11.12.2011

The Way We Roll

A very patriotic view of our stroller
When Dustin's predecessor left Japan, he was nice enough to leave his mountain bike behind and Dustin has been able to bike the 25 minutes to and from work everyday. Meanwhile, the kids and I have been stuck walking everywhere, which actually hasn't been that bad since we brought a sit and stand stroller with us from Canada. For those who have never seen a contraption like this (they certainly don't have them in Japan), it has a normal reclining seat in the front for a younger child, and a jump seat and standing platform in the back for an older child. It is great for those times when the walk is just too far for Theo to manage on his own two feet, or if you are in a hurry and need to walk a little bit faster than Theo's usual stop-and-check-out-every-bug-and-flower walking speed. It is not as monstrous as a double stroller, so we are able to stash it away at our little apartment pretty easily. We live within walking distance of virtually everything that we need on a daily basis, so this stroller has seen a lot of use since we have been in Japan.  

The biggest problem we have found with walking everywhere is the time it takes to get from one place to another. Every Sunday, we go to a small church that is a few neighbourhoods south of us. It is only about 3.5 km one way, but it takes us just under an hour to walk there. Sure, the exercise is great, but just getting to and fro steals almost 2 hours out of our day. If I need to do any sort of shopping or bring Theo to a park, it becomes a huge excursion in which I need to prepare the kids for multiple hours in which we will be away from home. So, Dustin and I finally bit the bullet and invested in some family transportation.

William and I out for a ride.
Caption reads mamachari (source)
Everyone seems to ride a bike in Japan. I see old people that I swear must be in their 90's slowly making their way down the street, business men in suits, parents with kids, and everyone in between. It seems that people aren't quite as caught up in certain status symbols, like how large and expensive of a car you have, compared with the West. It also helps that, unlike Manitoba, you can bike all year round without having to worry about ice, snow, and -30 degree winter days.

The typical bike that you see people riding on in Japan is the mamachari. The name comes from mama, of course, and "chari", a slang term for bicycle. They are actually ridden by just about everyone, but are super handy for stay at home mothers because you can put your kids into one or two kid's seats attached to your bike and run all your errands. Typically, they only have about 3 gears, upright handlebars, chain cover, basket, a bike stand, built in wheel lock, and light. 

The double child bike, for much more well
 balanced (or daring) mothers
Dustin and I have been scoping out the mamachari scene since we arrived and finally settled on getting two bikes, one with a older child seat on the back and one with an infant seat on the front. Quite a few mothers here have both child seats mounted on the same bike. I am really impressed that they manage to get around comfortably with a child at each end, but I am pretty sure one, or all of us, would die if I tried to do that. I really don't feel comfortable with my ability to balance me and my brood moving at high speeds. In our situation, at least on evenings, weekends and holidays we can all bike together as a family. I can also bike with William while Theo is at kindergarten, making my life a whole lot more productive.

One great aspect of my bike is the brand name. In my English thinking brain, I scanned the name and thought it said "Firecrackers", which I thought was kind of cute. The next day when I looked again, I realized that my brain was just adding letters to the nonsensical actual brand name, which is "Frackers". It sounds like such a completely vulgar expletive that I have to laugh every time I see it. Maybe I have just watched too much Battlestar Galactica. 

The kids ready to be off on an adventure
One surprise for me was the cost of it all though. All told, these two bikes cost us about 82,000 yen, or just over $1,000 Canadian. There certainly were much more expensive mamachari, but we bought the two cheapest ones we could. This is pretty crazy considering that if we really looked around, we could probably find someone trying to get rid of a car for cheaper. Actually, quite a few English teachers who are moving back home are so desperate to get rid of their car that they either give it away or sell it for a few hundred dollars. At the moment, we have almost no need for a car and I really hope that it stays that way for many, many years. There have been so many benefits to no longer owning a car: our life has been so much simpler, a lot of little (and not so little) costs have disappeared, we get tons of exercise, know the neighbours so much better, and aren't as guilty about our contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.   We are very content with our decision to invest in bicycles that support our lifestyle, regardless of the cost. 

1 comment:

derrydown said...

What, no cyclos in Japan? That's the sedan of bicycles. Happy cycling!