that he needs ALL of it on his bike ALL of the time.

6) Polite Bell Ringers.

It's no secret that Japanese cyclists are more at home on the sidewalk than on the roads. As a pedestrian its annoying, and sometimes startling, to hear the screech of brakes and a loud, aggressive, bell ringing close behind you. The bell is like a car horn, there are subtle differences between a polite toot and a "get the F&%K out of my way you moron" blast. When walking I've no problem moving aside for a polite bell ringer.

7) Unicyclists.

Yes, you read right. Elementary School children in Japan, in particular girls, go through a distinct unicycling phase. Both my daughters can ride a unicycle and I think that's awesome. Mastering the unicycle seemed impossible but they practised hard for months and now they can unicycle anywhere with apparent ease. Unicycling may have little practical value, but whenever my daughters feel like a goal is out of their reach I remind them of how they practised hard and overcame the seemingly impossible task of becoming skilled unicyclists. Learning to unicycle teaches children that with hard work and perseverance they can achieve anything. How can you not love that?

Sure its easy to focus on the negative cyclists in society, but they give the majority a bad name, I'd like to hear some positive cycling experiences from Tokyo, Japan and around the world for a change. Who are the cyclists you love and why?


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