Sunday, August 24, 2008


A lot of folks who cycle like beer too.  Or maybe a lot of folks like beer, and some people who do, cycle too.  In Japan they have athlete sized beer.  Little cans (135ml -about 1 dollar) that amount to a couple mouths full, and slightly larger cans (250ml).   

The beer section is mostly single cans, and the 6 packs are a rip off (pictured at about 11 dollars).  So it's kinda like the beer aisle is saying, "go ahead, drink some beer, but just one." Ideally, the way to drink beer in Japan is to go someplace.  The tap beer is so good, it's always in a frozen glass, and there's usually a deal.  So to compare, a single can at a store will cost you around 300yen(~3 dollars), while at an Izakaya (bar sort of place) or Ramen shop, it will be someplace around 200-400yen (~2-4 dollars) on average, and you've got some atmosphere. 

Although there is a lot of size variety, there is very little taste variety readily available.  The big 3 makers that most people know, Asahi, Sapporo, and Kirin rule.  Suntory also makes great beer and has as strong a presence as the others, but somehow is not as well known overseas.  But among these big 4 makers there really is no taste variety.   It'd be like going to the store in the US and seeing Bud, Michelob, Miller, and Coors.  Microbreweries are around, but they've yet to get their product out, even to major metro areas.  I have seen one small brewery's beer, in Kamakura - it's pictured.  

Many have heard of Beer vending machines in Japan.  They do exist, but you need an  ID card to operate the machine, and as far as I have tried, a foreigner ID card doesn't work.  So you need to be Japanese, or pissed off enough to destroy the machine.  The cops don't have guns and they ride bikes normally, so it's not a mismatch anyway. 

As far as drinking the beer, well, you can just drink it.  It doesn't really matter where you are.  Nobody will give you any troubles.  Walking on the street, at the platform of the train, sitting in the park - just about anyplace is fine.  It is against the law to ride a bicycle intoxicated - as it probably is anywhere - but here, people get caught for it and the penalties are stiff.  Another reason to get the athlete sized beer.  

Monday, August 11, 2008

Kuro Neko

Kuro Neko is literally translated 'black cat,' and it's the name of a transport company here in Japan.  The official name is Yamato Transport, but everyone says, Kuro Neko (koo-row  neck-o).  They are extremely convenient and cheap if you want to send anything mid- large sized inside Japan.

For instance, lets say you live in Kyoto and want to send your bike to a hotel in Sendai, for when you arrive their for travel.  This is how it will go. Kuro Neko will come to your door in a two hour window that you pick.  Before 8-10am, 10-12 etc. and so on.  If you keep strange hours, no problem, they are open 24-7, and if it's not busy they'll be at your place in 10 minutes or so.  Then you fill out the waybill, and decide when you want it delivered.  All service in next day, but if you wont be there for a week because you're going someplace else, fine.  Write the date you'll be there.  (Beyond one week will cost a small storage fee.)  The guy will take off, and you're done.  For a bicycle, anyplace in Japan, next day service, ~17.00.  It's a flat rate so to speak.  The weight and distance don't effect the price, but the size does, that's why the service is great for medium - large items. 

This picture is of a courier in Kyoto.  Recently, Kuro Neko started phasing out the use of trucks for most of their local pick ups and deliveries.  In place of the trucks, there are now more foot and bike couriers outfitted accordingly to haul.  

The major reason for the switch is gasoline costs, which are right around 6.80 a gallon now, but there are also congestion problems in cities, and the company found that the work of the courier can be done much faster, and at lower cost on a bike or on foot.  

Two important factors making this sort of fleet cost effective and uninterruptedly mobile-  One is that there is not much theft.  So leaving the bike unattended isn't much of a problem because it's very unlikely a package or the bike itself will be stolen.  Number two is that Japan is a smaller geographical footprint than California, and 70 percent of it is mountainous.  So if you're sending something across what is considered a great distance in Japan, well, it really isn't that far. And, there just aren't that many places it can go since there are lots of people packed into relatively few areas.   

Monday, August 4, 2008

Schwinn "Lightweights"

These are generally thought of as junk bikes by the average American.  To convert the price in the picture, just take off the last two zeros and that's the approximate dollar amount.  I realize this just supports the idea that Japan is expensive - but it's not an expensive place.  It's cheap, but it depends on how you live.  Renting a place in Tokyo is around 600 - 700 a month for a typical, nice, single person apartment.  That's not a find, it's normal, easy to come by.  Can't find that kind of deal in NY, LA or SF.  I should say, the move in fees are sometimes way too high.  Aside from that there are plenty of places that one can rent for around 300 a month, with a low move in price too.  You have to go to the public bath, or use a coin shower, but you'd have your own kitchen  and a good sized room.   The key to Tokyo life is not to use the train too much - it will take your time, eat your money and make you hate staircases.  Up the stairs to go over the tracks, down the stairs to go to the platform.  Down the stairs to go under the tracks, up the stairs to go to the platform.  I'd say the average train ride will cost you somewhere around 5 dollars.  So in one day, you can spend 10 dollars on transpo.  If that's for work only, you will spend 50 dollars a week.  But nearly all companies will pay your transportation fees, and they are paying for the troubles you go through in order to get to work, not necessarily for the express use of the train.  In other words, the amount you get is bound to the price of the train, but not to the idea that you must ride it.  In more other words, there is no punishment for not taking the train.  Which means you could make about 200 dollars extra per month by riding your bike.  If you live in a 300 - 400 dollar apartment, half your rent is paid.  Or you can save up your transpo money for three and a half months and buy an old Varsity.

Monday, July 21, 2008


This is a tatami store.  It's a small shop and it doubles as the front part of this person's house. He makes mats that make up the flooring, and in turn the measurement system for rooms in Japan. It's more a Japanese thing than Sumo.

But a lot of folks don't run across tatami shops , because they're not the sort of store that'd be near the train station.   And a great deal of people here live their lives through the station.  Life in the big city means standing in line on the platform, waiting for the train to rumble up.  The same recorded voice announces all the matters of the train.  Fight well and a seat is a possibility.  Remember not to get in a women's only car.  People pack into the train tight, but you'll be lucky to hear an 'excuse me,' a 'sorry,' or even a groan of discomfort.  Get out, file through the station, keep your head down and stay close behind the person in front of you.  Farther and farther from the clatter of the platform there's a pitter patter of feet and it carries outside where there's a voice recording saying shoes are on sale.  And still another recording saying something too fast.  You look up and it's actually a person, and she's got tissues, and thanks you for taking them. 

If you ride a bike, you'll get far enough away from the station that you may take some turns, just to take them, then happen on a store like this, Jinbei Tatami Ten.  And you'll say hello, and Mr Jinbei, he'll say it back.  Then you'll talk something about something.  And it might not mean much of anything, but it will be a thing between a couple people.     

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

local bike shops in Japan

There are all sorts of local shops, for sure.  But what pops into the average persons head when you say 'bike shop,' is a place like in the picture.   The guy who operates it lives in the same place, and the shop is just the front room of his house.   Often times they are Bridgestone dealers, but this one is Miyata, (on the signs as ミヤタ, and on the window) which is less common to see.  Of course Bridgestone to the average person is like Bianchi or Schwinn, just a company that makes bike, not necessarily a maker of good ones.

 There are two interesting ideas about Japanese culture that can be gleaned from this picture.   One is that you can start a business nearly anywhere in Japan.  There are not the same rules as in the other parts of the world that separate where business is done and where people reside.  But there are cultural rules, but there are lots and lots of stores that are essentially the lower level, or the front of people's houses.

Two is that as this represents somewhat of the norm for a local bicycle shop, you can see the bikes are for utility, not sport.  This represents perfectly the general bike culture of Japan, which is that they see the bike as a machine to make their lives easier.  Where in say the U.S. the bike has become sports equipment more than anything else.  Of course there are variations, and tons of subcultures, commuters etc. on both sides of this comparison.  But to say it simply, this is the main difference.  

Sunday, July 13, 2008

An event in Kariya

This will be in Kariya, which is outside Nagoya.  I'll go, take pictures, tell some things about it.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Since we ride bikes

I'd say one way or another, anyone who rides a bicycle and likes it, ends up paying attention to gas prices in a slightly different way than folks who drive a car more often.  Not everyone is political about it, and some of us ride our bikes so much so that we're distanced from the savings. We still end up riding on roads, passing a station and feeling some kind of niceness about things and our bikes.

 In Japan, lots of folks already ride their bikes and / or use public transportation.  But there's still a lot of talk about the rising price of gasoline.  At this gas station - modeled on the Astrodome - it's 180yen for a liter.  Turns out that's 6.66 a gallon.