How Costco is killing Japanese cycling culture

Byron Kidd

Its true, Costco, Ikea and other large retailers are slowly eroding the usefulness of the bicycle in Japan as they promote a car centric approach to shopping.

In Japan large stores have historically tended to cluster around highly trafficked railway stations close to major population centres rather than along heavily trafficked highways out in the sticks.  Companies such as Costco and Ikea however set up business in the most inconvenient of locations for Japan's massive base of city dwelling, cycling shoppers, on large, cheap plots of land, far from stations and population centres making them largely inaccessible by bicycle. In some locations the line for parking stretches over many kilometres on public roads, creating even further congestion, not to mention polluting the air with all those idling engines.  How is this healthy for Japan?

Both Ikea and Costco offer home delivery, should an adventurous cyclist or user of public transport make the trek to one of their stores, but judging by the size of their car parks there is no mistake who their target market is.

To be fair I should point out that more and more often large Japanese owned shopping malls such as Aeon are popping up in all manner of sparsely populated locations essentially inaccessible by bicycle. Surely this is an aspect of western culture we should not mimic.

I sincerely hope this trend towards car centric shopping begins to fade here in Japan, before it negates the convenience of the bicycle completely.

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  1. I live in Paris and used to go by car to Ikea stores in the suburbs wasting hours in the journey and traffic jams...
    Now if I need something from Ikea, I just buy it second hand and close from my home from the thousands of ads that can be found on the internet. Then I use my bicycle, add the trailer if needed, and carry whatever it is by bike.
    Not only the items are about half price, but I save the cost of fuel, the time masted in the car, the hours wasted in the store's labyrinth, and also the hours of assembly time for pieces of furniture.
    Another advantage is that second hand furniture is more likely to have already relesed it's content of toxic chemicals before it reaches your home ( formaldehyde, fire retardants, paint and varnish solvents, etc.)
    Boycot all those distant stores and buy only second hand; this is the best thing to do if you want to save your wallet and our planet.

  2. I have read that car buying is in decline in Japan, so perhaps the edge of town strategy is a bad one for these retailers.

    When I visited Ikea in Yokohama I went by train and their courtesy bus, and had the stuff delivered.

  3. Interestingly, I live in Stockholm, Sweden the country where IKEA originates from. Here, we have two IKEA stores in our city, but both are highly accessible by public transport and have parking for bikes at the stores. One of the worlds largest IKEA stores is near a metro station, has buses arriving from all over the city including free shuttle buses from the central train station in the centre of the city AND has bike only pathways free from cars to the store.

    If anything, it's not IKEA that is killing the bike culture in Japan, it is urban planners in Japan allowing these companies to build in such a way that the parent company in Sweden actually doesn't encourage.

  4. Interesting article and I have some sympathy with your view. I cycled the 10km to my local Costco in Kawasaki and felt quite pleased that I managed to cycle back home with large packs of lamb, minced beef and salmon .. till I looked behind me and saw a trail of animal blood spatters disappearing off into the distance! I also cycled to Ikea in Shin Yokohama (got lost going, and on the way back!). I now take the bus to Costco and the free shuttle bus to Ikea!

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