icycling in Tokyo 2010


March 27 - May 10, 2010

Japanese flag

Cherry Blossom
Cherry Blossom

As soon as we settled into Blair's apartment, we started looking for bicycles. It is interesting to note that Tokyo in particular, but Japan generally, is very bicycle friendly. There are lots and lots of people biking around Tokyo. It is an easy place for bikers, as it is mostly flat, and it is accepted practice for cyclists to share the admittedly narrow sidewalks with pedestrians when there is no dedicated bicycle path. There are dedicated bicycle parking lots which charge 100 Yen (about a dollar or a euro) for overnight parking, and lots of random parking as well. If there's a fence or a pole, there'll be a bike locked to it. Strange to think that Beijing has lost most of its cyclists while in Japan the number is growing.

Within a week or so of arriving, Gerry spotted an ad on Craig's List for a bike and on a very cold, wet afternoon took a train out to a suburb west of Shibuya, bought the bicycle and promptly rode it back home. He was a very wet but very proud cyclist when he got home. Having no better place to keep it, we decided to store in our room.

The second bike took a few more days to find but also came via Craig's List. We bought it from a Mexican who lived, studied, and now worked in Tokyo and spoke excellent Japanese. Now we had a problem because try as we might, we really couldn't fit a second bicycle in our room. We tried storing it on the small balcony off the living room, but it was too inconvenient for our fellow apartment dwellers and so in the end we alternated, first keeping one bike in the room while the other we risked parking outdoors overnight, just down the road from our apartment. We were one of many and hoped there would be a kind of safety in numbers, because parking them there was actually illegal and bicycle theft was fairly frequent.

We had heard that most bicycles were stolen by drunken individuals who have missed the last bus/train home and don't have the money for a taxi. They take the next best thing and steal a bicycle, which they usually promptly abandon once it has served its purpose. Bicycles all have to be registered and all have a unique id number so they usually get returned to their owner, but more often than not with a broken lock. One of the bicycles we bought had suffered the fate described and had indeed been returned with a broken lock.

Although we were really happy to be on bikes again, we found it was pretty hard going, because these bikes, like the vast majority of bikes in Tokyo were what we used to call push-bikes. They had no gears and so had to be pushed uphill! We learned to get the most out of our muscle-power by standing up on the pedals to exert more force, but in the end our efforts backfired because we both developed knee problems as a result. We rode them lots of places and got quite adept at avoiding pedestrians. Only in the center of Shibuya and similarly crowded places were we forced to dismount.

January 23, 2011