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Beautiful Bikes, Helpful Bikes and Less Impressive Bikes

August 28, 2010
tags: ,

So there were many bicycle intersections to the trip to Sado.

On the shinkansen train on the way there, we ran into these two girls with moulton folding bikes. Of course, we had no idea they were also going to Sado and we consequently bumped into them about 3 times a day for the rest of the trip.

(see the brooks leather bag on the back of the saddle? They just left it there when they parked. I can’t imagine leaving a 200 dollar leather bag hooked to my bike. Sometimes, I love Japan.)

At first I was so jealous of them having their bikes and getting straight of the boat and cycling away. However, Sado is full of hills, and our minshuku was at the top of one. So, it would have been a gruelling ride home after the concert each night if we had had those, especially since we usually had at least a couple of drinks at the concert (at about 2 dollars a drink it was hard not to).

Then we met our minshuku roommates, Etsuko and Satomi (who somehow I never took a picture of). They were the perfect new people to share a room with and it was great to make friends with them. They rented bikes from the Earth Celebration office, at about 10 dollars a day, that came with electrical assists. After one day of trying to sort out buses on that scarce (3 a day) schedule, we quickly copied them.

The assists were FABULOUS. I don’t think I would want one for mostly flat Tokyo, but for Sado they were amazing. They would be great in Vancouver too. Toronto I don’t see the need so much. But I have to say, as much as I enjoyed the assist, I found when it was turned off, the bike didn’t feel ‘quite right’ as a regular geared bike. That is why I wouldn’t buy one to live somewhere mostly flat.

With the bikes we were able to explore the island, and made it up to the Kodo drum village at the peak. We were also able to ride home at 11 at night through the fields down old country roads. The second night the four of us rode home together in the dark and it was sublime.

The other bike experience we had was that the 1st concert night we were invited to sit with the cycling group BEE Japan who were cycling from the north of Honshu Island to the South and had stopped in at Sado. It was lovely to be invited to join them and I was optimistic even about maybe trying BEE next year. It sounded like a pretty cool plan and group.

But you know, sometimes things are better before you find out their personalities and ideologies.

Ok, I’m going to go out on a potentially snotty limb here and say, I don’t cycle to “bring awareness to others” or to take some self righteous position of how my life is “better than yours” because I cycle. Sure, it’s better to ride a bike than to drive a hummer, but let’s be brutally honest and say, despite how I may hate SUVs in general, it’s not like I’m making a CHOICE to not have one. I lack the money, the stable residence etc to have one. If I didn’t ride my bike, I would walk or take public transportation, and I don’t know that that would put a bigger burden on the environment. I bike because it feels good, I see more, and I save money to boot.

So when I looked up the Bee Japan bike ride link, I kind of took issue with the fairly self-righteous stand they are taking. First of all, loads of people bike here, so if your issue is bikes, you are preaching to the choir. Secondly, their self professed affiliation as JETs is problematic for me too. I have no problem with JETs taking a social role, in fact when on JET I went with a group of them to the Philippines to do Habitat for Humanity. But trying to engage with the world is different to me than trying to tell your host country what they are doing wrong. I’m sure their hearts are in the right places, but since when is eikaiwa (English Conversation) considered a legitimate forum for social change? And maybe they should spend some time learning from Japan before chastizing it. Japan does some stuff way better environmentally speaking, and some stuff worse. Wouldn’t it be more powerful to learn the good stuff and take it home?

Many of their goals I agree with, like using non disposable food implements, (although I’m not entirely sure why vending machines are evil, can someone tell me?) but I think it would be a much more interesting tour if they went around Japan engaging with local green groups and initiatives, stopping at organic farms to learn/help out, etc. Surely there is much here to be learned about sustainability. Just look at the innovations for hang drying clothes, and how much dryer energy (both in use and production) that must save. Rather than tell people what they are doing wrong, why not praise and learn from what they do right? Who wants to be told by some foreigner that their habits are bad?

I think the reason they bother me is two fold. 1) they weren’t so friendly. Although they invited us to share their tarp on the first night of the concert, they were not very interested in talking to us (there were 2 quite nice ones) and there was a definite cool breeze blowing from the left.

2) gaijin who come to Japan and feel they need to “teach” anything other than English irritate me. I of course make an exception to people TRAINED in a particular specialty like Yoga or literature etc., I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about people who come here to teach English but feel compelled to tell Japan how it SHOULD be from their very Western perspective rather than taking the time to learn about where they are.  And I don’t think most of them are very reflective on what their own home cultures do that fails on the same scale. (Last time I checked, Toronto still EXPORTS its recycling to Korea. How is that better than here regardless of what the situation is?)

So, overall, BEE made me sad. It was the first time I met a dedicated cycling group here, and at the outset I thought it would be a great set of people to talk to, to learn about what a longer trip here would be like, to maybe pick up some non-city bike tips. But instead it was just kind of…. blah.

So maybe we should start a Japan Slow Bike Tour. Where we ride to destinations to look at water conservation, or local food production, or efforts to repopulate the turtles. We don’t have to camp and vow never to use vending machines (although we can try to carry eco bottles). We can eat local because it is GOOD and tasty and different and makes sense. We can see things and ask questions rather than telling “answers.” I think it’s more fun to learn than preach. But maybe that’s cause I’m a perma-student.

Anyone wanna come on a lazy, food filled long bike ride? I imagine something like a Saturday trip to the farmer’s market drawn out across a week or two of destinations. Kind of like the trip I just took with Yuki (a perfect Bike trip pal). Only we can take our bikes on and off the train and go for longer.

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