Women’s Bike Polo in Japan

Has anyone ever seen or done this before?  I think I’d like to try it!

Women’s Bike Polo in Japan.


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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The Gios Antico mini velo

Gios Antico mini velo

Gios Antico mini velo

While reading some Japanese “pottering” blogs this week, I noticed that several riders speak fondly about a particularly type of bike they have.  The model is called “Antico”, and it is made by the Italian company Gios. It is a ミニベロ (mini bero, from “mini velo”) or 小径車 (shoukeisha, small wheeled bicycle).  Initially, I thought it must be one of the multitudinous folding bikes so popular in the uber-urban streets of Tokyo.  However, it turns out that it has a regular sized road bike frame, redesigned to work with the small tires.

This bike has 16 speeds and a frame made of クロモリ (kuromori, chromium molybdenum steel). The 20″ tires give it a much smaller profile than a typical road bike, making it easier to park or make pinpoint turns on the city sidewalk (which riders can and do use in Japan).  It also means you can more easily take it on a train (something “potterers” like to do), without having to remove the wheels and bag it up.

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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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Japanese cycling jargon ②(サイクリングの専門語②)


Recently I came across a cycling-related word which I didn’t initially understand:

バイコレーター (baikoreetaa)

Once I looked it up, I realized that I actually have experience with this thing, but I just didn’t know its proper title.  In short, it is another of those portmanteau katakana terms, created from “bike” (baiko-) and “escalator” (-reetaa).  I have also found them referred to as 自転車コンベア (jitensha konbea), from the native Japanese word for “bicycle” (jitensha), added to an abbreviation of the English word “conveyer belt” (konbea).

The image above left is made by a company called 協栄システム (Kyouei System) in Saitama Prefecture.  To use it one places the wheels of his or her bike into the groove on the right, and the conveyer belt begins to move. The rider then walks up the stairs along side, steadying the bike as it rises.  While from a cyclist’s point of view this may seems an unnecessary extravagance, I remember it being wonderfully helpful at late in the afternoon as I headed home on my one-speed mamachari, with a heavy load of groceries in the front basket!

What does in some ways seem to be a complete luxury is the more elaborate system pictured here.  it is made by 横浜特殊船舶株式会社 (Yokohama Tokushuu Sempaku) in Yokohama, and it carries the bike up for you, without any need for help from you, the rider!



Photo from Sanwa Bicycle, http://cc-sanwa.com/810-10.html

私の出身地の方では典型的なサイクルショップに入って女性の服装を見て回ると、( ̄Д)=3ハア∙∙∙、何と男服をピンク色か紫色に、小さくしただ けというものばかり預かっている∙∙∙ それに選べるものが少ないし、サイズはユニセックス(男女の区別がない)というのが多い∙∙∙すぐ日本に行って女性用の素敵なサイクル服が買えったらどんなにいいたろう!


(_ _ )……….o


Photo from Sanwa Bicycle, http://cc-sanwa.com/810-10.html


Photo from Sanwa Bicycle, http://cc-sanwa.com/810-10.html


アームカバー “aamu kabaa” (arm covers)
Photo from Sanwa Bicycle, http://cc-sanwa.com/810-10.html


Photo from Sanwa Bicycle, http://cc-sanwa.com/810-10.html


Photo from Sanwa Bicycle, http://cc-sanwa.com/810-10.html


Photo from amazon.co.jp


Can I be stylish on my bike?! サイクルで着こなせる?!

I was recently struck by some copy on the cover of abbautumn2010cover Japanese mook called Bicycle Beauty (バイシクル・ビューティー、Baishikuru Byuutii).  It included the word kikonasu (着こなす), which translates as something like “dress stylishly”. This made me consider how I dress when I go out for a ride…

When I go to my local bike shop to shop for cycling clothes, I’m not usually thinking about fashion.  Not, mind you, because I don’t want to.  It’s just that the places local to me have a somewhat intimidating, masculine feel to them, and the options have more to do with function than aesthetics.  “After all”, they seem to imply, “we’re in training for next year’s STP” – or at least we feel we should be – “and we’re too serious to care about what we look like”. It seems the focus is on looking hard-core, rather than “beautiful”…

Whatever clothing is available for women, it is pretty much just pinkified, smaller versions of the men’s clothes.  I don’t ever recall walking into the women’s cycling section and thinking to myself, “That’s so cute!” or “I love that cut!”.  Certainly, I’ve never found any cycling clothes that would make be feel “beautiful”…

Is it just me?  Or does anyone else feel this way?

It is true that there are some places online that offer more stylish things, but they tend to be for for climes that are much warmer and drier than here – things that I could really only consider wearing in August, and even then I’d be slightly cold.  I wish I could find things like this in shops near me…

Where is the really stylish windproof, rainproof jacket in a color other than neon yellow or orange? After all, reflective tape could be integrated creatively into something more stylish, and then we wouldn’t have to look like moving traffic cones… 。^‿^。   And could someone please make some jerseys that have some colors other than hot pink and fuschia? It’s not that I don’t like those colors, but enough already! A lovely pale petal pink would be nice, or something in a soft sage or violet would be even better, for the sake of variety  …And the patterns:  Cycle jerseys always seem to have swishes or bold stripes of color, like we’re all football team wannabes!  What about a soft paisley?  A damask?  Some little flowersBirds?

I’ve realized as I’ve begun to ride more often, that I feel better about gearing up to go out when I like what I’m wearing, and in all the gear I have, there are really only a couple of cute things.  I can only wonder, how much more often would I ride, if I was excited about my gear?!

Some day when I retire I’m going to learn how to sew, and then I’ll be able to create some things I actually want to wear and feel beautiful in… Until then, I’m still searching for that great shop that has to be out there…

NHK TV Program Aimed at Cyclists


A cycling-themed program appeared in September 2013 on the Japanese public TV station NHK-BS1.  Based on a special shown in May 2013, the title of the show is チャリダー★ (Charidaa), or “cycling enthusiast”.  The term charidaa is created from two words: ちゃりんこ (charinko, a casual term for a bicycle) and ライダー (raidaa, from the English “rider”).  Unfortunately, I do not have access to Japanese cable TV so I have not had a chance to watch, but I’d be curious to hear from people who have.  In particular, I’m wondering if/how woman riders are portrayed.  The images on the home page for the program are all of men, with the exception of the actress and model Takehashi Maryjun, who is listed appearing as the 新米アシスタント (shinmai ashisutanto), or “greenhorn assistant”. There are a few short videos posted on the site, after watching which makes me think it could be another in that genre of themed travelogues on Japanese TV that I remember enjoying so much.

Anyone out there who has seen the show and can give us a review?


Japanese cycling jargon ① (サイクリングの専門語①)

Rental bike, Takamatsu

Rental bike, Takamatsu. Photo © site author.

In the US, according to a poll conducted by ACTFL (revealingly, no national statistics are kept), just 18.5% of K-12 students are enrolled in a foreign language course.  In contrast, nearly all Japanese students study English over several years of their academic career.  As a result, English vocabulary is comfortably incorporated into much of day-to-day Japanese.  For example, the term for someone who commutes to work by bicycle is 自転車ツーキニスト (jitensha tsuukinisuto), from 自転車(jitensha, bicycle) + 通勤(tsuukin, commute)+ the English-language suffix “-ist”.  Even the basic term for the sport of cycling, サイクリング (saikuringu), comes from English.

When I lived in Japan one of the most indispensable items of my daily life was a bicycle similar to that pictured above.  In the 1980s, when I first arrived there, bikes like these were not used by adults in the US.  As a matter of fact, when I returned to the US and sought out something similar for sale, I couldn’t find anything even close.  The one bike shop guy I encountered who actually understood what I was looking for had lived in Asia as well, and he said my only option was to but one in Japan and bring it back with me.  Nowadays, at least in the Pacific Northwest, it is not hard to find something like this, as a quick online search through outdoor outfitters such as REI (see example here) will attest.

But returning to Japan and cycling language, bikes like these – which in my experience are owned by nearly every person – are called ママチャリ (mamachari) or, more recently, シティサイクル (shiti saikuru)Mamachari is a rather endearing word, created by the union of ママ (mama, mother) and ちゃりん (charin), the lovely old-fashioned sound of the bells commonly mounted on the handlebars.  This name evokes a quiant image of a mother riding along, small child in a seat on back and groceries in the basket in front.  A little less lovely on the ears but more up-to-date, shiti saikuru (which sounds to American ears a lot like “shitty cycle”), is made from two English words, “city” and “cycle”.

Though my current housing situation allows me the option of just one bike – and I have chosen this to be a hibrid as the ultimate compromise between speed and function – I hope that someday I can again enjoy the daily pleasure of hopping – in whatever I happen to be wearing – onto my ready-to-go mamachari and heading out to do errands.