City Cycle “Sharing” Systems

港区自転車シェアリング

Bridgestone bikke model bike available in Minato Ward

Japanese cities have always been places where people on bicycles are not only welcome, but characteristic of life in the city.  However, for the most part, these riders have supplied their own wheels.  Now, following the worldwide trend toward encouraging bicycle use within metropolitan areas, Tokyo is hoping to develop an integrated bike share program of its own as it looks toward hosting the 2020 Olympics.  An article and video news report posted on the NHK site today offers some details about the program.

Up until now, bike shares in Tokyo have been ward-specific, with Koto (江東区), Chuo (中央区), Minato (港区), and Chiyoda (千代田区) wards each offering their own programs. However, the municipality now wants to work to combine these and create a unified system.

If you are curious about the nuts and bolts of a current program, the Minato Ward Bike Sharing site has short videos explaining (in Japanese) how to register and borrow bikes, as well as a map showing the locations of the stands and images of its customized red Bridgestone bikke model bikes.

Other cities in Japan have developed community bike share programs as well.  Yokohama has its baybikes, Kyoto its Machikado Minaport program, Sapporo its Porocle, and Osaka its Umegle-Chari, just to name a few.  Most offer a similar type of program with a practical, mamachari type bicycle with basket.

Kyoto's Minaport Panasonic bikes

Kyoto’s Minaport Panasonic bikes

If you are a frequent traveler and interested in bike share programs worldwide, you might want to check out the Google Bike-sharing World Map.  Other interesting English-language resources include the following:

The Bike-sharing Blog – created by a bike share consultancy in Washington D.C.

NACTO Bike Share Info – USA-based National Association of City Transportation Officials

Do you have experience using a bike share program in Japan?

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Shimanami Kaidō (しまなみ海道) Cycle Path

View of Onomichi from Mukaishima. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Vickerman625.

View of Onomichi from Mukaishima. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Vickerman625.

One Japanese blogger , who uses the moniker 吾輩は猫であるさん (from Wagahai wa Neko de aru, the title of a famous novel by Natsume Soseki), referred to this bike trail as a サイクリストの聖地 (saikurisuto no seichi), or “a cyclist’s holy land”.  The 海道 (Kaidō) in the name means “sea way” or “sea path”, and the trail obligingly hops islands from one side of the 瀬戸内海 (Seto Naikai, “Seto Inland Sea”) to the other.  After reading so much about the trail itself and individual cyclists’ experiences on it, I’m adding this ride to my bucket list for my next stay in Western Japan! (´∀`)ワクワ

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Cycling Events in Japan, April 2014

Traveling in Japan this spring?  Interested in getting some exercise and making connections with other cyclists? If so, here are three options for April 2014:

グラン・ツール・せとうち2014 (Guran Tsuuru Setouchi, Grand Tour Setouchi):  April 19, 20 (register by March 31)

  • Starts in 尾道市向島運動公園 (Onomichi-shi Mukaishima Undō Kōen, Onomichi City Mukaishima Exercise Park) and runs along the しまなみ海道 (Shimanami Kaidō, Shimanami Sea Path) and nearby roads
  • Saturday or Sunday short course (70km): ¥4000 (about USD $39)
  • Saturday long course (120km): ¥5000 (about USD $49)
  • Two day short course (includes single-sex group accommodations and breakfast/dinner): ¥17,000 (60-80 people per room)/¥18,000 (8-12 people per room)  (about USD $166/176)
  • Two day long course (includes single-sex group 0accommodations and breakfast/dinner): ¥18,000/¥19,000 (about USD $176/185)
  • Participant limit: 1,500 riders

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Shikoku: Bikes Allowed on the Ishizuchi Express During Event Season

Photo from My Navi News, Jan. 28

Photo from My Navi News, Jan. 28 (see link in article)

Typically in Japan, one cannot take a bicycle onto an express train unless it is disassembled or folded and placed in a bike bag.  However, according to news articles in マイナビニュース (Mai Nabi Nyuusu) and the 朝日新聞 (Asahi Shinbun), starting on March 21st and running until October 26, the 「いしづち特急」 (Ishizuchi Special Express), an 8000 series train of the JR 予讃線(JR Yosansen), will run three round trip trains a day on which one can stow a fully assembled bike. This train runs between Imabari and Matsuyama.

This is being done in support of the event called 「瀬戸内しまのわ2014」which is being sponsored by Ehime and Hiroshima Prefectures. According to the official site, multiple events – including some cycling-themed – will be held to promote the “charm of the inland sea isles” ,「島々の魅力」(shimajima no miryoku).

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Bike Trails in Japan, Part 1: Kyoto’s Katsura River Cycling Road

Katsura-gawa Cycle Road

Along the Katsura-gawa section of the trail.

Urban Kyoto is of its own accord a great place to ride a bicycle if you are acclimated to city riding – and you can use this map and guide from the city’s visitor’s bureau if you are so inclined – but if you are aching to get away from the crowds and see a little of the countryside, one option is the 京都八幡木津自転車道 (Kyōto Yawata Kizu Jitensha-dō, “Kyoto-Yawata-Kizu Bicycle Path”).

Popularly known as the 桂川サイクリングロード (Katsuragawa Saikuringu Rōdo, “Katsura River Cycling Road”), this trail starts in Kyoto’s Arashiyama area (Nishikyō-ku, Kamikawara-cho) and runs 45 kilometers toward Nara along the Katsura and Kizu rivers.  An overview map of this trail is provided below, but if you would like more detail (and information on how to connect this trail with trails in the Nara area), Kyoto Prefecture provides a regional cycling map and additional information in .pdf format on the trail page of its website.

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“Pottering” in Japan (that is, “puttering about on two wheels”)

outside Matsumoto

On a ride outside Matsumoto. (c) Site author.

If you read many Japanese blogs on the subject of bicycles, you will no doubt come across the term ポタリング (potaringu). Since this is a relatively new term, you won’t find it in many dictionaries, but a quick internet search reveals that the term is widely used and evolved from the English idea of “pottering about”. In Japan, it applies specifically to leisurely and somewhat aimless rides on two wheels.  The Japanese Wikipedia entry describes it as an activity similar to “strolling”, but on a bicycle or motorbike. A Kotobank entry narrows the usage to bicycles exclusively, and describes it as the activity of riding around wherever one feels like going, just for the purpose of sightseeing.

Either way, “pottering” is something I have had the pleasure of doing many a time during my stays in Japan.  One afternoon I remember quite fondly was on a visit to Matsumoto, a beautiful “little” city, situated in a basin below the Japan Alps in Nagano Prefecture.  Before I went there, I really only knew four things about Matsumoto: 1) it has a famous castle, designated as a National Treasure,  2) it is the home of the “Suzuki Method” for teaching violin, 3) the area is known for wasabi, and 4) it was the site of a terrible Sarin gas terror attack.  While thoughts of the latter did float through my mind a bit when I was first making plans to go, these evaporated quickly as we emerged out of the station into the sunny, crisp April air and began to wander around.  I had read in advance that free rental bikes were available near the station, and a few of us decided to head out in search of the wasabi fields.

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