Back in August shortly after my birthday, my first bike was stolen from me. Well, it might be more accurate to say I put it somewhere I wasn’t supposed to and authorities took care of it. Either way, I assumed I could get along fine without one for a while and wait until the other foreign students could leave their bike to me. I did lots of traveling during the summer break, so I didn’t really need one, but eventually when I was back in town meeting people, buying groceries, or going anywhere I realized the necessity and convince of a bike in Japan.
First of all, not having a bike takes a lot of time. It would take me 5 minutes by bike to get to the train station in order to get to work, and 20 minutes by foot. I was used to the 5 minutes so it was really frustrating. Also, I would have to walk for a total of an hour to get to the store and back and only be able to carry half of what I could on a bike. I was taking more trips that took up more time, and for me, spending that much time just to buy food every week was a pain. These problems only affected me, and the majority of the problems were for other people.
I always felt bad when someone wanted to meet up for dinner or to go get food together, because I couldn’t go unless they were willing to walk. Everyone here assumes that you have a bike so when you don’t it is always a problem. When I went to Disney Sea in Tokyo we were to meet a friend at the front gate of the University and bike to the station to catch our bus. She had no idea that I had no bike and I forgot to tell her, so we almost missed the bus. There were many other situations that I was left out of as well because of not having a bike. Maybe it’s a similar feeling to having a broken down car back home.
Of course after the troubles I bought another bike; it’s the one pictured above. It’s a sweet orange, has sturdy basket and a bright light. I’ve got pride and care in that thing like it’s my car. Actually, the convenience of a bike is close to the convenience of a car in the States unless you consider taking a road trip. I doubt a bike is suitable for that. Everything is close in Japan, so with a bike you can find anything you want or catch a quick train in less than 30 minutes. At all restaurants, stores, and recreation centers there are parking lots specifically for bikes. In the big cities they actually have parking decks for bikes. You can go anywhere. There are large sidewalks along the highways that are always busy with people on bikes. You can ride on the back streets as well, but sometimes it is a scary tight squeeze with the cars.
Coming from a nation where the main form of transportation is a car and our cities have been built around this concept, I see that we can learn from Japan. My main form of transportation has become a bicycle, something I used to view as only a toy. Because I am not driving a car, I am being good to the environment and to my own health. I feel that I’ve eliminated the majority of my environmental footprint as I only use 62Kwh of electricity, generate small amounts of trash that are sorted efficiently to be recycled, and use some water. No Co2 emissions, no cost but the initial purchase of the bike (repairs are even free), and lots of exercise. You may try to argue that this is only because I’m a foreign student so I have no access to a car, but almost all of my Japanese friends move the same way I do; by bike for close things, and trains for trips. If we had cities that were more accessible by bike and a national train system, well, you get the idea. Anyway, even though it is not nearly as possible to do things by bike in Wilmington, I’m going to try to continue this new style of moving when I get back to America.