Bicycles are a popular transportation option in Japan. Many people here in Tokyo don’t even own cars. The public transit system — trains and buses — is amazingly clean, efficient, and inexpensive. You can travel all over Tokyo — and indeed, all over Japan — using public transportation. With so many people living in such close proximity, if everyone drove cars, the traffic would be a nightmare. Parking for cars is hard to find, and very expensive. It just makes good sense to commute by train or bus here.
But what about when you aren’t going a long distance? What about those short trips to the supermarket, or taking kids to daycare, or picking them up after school? That is when the bicycle becomes the family workhorse.
This is a Mamachari. And this one is actually a pretty fancy one with installed kid seats, and a battery power-assist. These things are loaded with features to make commuting and transport comfortable and efficient. Note the fenders to keep rain and mud from splashing. and chain guards to keep clothing from getting caught and dirty. Battery packs to help get the bicycle moving under a load, and to help with hills. It has an integrated lock, lights, and a heavy duty kickstand on the back. This… THIS is the minivan of Japanese bicycles. Expensive? Yes. Depending on the battery capacity, these bikes usually cost between $1000 and $1500 USD.
I have seen Japanese mothers in dresses and high heels taking children to school and daycare on their way to work. I have seen as many as three child passengers on one of these bikes. In the rain, moms put plastic covers over the kid seats, and often will be carrying an umbrella for themselves. These bikes travel on the sidewalk — most bike transportation here shares the sidewalks with pedestrians. They are equipped with bells to warn pedestrians out of the way. When the child seats are not in use, they can often be converted for carrying packages and groceries.
We live in a very residential area of Tokyo, with many large apartment high-rises. There are several schools nearby, and in the mornings and afternoons, the sidewalks are crowded with kids walking to and from school, and with mothers on these bicycles ferrying little ones around.
There is also a community center in our neighborhood, just down the street. And this was the scene outside the community center the other day as we walked by. There must have been a party going on. I had to laugh… It made me think of the minivans lined up outside my children’s school when they were young. Gotta love Japan!