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Old 07-18-09, 03:25 PM   #1
BengeBoy 
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Some impressions of bikes in Japan (w/pics, includes white bike and food, but no pie)

Hi,

Was in Japan on vacation for 10 days and though I did no cycling I took a few snaps of bikes as I traveled around. Thought you might be interested in some bits and pieces about the bike scene in Japan - or at least the parts I visited (largely around Tokyo and Kyoto).

Of course any generalizations from a brief visit are likely to be completely inaccurate, and I've not really dug into much real information beyond a few glances at some Japan cycling sites before I took the trip. In any case...

I think there are several things that most North American cyclists would notice right away in Japan:

1. The most common kind of bike is the sort of cheap city bikes that the Japanese call "mama charis," explained here:

http://www.japancycling.org/v2/info/...amachari.shtml

2. Bikes are used a *lot* for everyday transportation and errands, at least in urban areas (not as much as Scandinavia, but lots more than the U.S.).

3. It's legal to ride bikes on the sidewalk, at least in big cities like Tokyo

4. Lots of bikes left on the street, and even parked in apartment building garages, aren't locked, or secured only with very thin cable locks.

Here are some mama chari's parked outside a shrine in Kyoto:



..and a bunch of mostly unlocked bikes outside the Kyoto train station...



In addition to the ubiquitous mama chari's, I saw a few e-bikes being used as commuters/utility bikes; and a fair number of folders. Most of the folders I saw were relatively simple, but this was a particularly nice Bianchi (and also the beefiest lock we saw):



I also saw something we don't get much in the U.S. - sporty non-folding bikes with 20-inch wheels. The advantage of these I suppose is they are pretty sporty but are easier to store in cramped quarters than a bike with full-sized wheels.

A Raleigh in the (wonderful) Tokyo Hands hardware/housewares store:



Tokyu Hands -- which you really *must* visit if you go; it's the world's most amazing tools/hardware/hobby store -- also had this white bike. I include it here only because I know some of you favor white bikes. I think this brand, Tokyo Bike, may be the private label brand for the Tokyu Hands store:



I only saw a few riders on drop bar bikes or folks wearing riding kit during our time there - and, despite the amount of time that our FG crowd in the U.S. spends lusting over Japanese track bikes, I only saw one Keirin bike on the street (although it was a great looking 3Rensho in Shibuya). I did stumble across a bike store in Tokyo (the Shinjuku neighborhood) that was selling lightly used sport bikes - Treks, Specialized, Colnago, etc. And there was a recent article in a Tokyo Magazine saying that "sport" riding is booming:

http://metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/recent/cars_bikes.asp


The cycling highlight of my trip occurred last Saturday, when I was cruising around the web from our hotel room in Kyoto, and looked up the website for Grand Bois bicycles, which I thought was in some small town nowhere near anyplace I would be going. As some of you may know, Grand Bois has been written up for their custom-made randonneur bikes, built in the French tradition, and also for designing a line of tires made by Panaracer and imported into the U.S. by Bicycle Quarterly. To my delight, I discovered that the "small town" where Grand Bois is located was actually a suburb of Kyoto, so that afternoon I hopped on a train and went out to visit.

Grand Bois has bikes made to its specs, and also restores classic bikes and sells vintage lightweights. The shop had two Rene Herse and two Alex Singer bikes when I visited, as well as a number of classic Italian and French bikes and frames hanging in the shop.

I posted these pics last week on the Long Distance forum:



A customer rode up on a beautiful Grand Bois, and there was a Toei already in the rack next to it:



I met the owner/proprietor, Ikuo Tsuchiya, who was quite hospitable, though the shop was busy. We were able to communicate enough to get across the idea that I'd read about Grand Bois in Bicycle Quarterly (the editor, Jan Heine, owns a Grand Bois city bike he reviewed recently). Mr. Tsuchiya also appeared to have almost every issue of Bicycle Quarterly on a shelf in the office; when I mentioned I was from Seattle he recognized Davidson from their regular ads in BQ.

Inside, there were a couple of new Grand Bois bikes, which (after asking permission) I shot from outside:





More great Grand Bois photos from their own website (which includes directions to the store, if you're interested):

http://www.cyclesgrandbois.com/cycle_type/index.html

Last edited by BengeBoy; 07-22-09 at 11:20 AM.
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Old 07-18-09, 03:35 PM   #2
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Given the highly advanced transportation network in Tokyo, including everything from small delivery vans to motor scooters, I was surprised to see some very traditional cargo bikes in the market area. Like most tourists, we visited the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, where we saw a number of great cargo bikes, like this Bridgestone:



And this National (which I assume is Panasonic?):



I also thought you might appreciate this warning sign in a park near Kyoto:




No 50+ post would be complete without a mention of food. Japan has amazing food, everywhere you go -- even Western-style pie (we had no pie, though I did have some great cheesecake). I'd had really good food on my past business trips to Japan, but this was my first leisure trip there and I was pleasantly surprised at how great *all* the food was we ate, even the stuff we grabbed in a hurry outside some tourist spot when we had no time to look around for anything decent. Of all the places I've been in my life, I'd have to say that Japan and Italy have the best food, or at least the most readily accessible "hard to eat a bad meal" food. Italy gets a slight edge because of the preponderance of gelato stands every few hundred yards in the big cities...but the food halls in Japanese department stores almost make up for it.


So I leave you with one food shot. Nor a particularly great photo, but just to mention - this, along with pickled vegetables, rice and soup -- was the 6th course of an 8-course lunch...


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Old 07-18-09, 04:04 PM   #3
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My youngest daughter spent about 6 mo. in Fukuoka (southern Japan) for Jr. semester abroad a couple years ago. At the University of Kyushu, just about everyone has one of those beater bikes. My daughter had to get one for transportation, even though she had shoulder surgery a couple of weeks before her trip.

Locks were non-existent.

I'd really like to get a Kalavinka fixie some day. http://www.kalavinka-bikes.com/

PS - Great photos!
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Old 07-22-09, 11:13 AM   #4
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Great report!
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Old 07-22-09, 04:28 PM   #5
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Now, the bikes are nice, but I am very impressed with the drain cover!
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Old 07-22-09, 05:21 PM   #6
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I enjoyed reading your report.

Thanks for posting!!
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Old 07-22-09, 06:14 PM   #7
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Nice write up and thanks. I would love to have Toei. I'm not really a steel bike fanatic but, I've seen one and it was indeed beautifully constructed. I think they can be ordered through Jitensha Studio, I think. Anyway, I might have to succumb to the temptation someday.
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Old 07-22-09, 07:11 PM   #8
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Cool. I've always wanted to visit Japan...Thanks for sharing the photos!
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Old 07-22-09, 08:48 PM   #9
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Students use bikes there to get around

My son just finished his studies at Ritsumeikan University at Kyoto. His major is International Studies and he got to study abroad for one semester. It's strange that their semester began in April and is just now concluding.

He said students typically buy a bike for around $50 when they get to school for commuting purposes. He's done a lot of touring on that bike but has complained that it does not have gears. (Who knows if it's fitted right). He'll sell it back now that's school is over. But I got to thinking what a great bargain that bike has been. He's explored the town and has taken some great photos. All in all, it's been a fantastic experience for him.
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Old 07-22-09, 10:59 PM   #10
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Thanks for the great pics! Some years ago I spent a summer is Tsukuba (north of Tokyo) and rode everywhere on a 3-speed bike. It was great fun.
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Old 07-22-09, 11:47 PM   #11
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....thanks for your kind comments. I am truly humbled by your appreciation of my simple photos.



...Japan was a wonderful place, but....




...the talking dog poop was kind of scary.

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Old 07-23-09, 08:12 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by East Hill View Post
Now, the bikes are nice, but I am very impressed with the drain cover!
Glad to see someone else noticed that under the Bianchi, too!

Never been to Japan, but the best single meal I ever had was in Mendoza, Argentina - steak and Cabernet to die for! (everything beef-related in Argentina is sooo much better than here in the USA!).
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Old 07-23-09, 09:49 PM   #13
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"I also saw something we don't get much in the U.S. - sporty non-folding bikes with 20-inch wheels. The advantage of these I suppose is they are pretty sporty but are easier to store in cramped quarters than a bike with full-sized wheels."

Google "mini velo bicycle"- I've seen these referred to a time or two before.
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Old 07-24-09, 10:21 PM   #14
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Thanks for the report and pics, Benge!!
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Old 07-25-09, 01:26 PM   #15
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Benge--

Thanks for the report. I lived in Japan for a loooong time, in Yamashina, north of Kyoto. Your report brought back a lot of memories. What "small town" was Grand Bois located in?

Just a couple of years before leaving Japan (in 2001), I got back into cycling and had a bike shipped over from the U.S. Couldn't find one my size while living over there, but then I didn't know about Grand Bois.

By the way, did you notice the screaming, screeching brakes on the mamacharis? Since people ride on the sidewalks, they tend not to change the brake pads, so the screaming and screeching lets everyone know a bicycle is coming toward them.
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Old 07-25-09, 01:30 PM   #16
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Quote:
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What "small town" was Grand Bois located in?
Here's a link to the map - I lost my English translations of everything (I used Google Translator), but I remember the train station was Hanazono, I forget which line it was (not the JR line). It's on the northwest corner of the Kyoto metro area...it's about a 25 or 30 minute train ride out from Kyoto's central train station.

http://www.cyclesgrandbois.com/access/index.html
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Old 07-25-09, 05:44 PM   #17
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Looked at your map. I think it's on the Keihan line, but it seems they have a bunch of new lines since I was there. I know the general area. It's near Ryoanji--the temple famous for its sand and rock garden.

Thanks for posting.
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Old 07-25-09, 05:54 PM   #18
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I use to go to Japan for 1 to 2 weeks about 3 time per year back in the late 80's and early 90's. I got to travel some there. There is some very pretty areas but for the most part I never found it that enjoyable. The food was great for about 4 days, then I could not stand it anymore. Great you got to experience it.
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Old 07-26-09, 01:24 PM   #19
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My observations from a few days biking in Kyoto:

The sidewalk riding is enhanced by the fact that they in essence have riding "lanes" in the middle of the sidewalk, and the pavement is kept pretty smooth. (Still, however, pretty sluggish riding).

The locks were usually a thin wire or the "donut" style which is attached to the rear wheel and can be closed to "lock" the bike (though the bike itself isn't attached to any other object). Says a lot about the culture that these locks are sufficient.

Biking on a $10 rental was by far the best way to get around Kyoto.
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Old 09-17-09, 07:23 AM   #20
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wow you saw a lot of the nicer bikes of Japan than we did on out two week tour of Kyshu and down time in Tokyo and Kyoto. Almost everything we saw were mama chans. Nice pics. Thanks for the thread.
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Old 09-17-09, 07:56 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rideon7 View Post
It's near Ryoanji--the temple famous for its sand and rock garden.

Thanks for posting.
+1 - Yes, Gran Bois is easy walking distance to Ryoanji. I walked there after visiting the bike shop; it's maybe a 10 minute walk.
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Old 09-17-09, 04:15 PM   #22
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Just wondering if even their "mama charis" bikes are equipped with Shimano. Are they all Shimano?
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Old 09-17-09, 08:11 PM   #23
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That was great! Very interesting and fun to read and see.
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Old 09-17-09, 10:42 PM   #24
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Very interesting. Thanks for writing about your trip.
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Old 09-18-09, 02:05 PM   #25
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My mother is Japanese, and I went with her and my stepfather to visit the relatives in Japan back in 1983. My grandmother had just died, so we were there for the memorial and I got to meet my 3 uncles (one in Saitama, near Tokyo; one in Osaka; and one out in the country on Kyushu, at a place called Nakatsu) and 1 aunt in Fukuoka. We were mostly at Nakatsu, and I wished I had brought my bicycle, as the country roads were devoid of traffic, there were these neat villages nearby, and there was a paved road that went up this big mountain overlooking the rice fields, called "Hachimen" ("8-sided"). I did get to tour the Miyata and Shimano bicycle factories (I had credentials from a Canadian cycling publication). I recall that riding on the streets in the big cities would have been pretty risky and not too enjoyable, but then I didn't get the chance to try it.

I think it's really funny that all the Japanese bikes have Roman lettering on them. Japanese people must be extremely literate; they use four character sets (the Chinese pictograph characters, a phonetic alphabet for native words, a phonetic alphabet for foreign words, and Roman letters that pop up every now and then). I never saw any bikes with any lettering on them but Roman. If you ever want to travel around Japan, I highly recommend learning the basic native phonetic alphabet ("Hiragana"). All the train stations have the name of the location in Hiragana, and not necessarily in Romaji.

I was impressed by the honesty of the culture - you can leave most bikes unlocked and they'll still be there when you come back. Not sure if this would apply to "good" bikes. We rode on the trains a lot, and tons of bikes are parked at the stations. I was also impressed with their traffic enforcement, although nobody pays attention to the lane stripes. Most Japanese drive white cars with air conditioning on all the time (it gets HOT there, especially on Kyushu), and if you ever get caught driving while drunk, you lose your license. Period. So guys are very careful when drinking.

And all the centuries-old houses with satellite dishes, and convex mirrors at most of the intersections...the memories flood back!

Luis
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