Suburban Japan: Bicycle Wars


I’m living in Fujisawa a bedroom community an hour out of Tokyo. It’s a very desirable neighborhood where dogs are small and pets are leashed. No exceptions. It gives me a chance to see what daily life is like and to find out all thelatest local fads like break dancing. But deep down I think Fujisawa is still something of a village where people buy their food in corner stores and almost none of my neighbors owns a car. Which is a good thing because none of our local stores have parking lots. Unless… we do our shopping on a bicycle. If I go every day like most Japanese women do then I can fit everything I need into that tiny basket. But what do my neighbors do if they have a child? They bring them along. Two children, they point out, work even better. They seem to balance each other out. So my neighbors have clearly got things under control but what about their husbands, the businessmen? They use bikes mostly to get to the train station. [Bye-bye] Once there they can park it in a proper facility which will run them about $700 a year or they can just leave it on the sidewalk like most of us do. Problem is, that’s illegal and every couple of weeks the government shows up to haul our bicycles away. Even motorcycles aren’t exempt. Around here they take a dim view of people who break the law. Like the Grinch at Christmastime they don’t leave anything behind. but I need to know where my bicycle has gone. It’s posted – if I can find the note and read Japanese. I eventually track it down to a completely different part of town under an overpass where the attendant checks his battered books and even lends me a bicycle while I look for mine. They’re grouped by pickup date and place though I’m not out of the woods yet. In this country the bicycles all look pretty much the same. The attendant is happy to help me find it and collect the $15 fee. But best of all in two short weeks we get to do it all over again.