Tag Archives: bike

La complainte de l’heure de pointe

Cycling produces so many stories daily that it would kill me to report them all, but what happened on Thursday alone caused me to generate enough bile to be worth mentioning. It appears that unified regional elections are coming up in Japan, something which can no longer be ignored anywhere when traveling around. This is due to the fact that Japanese live in a world torn in two: In the world of balance nobody says a thing, and in the world of ruin all communication consists of yells and grunts. The vans that drive around the city with loudspeakers repeating the name of their supported political candidate forever are part of the fucking world of ruin.

My day started on a really bad note when I got stuck in traffic behind a slow-driving bullshit-spouting van just before arriving at work. I know that after what happened in Finland a week ago it’s just a pot and kettle issue but is there seriously any merit in campaigning by only raising awareness of a candidate’s name? Especially when the method raises irritation levels accordingly. “Ooh, a name! Sounds great! I’ll vote for that name!”

The part that completely destroyed me and almost made me fall of my bike was when I ran into three campaign assistants in my neighborhood later in the evening. Again, their sole purpose was to wave, smile, and repeat the name of their candidate in keigo while riding bikes. Only, this time, there was nobody out to hear them, which made into a spectacular performance in futility.


I have alluded before to the fact that cyclists are essentially above the law in Japan, not entirely unlike Steven Seagal is in his movies. Traffic lights don’t apply to cyclists, and neither do car lanes. The pavement is essentially a no man’s land where survival of the fittest is the reigning life philosophy. While I take advantage of these characteristics all the time, I do take great pride in seeing where I’m going. I can’t stress how important this is. Many a day have I had the urge to yell at people unable to leave their goddamn mobile phones alone while cycling and who consequently swirl wildly in every direction.

Today, there was a different type of retard who just suddenly swerved from the pavement to the car lane without looking and almost run into me. The guy didn’t bother turning his head to see if there was someone coming from behind and, in addition, he had noise-cancelling earphones on. What the fuck? There are two senses needed to know what happens around you when riding a bike, vision and hearing. If you can’t bother using the former and just arbitrarily cancel the other, I am required, by law, to run you over. Why do people have to behave like tools?

Luckily, one cyclist managed to provide me with entertainment as well. As I was cycling home from my weekly Muteppou ramen dinner, I was overtaken by a policeman who was hauling ass on his bike. It was dark so obviously no front light – which is required by law – was needed. Clearly this wasn’t standard procedure, as only seconds later he burst into ongoing traffic and ran through a red light just to prove my earlier point. What I realized two minutes later was that he had caught up with a car and was reprimanding the driver about something or other. It didn’t really occur to me to pull over and ask for details.

Let’s recapitulate: He drove at the maximum speed his legs allowed with no protection or lights while breaking every imaginable traffic law within the time span, only to catch up with someone who had presumably committed a minor infraction. That’s either an incredible expression of diligence or a ridiculous attempt to exert authority. I’ll never know which, but in any case I couldn’t contain my laughter for a good while afterwards.

Update: JapanProbe also posted an article that proves I’m not alone with my opinion on the campaigning methods of Japanese politicians. One of the finest examples of drunken gaijin behavior.


Culling of the Fold

I’ve actually had a couple food-related blog posts in the making for quite a while now but instead today’s update will be JIT. Inspiration hit me at an opportune moment so I will be able to publish my first rant since the the VR one. My muse for this one is the availability of cycling helmets in Japan, or rather, lack thereof. I’m sure some people will jump at my throat for that notion, pointing out that I haven’t even been trying to find one. While that was true until today, I recently was able to confirm my suspicion that cycling helmets simply do not exist on this very plane of existence.

To give you some background, cycling in Tokyo is like cycling in Hell (forget Norway), only there are cars instead of demons and pavement instead of lava. Possibly. I haven’t been to Hell lately so the details aren’t that clear to me. There are absolutely no rules on the road for bikes, never mind cycling lanes. Sometimes there is enough space to ride on a narrow lane next to the cars, sometimes there is a bus lane, other times there is fuck-all. The locals park cars wherever they see fit, as putting hazard flashers on is a sign of territorial acquisition. This not only blocks the lane you’re riding on, you can also never be sure if someone is going to open the car door as you pass by, sending you flying into nevermore. Sidewalks are narrow as shit and offer zero peripheral visibility so if someone decides to take a large enough step out of the pachinko parlor you will run him over. Cyclists can ride both on the sidewalk and on the road, ignoring all road laws, including, but not limited to traffic lights. Not only can they do as they like, they fucking will. This creates a very confusing environment where one is never sure where to go and what to do, as standard rule-based anticipation changes into a game rock-paper-scissors where you wager your life. My blood pressure has already jumped twenty points and this was only supposed to be the introduction.

Helmites abound

For the aforementioned reasons among others, I got the feeling walking home that I’d rather not take the bike to work again before I can at least protect my head on a placebo level. For this noble purpose, I went helmet hunting in three bike shops, only to realize that my efforts were futile.

I entered the first bike shop asking for a 兜 (kabuto). While the clerk did understand what I was looking for and replied with a nicely japanized “ヘルメット?” (herumetto/helmet), I probably should have known better than to use Japanese vocabulary learned from playing medieval RPGs when attempting to buy a modern piece of headgear. A kabuto is a helmet all right, just slightly closer to an iron helm with horns that one might wear when saving a princess from a dragon. After confirming that his idea of a helmet was more what I was looking for, he kindly pointed out that there are some for sale behind me, but they are only for children. Ok, fine. After receiving the same answer from the other two bike shops as well, however, it was no longer fine. I was enraged. And when I’m enraged I log in and rant about it on the internet.

Funny part was, all three shops had helmets for kids. All clerks pointed at the children’s helmet rack and glanced at me like I was some kind of weirdo, which is true, but not for that particular reason. From that, I was able to deduce that at quite an early stage during the human aging process, the head loses all value. At least in Japan. Now that I think about it, it kind of does make sense. I should make a chart about it: Negative correlation of age and head value. This is true science.

It’s quite unnerving to think that there isn’t enough demand in a nation of 130 million people for fucking bike shops to bother selling helmets. My theory is that cycling accidents are the major reason behind the dwindling Japanese population. I’m not giving up yet, though. I don’t feel like dying in traffic here if I can help it, and wearing a piece of plastic on my head that doesn’t really hinder me in any way is going to help me with that goal. What’s the Tokyo equivalent for Spotaka?


It’s difficult to stand on both feet, isn’t it

The second week here didn’t go quite as smoothly as the first. In retrospect, going to the gym and to the sauna at Spa World while still kind of recovering from the flu might have been a bad idea. Eventually I spent the beginning of the week sneezing. Constantly. And it was particularly frowned upon on the train, but しょうがない。 That was a mandatory Gaijin smash. On a more positive note, Friday was an unexpected public holiday which not only allowed me to recuperate but also to go have a few (8) beers in Shibuya with a German friend of mine. The evening was both depressing and encouraging, considering Basti, whom I referred to in the previous sentence, speaks perfect Japanese and makes me look like a tool. But after hearing about his job opportunities and other perks that speaking Japanese brings, it made me even more fired up to learn the language correctly this time around. My only connection in Tokyo now being a trilingual kaisha-in and avid drinker is indeed a good towards that goal. Naturally, after the first couple of beers my Japanese picked up as well and I was able to enjoy the evening to its fullest.

For Saturday, there had been talks of going to a Valentine’s Day party full of, and I quote, “desperate chicks who want a boyfriend before Valentine’s Day”. Disregard that, a full-fledged nomihoodai would probably have been too much just after I had began to recover for the second time, so I decided that one evening of drinking during this particular week was enough and opted out. I’ll have enough time to party later if I can manage to stay alive. The weather was horrendously bad on Saturday anyway so I mostly stayed home honing my Japanese in the laziest possible way, multitasking Japanese tv-shows, anime and manga while vigorously flipping through dictionary pages. Seeing as my dictionary is, in reality, just a computer application, the previous sentence was added mostly for verbal flavor and to remind readers that I tend to lie about everything that happens here. All references to real people are purely coincidental. I’m running an infinite improbability drive in my kitchen. I don’t have a kitchen. Moving on.

My earlier decision strengthened during the weekend, and thus learning Japanese has now been set as the number one goal during my stay here, using the 決めた-rule. The only hurdle that still prevents me from committing all my spare time to said activity is my thesis who, despite all my begging, has not began writing itself yet.


Sunday was the first day in a while with sunny weather, which prompted me to attempt to finish my last important business as a settler, namely finding a bike. Once again, the mission proved to be incredibly dull and difficult to accomplish. While I had previously googled every bicycle shop in my general living area and near the office, second hand shops had been impossible to find. This was because they are part of the Japanese obsolete domestic market and are usually decrepit shacks run by old men at the end of narrow passageways. Businesses of such an anachronistic nature tend not to be on the web. Walking around didn’t help much either so it could well be that such shops are on the verge of extinction by now anyway.

My own 三日月 (obscure anime reference, don't bother)

In the bicycle shops I eventually visited, the cheapest mamachari were quoted at over 10000 yen, with the bulk of them being so far from my size requirements that no amount of tinkering from the part of the ten-in was of any real use. I was happy they tried, though. I came to notice during my previous stay that Japanese shop assistants are notorious for an action pattern dubbed: controversial attempt at understanding the gaijin followed by vague mumbling and quick evacuation of the premises. This didn’t happen in these well-equipped bike shops, possibly because I either somehow managed to tell them what I needed in Japanese or just because I won in the shop clerk lottery. Once the morning had been spent walking and talking with no results, I took a small break and decided to walk to, all puns aside, Hard-Off. Hard-Off is like Book-Off for hardware. The store sells all kinds of second hand electronics at incredibly low prices. There was supposed to be one within a walking distance (1 hour walk) of my apartment so I decided to bite the bullet and try to find it.

I didn’t. What I did find, however, was Treasure Factory, a recycling shop that sold a large variety of random previously owned items, including a couple of second hand mountain bikes. As I was getting desperate, I quickly asked the salesperson if I could try them for size and ended up buying one just so I could get the whole ordeal over with. The bike is in no way a perfect fit, but at least I can manage. It will take me 32 trips to the office and back to justify the total cost north of 20000 yen, but considering it should improve my quality of life in other ways, it was good to get that transaction out of the way. In the best-case scenario I can also sell it when I leave. Or I can just never leave. DUN DUN DUNNN!