15 March 2011

Bicycle Freedom in Japan and Beyond

At the core of everything we do here at Copenhagenize lies a simple celebration of the bicycle in every form. Of the bicycle as a liberating transport form for broken cities. Of the bicycle as the most effective form of indepedent mobility. Of the bicycle's historical role as liberator of the working classes and of women. Of the bicycle's role in impoverished nations in Africa and beyond.

Everything we do here on the blog and, more specifically, at our company is geared towards bringing the celebratory, liberating qualities of the bicycle to societies that once knew them but that have lost touch with them.

We love the bicycle, we love the bicycle squeaking cheerfully under the asses of Citizen Cyclists everywhere and we salute the bicycle's role in the development of our societies for the past 125 odd years. We embrace it. We celebrate it.


This is a man carrying goods on a bicycle after the Americans bombed Nagasaki with an atomic bomb in 1945. As ever, the bicycle fulfills it's role as an integral tool. A workhorse. A functional and practical transport form. In the case of this man, it is assisting him in transporting what we can only guess are incredibly important goods.

Our last article featured photos of the role of the bicycle in the tragic wake of the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami. To our utter amazement, some readers in the comments found it to be in bad taste. It's impossible to gauge grief or sorrow with one yardstick. Homo sapiens are too individual for that. We deal with these emotions differently, but bad taste?

By showing photos of the bicycle's role in the bleak landscape of the hardest hit regions of the proud nation of Japan we are, in a seemingly endless hour of sorrow, placing positive focus firmly on the role of the bicycle. In the unfathomably ravaged terrain with the air filled with not only the stench of destruction and death but also the thick, heavy sensation of despair, we are proud to show how citizens of are using the bicycle. To search for loved ones. To gather the remnants of their belongings. To get home to their family in lieu of public transport or cars. The photos show the how versatile the bicycle is. How timeless it's role in society is. How it assists citizens in their darkest hour. An hour that most of us can never imagine.

We don't understand the handful of readers who find the previous article to be bad taste. We reject the claim. We will continue to celebrate the bicycle's role in a disasterous time. It's not as though we're strange. CNN, Time, BBC et al have also picked up on the subject. As have many Japan-based tweets. Not to mention James over at The Urban Country and Tokyo By Bike. I mean, it's not like we're trying to make money off of disasters and fearmongering.


A man salvages a bicycle after the tragic earthquake in Concepcion, Chile in 2010. The bicycle, apparently, is regarded as a vital item to salvage in the destroyed city.


More photos of the bicycle's role in the aftermath of the Chilean earthquake.


Three photos of the bicycle's role in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004.


A photo of a Chinese man donating money to help the victims of the Japanese catastrophe.


The bicycle's role is integral not only in areas stricken by natural catastrophe. Here are North Koreans packing a load of used bicycles at the port in Maizuru, Japan on October 13, 2006 after the Japanese government adopted trade sanctions against North Korea after the country declared it had done nuclear testing of a device on October 9, 2006.

The bicycles went off to North Korea to serve their indispensible role in a dictatorship, clearly regarded as important goods to transport back in light of the sanctions.


It's not always a celebration. This Japanese bicycle is so symbolic that a simple photo like this is worthy of a news agency's photographer's attention.


The bicycle contributes to the storytelling of these photographs, too. Not always positive. At left: a German bicycle battalion in the Great War going off to kill. Middle: the charred remains of a boy and his bicycle in Dresden, Germany after the Allied bombing. At right: More recently, a couple killed by a sniper in Sarajevo.


Who can forget the famous photograph by Annie Liebowitz of the bicycle and bloodstains of a boy killed by a sniper in Sarajevo.

Let us return, shall we, to the bicycle as a symbol of hope?

Fietser in Moerdijk, watersnoodramp - 1953
Marc from Amsterdamize has a Flickr set about the tragic 1953 floods in the Netherlands, where the bicycle - like in Japan - played an integral role.

And let us return to Japan where, as these words are being written, the bicycle once again proves its worth, assists where assistance is needed and provides citizens with transport when they need it most.






Long live the bicycle and whatever small role it can play to help the Japanese people.

15 comments:

Bill Crandall said...

Basically, the 'bad taste' commenters seem to share the notion that bike bloggers such as yourself and James at Urban Country are pushing an agenda, and that agenda-pushing is untoward at times like this. I don't agree with that notion at all, and think it's an odd stance to take for any number of reasons, but that's how I read it.

Paul Martin said...

The only agenda I see Mikael & James 'pushing' is that the bicycle is the most utilitarian and useful transport tool around and tragedies like this highlight its desirability. For too long we have been slaves to the automobile - personal cars are of limited utility in disaster zones.

I don't think it was in bad taste at all. In fact, I think I see the future of our western world in these images. Cheap oil is gone and the bicycle's second coming is fast approaching...

Save the oil to run the equipment that matters (goods) and make things that are truly useful.

Jonathan said...

When you need it, the bicycle is there for you. Thanks for posting this incredible response.

shuichi said...

You are right. Your entry is very polite. Thank you.
The disaster from the earthquake and tsunami is very huge, very terrible. It is the first time that we have experienced such massive, huge disasters in Japan in these days. I can't imagine how really the landscapes in Miyagi, Yamagata, Fkukushima are, even I live in Kyoto Japan. We are watching TV every time every day. All TV program have been showing the disasters. I do hope people there will be OK. It is terrible. Sorry, I can't stop writing about such things.

Lee E said...

Fantastic article Mikael, very powerful imagery. I cannot imagine what the people of Japan are going through right now, here in Canada the biggest worry seems to be whether any fallout will reach us (a very self-centered perspective in my opinion), the strength and will to survive of the people in these pictures is good to see. Whatever our future holds, humanity's greatest invention will be there for us.

Kelly D. Talcott said...

Bravo, my friend. An inspiring post.

Principal Skinner said...

Indeed, ...'the bicycle is a symbol of hope'. I live in hope everyday that the bicycle will one day be appreciated for its true value. Not just in time of war or disaster. There is no agenda. The bicycle speaks volumes without one.

Kevin Cannon said...

You see, this post is what the original post should have been.

plaukas pyragely said...

Simplicity win!

ibikelondon said...

Hope is a strong and powerful word.

Very moving article, Mikael.

Godspeed to the people of Japan.

James D. Schwartz said...

Great response Mikael. I also received some flack on Facebook for my reporting on this same topic last Friday. This is indeed a terrible terrible disaster/tragedy, but the bicycle has helped benefited the victims of this disaster so I don't see why it's insensitive to highlight this.

I recently posted an article about my Grandmother who used bicycles to get around while in German-occupied Holland during World War II. Is it insensitive to write about this while millions of people tragically died during the war?

Being so far away from the disaster there is only so much we can do to help the Japanese people get through this disaster - which will no doubt continue to worsen before things get better. Sending money through the Red Cross is one way we can help deliver emergency food and supplies to the displaced citizens. That's probably the most important way we can help right now. Once their survival needs are met, perhaps we can donate money to send bicycles to the cities to help displaced citizens who have no way of getting around.

kwc said...

I think these are all great pictures - with the detailed explanation. I didn't say anything before, but I also thought it was a little insensitive to show all those pictures with hardly any explanation. I think calling it a "bicycle boom" was what bothered me the most because it made it sound a great new thing instead of a response to a tragedy. The original post just needed a couple more sentences of explanation, that's all.

didrik said...

Well done! Both posts.

I can see where some folks could get the wrong idea from the opening line, but then you read on and very quickly get the true point of the article. Continuing to be wrapped around the axle after reading further, well, that's probably because they have an agenda themselves.

Erik Sandblom said...

What if this were a blog about blankets, and Mikael wrote about all the nice ways blankets give warmth when the heating has broken down. Would that be in bad taste?

It would obviously be a sensitive issue in light of all the suffering. But I suspect people might not be as easily offended, possibly because bicycles are sometimes seen as frivolous.

Ryan said...

If people want bad taste, listen to Canadian radio and here them talking about gas prices falling "*thanks*" to what happened in Japan.

IMO what Mikael is doing is giving yet another aspect of news to what is going on in Japan, that otherwise wouldn't be carried on mainstream news.