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?

4 comments:

  1. Here in Melbourne I guess I'd have to say its the 'bakfiets' or cargo bike riders who seem to be everywhere these days, with loads of kids or groceries. I also like all the businesses using them, the baker, gardeners, the window cleaner and curry delivery man, just to name a few. Locally I also like seeing the kids who travel independently to their local primary school by bike, and the fact that so many elderly people are getting back on their bikes!

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  2. I'm so happy to read this! I hope you don't mind a bit of brutal honesty but I stopped following TBB on twitter a while back because I felt there was too much focus on the negatives of cycling in Japan, and I needed my "cycling in Japan happy place" to remain a happy place :) I feel the rage daily when cycling here too though, so I get it, but I'm glad for this post that just focuses on the positives.

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    1. Frances, I know where you're coming from. Japan is an incredible place for cycling, as is Tokyo and its surrounding mountains and countryside but being more "news focused" rather than "experience focused" I started to paint everything in a bad light. Its easy to fall into a pattern of translating Japanese newspaper articles and adding a few comments, but the newspapers always focus on the negatives.

      I sat down to write this article after reading an article entitled "5 cyclists we love to hate". My plan was to write a similar article about Japanese cyclists and their bad habits, but it was then that I flipped back through some recent articles and realized how negative my angle had become so decided to write about cyclists I love instead.

      I'm glad you enjoyed the article, really appreciate your honest comments and hope to see you on twitter again sometime soon!

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  3. Cycling Tokyo and Japan has been an obsession for me. A couple of years ago I took the plunge and over a xmas /new years I flew to japan with my BF Pocket Llama. I rode in Tokyo for week and Osaka and Kyoto for a week each. Then I took the plunge and cycled the Shimanami Kaido, starting from Okayama and the Kibi cycle path. This wet my appetite and I went back in January and February of 2013, cycling from Narita city via the coast to Hamakanaya , a ferry across the bay onto Yokohama about turn and off to Shikoku.This year (2014) I turn 63 and will live in Tokyo for one month and study Japanese then head off on my bike to Koriyama turn left to Niigata with another left turn to Kanazawa via the coast, then onto Kyoto,Osaka via Lake Biwa all things going well. Love cycling in Japan much safer than around here in Canberra, we don"t have Jihanki or 7-11 every few klicks, besides aussie motorists are starting to seem like their English counterparts. But that said Adelaide and Perth ,with Melbourne are terrific places to ride.

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