09 June 2009

Ode To Japan

In this current climate of enthusiasm for the bicycle and all the efforts of emerging bicycle cultures to get their citizens back on bikes, most of the focus is often on Europe and the Anglo-Saxon world.

When we think of Asia, we all too often only think of the dwindling masses of cyclists in their blue Mao suits dominating the cityscapes and the country lanes of China, as well as the critical masses in India and other Asian countries.

Poor Japan. A wealthy and developed nation if there ever was one and what I often call the Third Great Cycling Nation, after the Netherlands and Denmark. And yet they get so little press.

Like in Netherlands and Denmark, they don't seem fussed. They just get on with it. You can't find bike parking outside train stations to save your life and there are cyclists everywhere you look, as I've posted about recently.

The video above is a great indication of how Tokyo, for example, is saturated with bikes. On my last evening I stood outside my hotel for about 40 minutes and just filmed as many cyclists as I could. This is an average Wednesday night in the Shibuya district. How does that compare with the big cities in emerging bicycle countries?

There are bicycles everywhere, outside every flat and house when you take a train through the country. Outside every train station there are thousands of bicycles.

We really should pay more attention to Japan's bicycle culture. In smaller cities there are often fine bike lanes but in Tokyo there are few. People just mix and mingle together, as you can see in the video.

The Danish ambassador, speaking with Tokyo's Governor on the subject of bicycle infrastructure, said that if Tokyo really wants to stay a world-class city they need to get moving on infrastructure like London, Paris and New York. It made an impression, I can tell you.

One of the amazing things about Japan in general is that when they embrace a trend they go to it full on. No cutting corners. It's the same with bicycles in general and the fixie fad in particular.

There is no consumer nation on the planet as dedicated as the Japanese. In Shibuya, Tokyo there is a massive department store called Tokyu Hands. There is nothing like it anywhere on the planet. I visited the bicycle department last time I was there and had a look around. This time, with the fixie fad in full swing, it was amazing to see the goods on offer. [I had to walk through the bathroom scale department and counted 32 different brands...]

Here in Copenhagen if I want fixie-like bike parts or gear, there is basically one cool shop. In Tokyu Hands you could have anything you wanted in 145 colours. There were cheap and cheerful bikes for kid transport and there were the craziest fixies - and everything in between.

Bendy Bicycle Thingys
With my baggage already filled with presents for my kids and wife, I wasn't in the position to go mad. But hey! I bought bendy bicycle thingys! Valves that make it easier to fill my tyres with air, instead of having to force the air nozzle between the spokes.
Bicycle Brolley Holder Back Racks
I bought an umbrella holder! Just because I could! It's for carrying your umbrella on your bicycle until you need it, something that is very common in Japan.

Then there was the back rack section. Okay, not THAT impressive, but I accidentally deleted my photo of the chainguard section so it got bumped up.

Bicycle Pedals Bicycle Chains
Coloured chains or pedals? Take your pick.

Bicycle Rims Bicycle Rims2
Bicycle Tyres
I saw more coloured rims in one blink of the eye than I see in a month in Copenhagen. And then there were the coloured tyres.

Tokyo Hands USB light Tokyu Hands Bike Lights
Tokyu Hands Bike Lights
Bike Lights, bike lights, bike lights. If you can't have Reelights, then you are spoiled for choice here. The USB chargable one on the top left is quite cool.

Bicycles on Sale
Oh and there were loads of bicycles, too. Here's some hanging around. The TOKYOBIKES were supernice.

Now I'll have to go back so I can report on the other 75% of the bicycle department.