August 31st, 2010



Not too long ago, there was a bicycle sweep at our apartment complex. This happens in Japan from time to time. In many places in Japan, bicycles are, if not a disposable item, certainly one that depreciates quickly and is forgotten about. Parked bicycle congestion is rampant, with people having bikes but either choosing semi-permanent parking places, or abandoning them outright, in the damnedest locations. If you see any group of parked bicycles in Japan (except for carefully regulated and attended lots, especially near train stations), odds are that half of them are covered with dust and have flat tires.

It seems that everybody has bikes, but most people don’t use them most of the time, and eventually just forget about them. Sachi and I are of the maintaining group–we have ’em and use ’em. Not so with others. It’s sometimes frustrating, in fact, trying to find a parking space, but most are taken up by grungy old wrecks that obviously haven’t been touched for a year or two, and would require serious maintenance before being ridden again.

That is undoubtedly why the complex had this roundup, likely a regular thing every few years. First, they tagged the bikes where they were parked, noting that if the owner did not remove the tag, the bike itself would be removed. This was already in progress when we moved in. They gave everyone notice and left this going for some time, so that everyone could see what was up and make their move if they so wished.

After a certain time, they took all the bikes which were still tagged and moved them to the place pictured above. Yep–every single one of those bikes is a throwaway. They left that pile, impossible to miss, out there in the middle of the complex for a few weeks, giving owners one last chance to wade in and reclaim their bike. (I never asked if it was kosher to just take one for yourself or not; probably not, I’d guess.)

Now, the bicycle parking areas are much more open. But they’re already filling up again, and all too many bikes that remain are still covered with a layer of undisturbed dust and resting on flattened, airless tires.

Ah, Japan.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2010 Tags: by
  1. Roger
    September 1st, 2010 at 10:03 | #1

    This – and a number of other things you have posted about Japan – are mind-blowing to me. I presume that we Americans must look equally odd to them… (do we?). I have a tendency to assume that the biggest differences between cultures would be between industrialized first world countries and say aboriginals… but maybe technology doesn’t have much to do with it.

    I keep thinking that Japan, as a geeky, highly advanced, democratic, literate, wealthy, educated, pop-oriented culture, would be something I would relate to more… then I run across something (whether your site or through Japanese arts & culture on my own) that is simply beyond my comprehension. …and I stare at it dumbfounded.

  2. Troy
    September 1st, 2010 at 10:20 | #2

    This amount of bicycles is also a tribute to how SAFE Japan still is. All these bikes were abandoned in suburban Japan at what is pretty much a public housing project (albeit EXPENSIVE “projects”) over a number of years.

    Luis’ nabe is pretty suburban from the map I’ve seen, right on the edge where Tokyo begins to thin out and the old vegetable patches are still around here & there.

    I guess Japan does a decent job of keeping its kids out of trouble still. There’s not that immense underclass of cultural separatism that the US still has.

    Also, I think depopulation is changing things slowly. In 1990 there were 10 million teenagers 15-19, in 2010 there are only 6 million, and this will begin falling in 2030 again and will become only 4M in 2050.

    Theoretically, this decline will enable the nation to invest more in each kids’ development. Theoretically.

  3. Paul
    September 4th, 2010 at 13:59 | #3

    It’s not just Japan. My condo building has bike parking in the garages, and easily two-thirds of the bikes in there are covered with a layer of dust and on flat tires… plainly not having moved in months.

    We’ve even had complaints, because the racks are full and new residents can’t get a spot to keep a bike, but the old bikes that nobody is using are just sitting there.

    Heaven forbid we actually go through and toss ’em. The CondoNazis would throw a hissy fit.

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