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?

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.