February 7, 2023

Biking in Tokyo – Much to Think About

From a Traveling Man’s Diary
Diary Page dated:
  October 14, 2003
By:  John Guy LaPlante

Here I am in Tokyo, a first-timer. My first impression in this huge, humming city?

It’s that the great majority are riding bicycles. I knew this about China, but not Japan. Why is it that in this much wealthier country, the home base of Toyota and Nissan and Honda and such, the vehicle of choice for the great majority is not one of their fine cars, but the bike?

“Japan is a huge car maker, but I was amazed how many people ride two-wheelers. This is a typical scene. Great respect is given to traffic regulations.”
Excerpt From: John Guy LaPlante. “Around Asia in 80 Days. Oops, 83!.” Apple Books.

I was startled my very first evening. I walked out of the train station about 25 minutes from the center and was amazed by the hundreds of bicycles parked all around.

In the morning I saw countless people out pedaling – men, women, children. Executives in business suits. Housewives with a child in a rumble seat and groceries in the front basket. Teen-agers in school uniforms.

Bicycles far unnumbered private cars. That first observation has held true.

I had seen the same thing in Amsterdam. To me Amsterdam is the biking capital of Europe. Well, Amsterdam has a rival here.

I’m fascinated by all this because I’ve been a bike nut for years. In a week of gawking and talking, I’ve learned a thing or two. First, the obvious.

Nine out of ten bikes are women’s bikes. Men’s bikes are a rarity. Everybody rides women’s bikes, even construction workers. This model is just more practical. You can hop on and off better and faster.

Tokyo is quite flat. So most bikes are single gear, although I’ve seen derailleur models.

They are fine bikes – to my eye equal in quality to the fine cars put out by Toyota and the others.

They have a feature that I have never seen on an American bike. Rim-clamping brake pads on the front wheel, as on our bikes. But not on the rear wheel. This wheel has a disk brake!

I’ve made it a point to visit a couple of big bike stores. A good quality bike sells for about $150. This is astoundingly cheap in this ultra-expensive city, where everything else is far more expensive than in Connecticut. To put it another way, my Fuji bike cost me about $500 some years ago. It’s a Japanese brand, you’ve noticed.

Now the less obvious. It turns out that the situation here discourages private automobiles. I’ve heard it’s a national policy.

Tokyo has some seven million people. Metro Tokyo has some 25 million. If the people here were like us Americans, they’d have two cars per family. In fact, our average is higher, I believe. No way could this tight city squeeze them all in. One bike shop salesman joked the island would sink.

John LaDue of Minneapolis, whom I chanced upon here, filled me in. He’s been a Christian missionary here 20 years.

“It costs at least $10,000 a year for various car fees and licenses and parking privileges. Only the rich can afford it. Out of the question for the middle-class Jack and Jane.”

This hefty yearly tab certainly accomplishes the desired result. So most vehicles are commercial or government vehicles. And a highly developed alternate system makes it possible for the millions of bike riders to get around when going longer distances. Thousands of taxis. Buses running every few minutes. And an extensive system of excellent subways and trains. More than a dozen lines criss-cross the city.

Got to mention that I have yet to spot an SUV. They are definitely an American phenomenon. I wonder why. And the irony is that so many are put out by Japanese makers.

As we know, our car problem back home is in a crisis stage. Our cities are being overwhelmed by cars. So many of our highways and interstates have to be upgraded and enlarged. Consider our on-going discussions to do something to handle the ever-increasing traffic on our own section of I-95 in Connecticut.

Another thing. We spend multi-billions every year on our cars. And for most of us, our annual car expenses are second only to our housing expenses. For many families, car expenses are at the top. A great part of our private debt is linked to our car habits. Many families could be debt free (except for mortgage expenses) if they could change their car habits.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to send some of our legislators and highway experts and city planners and community leaders and editors to Tokyo to see what is going on. Valuable lessons here.

Read more about my time in Tokyo in my Around Asia book, Chapter 4: http://johnguylaplante.com/wp/around-asia-2/

It’s the fast-paced sequel to my Around the World book.
In it you will enjoy more adventure, more fun, more good reading.
280 Pages.   335 Photos!
17 Great Cities and Major Destinations.
Plus a  Bonus: 36  tested Travel Tips, all my own,
to make your own travels better and save you $$$.

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