06 December 2011

Don't Forget Japan

For all the talk of Denmark and the Netherlands, many German cities and the rising stars of Bicycle Culture 2.0 like France, Japan is so often left out of the equation.

It is quite amazing to me how many aren't aware that Japan is the third great cycling nation after DK and NL. Even urban mobility colleagues often say, "really?" when I highlight this fact.

This film is a long series of clips that show what kind of bicycle nation Japan is. It's all there. Sorry. Yet another country (and it's an automobile powerhouse, a rich country, a country with cities that have narrow streets, etc etc) to either make other cities feel hopelessly insecure or... further empowered to catch up.

Be sure to click over to the Vimeo page to read the text from the guy who made it. He's had enough of sub-cultural bicycle niches. He wants Bicycle Society.

Here's an excerpt:

"According to my crude interpretation/analogy a society that cycles is more equal to the one that doesn’t.
Here in Japan grannies do it, kids do it, salary men do it, so do Yankees, the yakuza, teachers, nurses, office ladies, students, fashionistas, moms carrying an entire family, farmers, delivery men, chefs, the police, old men do it slowly with their knees sticking out, fixies, hipsters, local councilors, udon deliverers, students and anime characters do it too.

And they do it on the footpath and without fancy lyrca, fancy bikes and helmets too. They just do it. People cycle because it makes sense.

And it’s not that they don’t like their cars in Japan. It’s just that cycling makes sense.


snogglethorpe said...

Maybe it's worth noting that bicycling in Japan is generally very local, and the infrastructure support reflects that: there's a massive (and constantly increasing) amount of bicycle parking infrastructure, around retail and train stations, but not much in the way of dedicated bicycle corridors that would be suitable for fast commuting over long distances. Bicycling seems to be viewed as one component within the transit system, not really as an alternative to other modes of transport.

This seems quite different from the way that bicycling has developed in the U.S., where bicyclists often seem to be enthusiasts who adopt bicycling as their primary mode of transport—and who often seem to be promoting infrastructure changes that support that usage.

[I don't know much about cycling in Europe, but my impression is that it's somewhere in the middle, maybe closer to Japan...]

NorthSport.dk said...

I didnt know that Japan was the 3. country on the list, but thats nice. Especially the last sentence in this article says what this is all about:
"And it’s not that they don’t like their cars in Japan. It’s just that cycling makes sense." We should all change our transportpattern and just use these bikes more.

Anonymous said...

What about Taiwan? I hear that the Taiwanese don't just make a lot of bicycles, they ride them too...

Mikael said...

Having lived in Taipei, I can't say that the city resembles any Japanese city at all.

Behooving Moving said...

Hang on a minute, 2.32. That's Vestamager metro in Copenhagen!

Johny said...

I don't think it's a coincidence that those 3 countries are mostly plane countries, or at least the cities are plane. Yes yes I know, there are fine examples of hilly cities with great bike usage.. but, plane cities just make the bike more obvious..

Where is China in that top, shouldn't it be number 1?

enas said...

Is Japan a mostly flat country? It might be surprising to learn Japan is the third country in the world in terms of cycling, learn it's a mostly flat country is absolutely astonishing...

snogglethorpe said...

Japan in general is very mountainous.

Tokyo is basically located on a plain, but it certainly has a lot of big hills etc within the city (and there are actually real mountains within the city limits, though on the outskirts). I wouldn't say it's flat compared to other world cities.

james said...

A few things stand out. There seems to be little in the way of bike lanes, people ride on the sidewalk or sidewalk bike lanes or share space with cars on 1-1.5 lane wide streets; an existing design that works like a traffic calmed bicycle boulevard, but probably not as friendly as a recently designed woonerf.

Like americans who ride beach cruisers most people ride undersized bikes with low saddles and improper leg extension. Yes they are on average shorter than europeans but not that short. I've never come across a japanese city bicycle with a frame larger than 50cm. Their bicycles do ride well, they sort of float about with flexy tubing, long wheel base,lots of fork rake and cushy tires.

Tallycyclist said...

Taiwan is another unfortunate example where over the course of economical development in the last few decades, cycling has been left behind as something people did when times were not as good.

Most of my relatives still live there and I visited a couple years ago. Like Mikael said, not very many people cycle, with the only exception being some elementary, middle and some high school students. You can still see bike parking lots in many public schools that are quite full of bicycles. When most people become of age, they move on to the scooters and they are parked and driven everywhere.

Slowly it has made a resurgence, but now it's mostly of the sporty type; indeed most of the cyclists I saw the entire time there were decked out in lycra with helmets, etc. Car ownership is still very low compared to most western countries, but scooters have taken that role in Taiwan.

shuichi said...

This movie shows a real Japanese bicycle situation. I think it contains Kyoto, Osaka, or perhaps Tokyo.

I am also surprised by the fact that most Japanese people ride their bikes, instead many people outside Japan never recognize it. I even feel that why no one knows such a simple fact and where is an internet information around the world?

The situation on the movie is as crude as he says.

All I can add his comments and others is that bikes are not the most major vehicle of all transportations but they are really more popular than expected outside Japan although any infrastructure needed is not enough.

Byron Kidd said...

The beauty of cycling in Japan is that it has evolved out of necessity over a very long period of time to the point where it is as natural as walking.

I love the fact that you see babies strapped to their mothers as they cycle. Then as toddlers they are ferried around, first in a basket on the handlebars, and later on a child seat on the back of the bike. Then they graduate to a bicycle of their own and follow their parents along the sidewalk like a string of ducklings.

In Japan cycling is something almost every child has done since birth, so it really is hard to imagine this society without bicycles.

Rob Thomson said...

Hey that's awesome. It it is true; bikes are used extensively here in Japan. The only thing I don't like about cycling in Japan is the lack of infrastructure for travelling by bicycle. Sure, there are many places to park one's bicycle, but the fact that bicycles are generally expected to be on the sidewalks is a bit silly. My commute on my bike takes 30 minutes, but that's on the road. On the footpaths, where most Japanese cycle, it would take much longer than that.

That is to say, I agree with snogglethorpe, whereby cycling tends to be part of the transport system as a whole, rather than a replacement.

Cycling on the road, I find the cars to be quite forgiving, but my wife finds that drivers a much less patient with her (we are both 'westerners'). This lack of patience by drivers is probably a reflection of a general vibe that bicycles should not be on the road (unless you're on a fast road bike, sporting 'cycling gear').

I guess what I want to say, is that if you want to use a bicycle to replace other forms of across-town transport in Japan, then expect to run into some issues; vehicles are not entirely used to seeing bicycles on the road, and one needs to cycle quite assertively and defensively in order to be safe.

Shining Raven said...

I have recently visited Japan for the first time and spent some time in the city of Kyoto.

I rented a bike and basically did all my local traveling on that.

I have to second what several people here have said: the bikes are horrible, insofar as they are all terribly unergonomic and way too small, with no way to adjust the seat to an appropriate height. This was a common sight, also with Japanese cyclists, almost all rode in a very inefficient posture.

Very often the bikes where small folding bikes, so that people can park them at home. Almost all bikes have a "licence" on the seat post, which seems to be attached by the dealer, and which are used to return stolen bikes. The locks are ridiculous, but theft rates seem to be low.

Now the most important point: The infrastructure was abysmal. Residential streets are okay, there are often no sidewalks, but also very little traffic, and cyclists use the lane without problems. Car speeds are low. On main roads, it is a disaster: Everybody rides on the sidewalk, or on bike paths that are marked on the side walks, but which are respected neither by pedestrians nor by cyclists. Motor vehicle speeds are low, usually at most 40 km/h, so it is not really a problem to cycle in the road, but hardly anybody does.

On the other hand, cyclists and pedestrians are very polite and tolerant, and it works very well sharing the sidewalk, there are not that many conflicts. On the other hand, it is completely impossible to ride fast (not only because of the terrible bikes), since the sidewalks are narrow, full of obstacles, and of course the pedestrians want a place to walk, too.

So overall, bicycle traffic works very well, and real conflicts are few, but cyclists essentially share space with pedestrians everywhere (on residential streets, where cyclists travel in the road, pedestrians do the same, since there are no sidewalks...). and have no real infrastructure. Use of the road is made only of very few cyclists.

Anonymous said...

.................... nice ^_^v ................

llewellyn said...

Just spent six weeks holiday cycling in Japan.Rode on cycle paths /roads in 4 prefectures, on the Shimanami Kaido, Kibi plain and 13 days in Tokyo, 11 days in Osaka and 7 days in Kyoto. All were combinations of footpath , road, street and cycle paths.Often insane but always great,especially away from the cities for at least 4 days I only passed one or two people on other days cyclists in training stopped to talk to a gaijin touring in Japan.Need to go back desperately