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:
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:
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):