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3
Oct

Bicycle

I made a purchase ten days ago. Ten days is long enough for me to decide that the 9,999 yen ($85 USD) I spent on that hill-clobbering, three-geared, two-wheeled Japanese bicycle was well spent.

(SEE PHOTO ALBUM)

I closed my Tokyo bus school-commuting tenure after a month of slobbering on those wide, tinted bus windows as I stared at the skyline above. After finishing my bus pass, I find myself wheeling through those very skylines.

Now it’s me that is swooping past hand-holding couples and ringing my bell at slow-moving elderly men, always with, “sumi ma sen,” excuse me, floating over my shoulder. The ride to school is a hilly trip, which always hastens a sweat on my forehead, even with the increasingly cooler winds of a late Tokyo September riding along my side.

My first day’s trip to school was thrilling. This, any faithful readers – if I have them – would know. A week’s time hasn’t decreased that interest, though it has made me a little wiser, a little more experienced, and, probably, put me in a little bit better physical shape.

What is particularly beneficial of this bicycle is how readily new city sights and alternate locales open to my flattened-wallet hands. When I am on the street and in the crowds on my way to buy groceries or consume textbooks, suddenly details emerge that I didn’t find even on my slow-moving tour guide of a bus. I pass a small blue building on the corner that sells “American Junk.” I have found an old man with a cracked smile and sprouts of hair on his bald, wrinkled, birthmarked head, as if a graying spring had suddenly sprung. He stands on a particular street corner and, as the eyes of old men tend to do, his eyes twinkle at me as I pass him each morning.

I have expanded use of this bicycle well beyond its commercial use of commuter-ship. If my destination is in Tokyo, I tell confident Christopher, then that location can be met by my foot-motored cycle.

The experience shouldn’t be different than any bicycling I have done in Philadelphia. But it is. Perhaps I am simply closer to overwhelming terror when I bicycle around City Hall in Center City. Tokyo, they tell me, is safer, calmer, and horn-less. This isn’t, I’m afraid, entirely true, but I do feel far more confident in the improbability of being run down by a Tokyo motorist than his Philadelphian counterpart barreling down Broad Street.

I am told there is court precedent that leaves Japanese drivers almost invariably on the wrong end of accidents with bicyclists. I am not knowledgeable on the Japanese court system, neither is my source. I expound his philosophy anyway because it is a tidy fit in my description of my safety in passing Asian taxicabs, running red lights and crossing crosswalks.

Different from Philadelphia is how so few bicycles glide along asphalt, preferring, here in Tokyo, to ride the sidewalks. On the street, I am in a minority, but, to be sure, I am not alone in fighting weighty, engineered vehicles for space on Japanese thoroughfares.

A minority is still a large number, I assure you. You see, as I’ve said, bicycles are everywhere in Tokyo. In garages and on top of buildings, stacked in the back of supermarkets and strung together in parks. I am now another, riding in the morning and trading, “ohayo gozaimasu,” to those I pass in exchange for a smile and a laugh.

I am a stranger here, perhaps never more apparently than when my tall, American frame is pedaling a basketed conveyance, yet I haven’t found anywhere in this country I feel more comfortable and at home than on that seat, wheeling through a busy Tokyo crowd.
Jaa ne,
Christopher

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