Buying A Used Bicycle In Tokyo

IMG_20150318_120036

With the general lack of parking and many narrow streets to navigate even out in the suburbs, bicycles are the vehicle of choice for most people in urban Japan. The trouble is that the run-of-the-mill bicycle in Japan is made for price and convenience, not for fun. While a standard bike may run around $100 and be outfitted with lights, a generously large kickstand and often a basket to carry your groceries, they are steel framed behemoths with few (if any) gears that make climbing even a gentle hill feel like pedaling up Mt. Fuji.

After Winter kept us indoors for the past few months and often driving our car to places we would normally ride to, I began to get the itch to ride a bit more. Good quality bicycles are not difficult to find at specialty bike shops around Tokyo, but as you can imagine, they are expensive. My options were to wait until summer and hope to have enough extra luggage space to bring my bike in California back to Japan or find a decent used bike. Through my research, I located a used bicycle chain online with shops all over Japan that will, for a price, ship you a used bicycle.

For several months I scoured the website looking for a good bicycle. Buying a used bicycle online sight unseen was not particularly appealing to me, so after a while I decided to limit my choices to bicycles which were in shops I could get to by train. Fortunately, there were about 4-5 shops that were easily accessible to me and a few others that were a stretch, but for the right bicycle, I might be motivated to make a special trip.

Last week, I located one, a beautiful mid-range Cannondale hybrid (city/offroad) that was in very good condition. Better yet, it was at the shop in Ginza, an easy train ride from my house. The only catch was that if I ended up buying it, I would need to ride it home, about 16 miles through the heart of urban Tokyo and into the western suburbs.

I got up early the next morning after praying for good weather and found the day a little overcast but warm and no rain in the forecast. After experiencing the rush hour crush on the train to Ginza, I arrived at the shop and found the bicycle in the window. Between my limited Japanese and the shop clerk’s limited English, we figured everything out, agreed on some replacement parts to be installed, and an hour later, I was riding my brand new used bicycle toward home along the southern edge of the Imperial Palace moat.

I have a couple of timelapse videos of my frenetic and sometimes scary ride home but I pulled some still shots to show the different neighborhoods of Tokyo I experienced on my ride home. When you walk or ride through multiple neighborhoods, you begin to see the city and its inhabitants not as one huge mass of humanity, but little villages each with their own specialties and character. It’s important for us to break the city down this way and know how to pray specifically for each area and its people.

I’d love to write more, but it is a beautiful day outside and my new bicycle is calling me to ride it somewhere!

20150318-DSC04467

20150318-DSC04612

20150318-DSC04644

20150318-DSC04687

20150318-DSC04696

20150318-DSC04768

20150318-DSC04862

20150318-DSC05038

20150318-DSC05214

20150318-DSC05535

Image

Life In Japan: The End of Winter

The end of winter is fast approaching, as evident by this little plum tree that we pass every week on the way to church. Each week, more and more pink buds have appeared and burst into blossoms. This week, I finally captured it in it’s beauty.

Image

Japan Photos: The Last Fall

The last fall IMAGE, that is. At least for this year. With temperatures dropping below freezing for several nights in a row, Winter is definitely ready to make its entrance. Wind and rain have hastened the dropping of the last remaining leaves from the trees around our neighborhood. Goodbye Autumn. You were so lovely.

A few interesting notes on this image (yes, this is a photography post, not a Japan or ministry post).

It is an intentional double exposure. This is literally one of the last photos of Autumn I took this year. After taking thousands of photos Autumn leaves, I have to admit, it gets tiresome. That’s not Autumn’s fault. That’s the fault of a photographer who gets lazy with the creative process and shoots the same image of the same subject over and over. By this time, I realized I needed to try something different, so I began to experiment. Experiment with focus, with camera movement, with new angles. And finally, multiple exposures. Yes, it is nice to let the beauty of nature speak for itself sometimes, but you can also lend some God-given creativity to the process. You might be surprised.

It sat around untouched for nearly two weeks before I noticed it. I had so many beautiful shots from that day, I never even gave this shot a second look. When I had reviewed it quickly in my camera, it had not seemed like anything special to me. It was only when I opened it up and really checked the details that I realized this shot was special. In the creative process, don’t be too hasty with your work. Look closely at the details, post-process the image to its strengths, and see what materializes. And even if you reject an image once, give it a second a chance a week or two later. Perhaps your perspective will have changed.

Of all my Autumn images, this one captures my feelings of the season best. That’s a difficult thing to say because I have taken so many lovely images of Autumn here in Japan. Everywhere you turn, you see the beauty of Autumn, from mountains bursting with fall color to gardens punctuated with strategically planted momiji to the bicycle path on the street outside our front door where autumn leaves fall into a clear stream full of koi. In this image, my intent was to layer the familiar colors and shapes of Fall in an almost abstract way. Like looking through the Autumn leaves at the Autumn leaves. Unlike many of my other images, I also subdued the brashness of the color, deadened it, as a reminder that Autumn, like every season, also must come to an end. Compared to some of my other fall images, it might even seem a bit drab color-wise. But that too is part of Autumn.

With Autumn gone, I can now turn my attention to capturing the feel of Winter here in Japan. What will I find that defines Winter in our city and in the great metropolis of Tokyo? Let’s find out together!

Everyday Japan – Yakitori

Stepping into the narrow smoke-filled alley, I squeeze past a mix of white-shirted “salarymen”, a gaggle of eastern European tourists, and Japanese hipsters snapping pictures with iPhones. On both sides, impossibly narrow shops consisting of a counter, a few bar stools and a charcoal grill are crammed full of people, shoulder-to-sweaty-shoulder, enjoying a hot summer evening eating yakitori.

Yakitori dining isn’t as much about eating as it is fellowship. It’s a time to get together with friends and throw back a few beers (or something stronger) while dining on skewers of grilled chicken, yakitori. Yakitori can’t necessarily be compared to American BBQ. Yakitori is a chicken head-to-tail delicacy. Yes, there are the old standards of thigh meat, interspersed with Japanese leeks and called “negima” or for the carnivores, just the meat, (momo), grilled wings (tebasaki), and ground chicken (tsukune). But there are also more exotic yakitori: chicken skin (kawa), tails (bonjiri), liver (rebaa), hearts (hato/kokoro), and cartilage (nankotsu).

Outside the West exit of the behemoth Shinjuku Station stands a remnant of the past that remains as popular today as it was when it opened 70 years ago. In fact, it is now called Omoide Yokocho, Memory Alley, in honor of its history, though its actual name in the past was Shomben Yokocho, or Piss Alley. I’ll leave it to your imagination how it got that name. Right after WW2 when food was scarce, entrepreneurial folks set up makeshift stalls outside of Shinjuku Station selling small pieces of chicken meat (and parts) that were easily obtained from Allied occupational forces. These stalls became Omoide Yokocho, and have become such a part of the neighborhood that the community rebuilt the whole area when a fire nearly gutted it in the 1990s.

Quite the opposite of how many people think of Japan, Omoide Yokocho is rowdy and gritty (though not dangerous), full of loud laughter and coarse joking among comrades. Thousands of Japanese salarymen filter through the alley every weeknight, using the easy atmosphere and free-flowing alcohol to blow off steam from their stressful or boring jobs. If the Tokyo workforce seems robotic during the workday, this is a great place to visit to remind yourself that they, like you, are regular human beings who need time to relax and friends to be themselves around.

Everyday Japan – Playground

Today, I rode my bike past this playground made up of a set of swings, a slide, and a few sets of bars. Though fairly well maintained with fresh paint, like 90% of other playgrounds like this around Tokyo, it was completely devoid of kids, even in the middle of Japanese school’s summer vacation.

It occurred to me that if I were a kid, the last thing I would want to do would to be out playing on a metal playground in the middle of summer. Besides the hot sticky summer air, metal play structures capture the heat of the sun and a swing that might be fun in the cool months would probably become a branding iron for your bottom in the summer.

Kids are out playing in the summer heat, but that play often involves sports (perhaps keeping in practice for the school team they participate in) or water play, which is exactly the sort of fun I would love to have in the summer. But for the most part, children are hiding away from the summer heat indoors.

To me, the average Japanese playground seems to be completely disconnected from the audience they are trying to reach: children. How can play areas be restructured to recapture the hearts of children and draw them out to play in the summer? Treehouses built in the protective shade of a grove of trees? Wooden forts with water cannons?

Image

Tokyo Redux – Better Than Paris?

I have heard it said that getting macarons in Tokyo is better than getting them in Paris because you get the same quality without the French snobbery. Whatever the case, macarons are certainly not scarce in the counters of upscale depachika (the basement level of Japanese department stores, known for counters full of prepared foods of all kinds) all over the city.