13 million people live in Tokyo, roughly half are women. Every week day morning, millions of these women put on a suit, make up, high heels, wrap a scarf around the neck, walk outside, and tear off to work riding a Mama Cheri. The mama cheri, a form of mass transportation in Japan, is a bike ridden on the sidewalk, side by side, with all the other pedestrians. Think New York City with half the sidewalk filled with walkers, the other bikers. Only everyone is polite. Unlike a mountain or road bike, the rider sits higher up in order to see above the heads of walkers- like a tricycle. Ubiquitous in Japan, the mama cheri permeates every level of society. In spite of the ever-present chaos on the sidewalks, these vehicles weave fluently among the walking commuters in a city where all inhabitants stake a continual claim on this space. Until I bought one.
January marked the start of our 6th month in Japan with full assimilation celebrated by the purchase of a mama cheri. MY mama cheri replaces the commodious station wagon abandoned behind. Full cargo set up for maximum hauling. Tokyo refrigerators resemble the one from your dorm room thus daily trips to the grocery store are a necessity. Although I appreciate my new Jillian Michaels’ arms, I’d like to shave some time off the hour daily trip.
Night riding? An environmentally friendly, solar-powered light illuminates the path.
As there is in every culture- some sort of van exists. Horse drawn carriages, covered wagons- they’ve evolved through the ages. Mama cheri van. Frequently a baby is also snuggling blissfully on mom’s chest. Here it is. Space for 4.
The comfort ride for the lux toddler.
Andretti-san says in his neighborhood all the mom’s have umbrellas on the mama cheris. Slurs were thrown claiming the women dressed from head to toe in pink leopard print. Further assertions from the fastest driver in town also known to run over mama cheri riders crossing streets claimed that “these women” wore full face coverage visors “impeding their vision” and in some instances had windshields installed. HMPHHH!!! I asked for pictures.
I have seen some designer mama cheris with color coordination.
Here’s the rub. 13 million people in Tokyo, at least half riding mama cheris, the other half walking, and most ExPats haven’t ridden a bike on a sidewalk since the age of 10. Shortly after our arrival, I met a woman with multiple broken bones in her leg. Unnecessary roughness with a parked cab. Fresh off the plane from Michigan.
Next issue. Many ExPats, myself included, don’t own a car. Without a car, one tends to lose all navigational abilities. I bought this new death trap in Shibuya- only 20 minutes from my apartment. The salesman and I bowed our goodbyes, I left with my new mama cheri and had no idea how to get home.
Within 3 minutes of my trek home, a walker abruptly decided to make a hard left in to my path. Front tire grazed his pants. “Gomen nasai” Next came a woman, her dog fully extended on a retractable leash taking the entire the width of the sidewalk. They left me no options. I ran over the leash, choked the dog, and heard the leash clatter to the ground as I passed. Japan is a “drive left”, “walk left” nation but for some reason it’s not clear as to which side is correct for passing as it’s dependent on the person. This is difficult on a bike. Chicken was played several times as I tried to decide on which side of the pedestrian I should be when the oncoming bike approached. Indecision caused my 45 lb purse to shift in the front basket, offsetting my balance, sending me in to a gaggle of women. Brakes screeched as I headed toward them. All of their mouths opened in a collective “O” as I barreled in. They were fine but I crashed my bike for the first time. Dang it. Then came a biker on my tail. Couldn’t he just go around me on the street? Endless stream of pedestrians- constant weaving in and out. And lots of bikes all of whom choosing which side to pass. Which set my purse off kilter again throwing off my balance. Good thing the Offspring are too old to hitch a ride. Someone would go to bed crying. Or nauseous.
I’m now just pointing the bike toward a tall building in my neighborhood. My initial outing left me needing a drink- and a Valium.
Only one person had the answers to Japan’s most complicated questions- The Tasmanian Bloodhound- knower of all things.
Ouiser- “On which side do you pass?”
TB- “Tough one- you have to be the first one to make the move.”
Ouiser- “Where do you park?”
TB- “Always go with the flow and park where other bikes are, don’t park beside a building in the financial district, but don’t park by the street in Shibuya or Shinjuku. One time I lost my bike for several days and thought it was stolen- someone had just picked it up and moved it to bike parking.”
Ouiser- “I don’t think I would recognize my bike. I’ll have to take a picture of it.” I’m not extremely caught up in certain details.
TB- “If you get a ticket they tow your bike.”
Ouiser- “WTF? No paying first?”
TB- “You have to go to the bike parking lot by our house and pick it up.”
Ouiser- “How do you know it’s there?”
TB- “You don’t- that time mine was moved- I thought I had gotten a ticket and went to the lot to look for it. It wasn’t there. Thought it was nicked. Then road Skater’s bike to that same store, parked his in the same spot and HIS was gone, went back to the ticket lot and the guy told me to look in the bike parking area. Someone had picked up both bikes and moved ’em to bike parking 30 feet away. Wasn’t that nice? So Japanese.”
Apparently a GPS tracking device is needed since everyone feels free to move bikes when necessary. If the bikes don’t have the installed locking device, many don’t lock the bikes at all. Crime rate is virtually zero in Japan. In fact, Offspring #2 and I were at the grocery store only to find a parked mama cheri which contained a sleeping baby. By himself. While his mother shopped. He was so cute- his hair stuck straight up. O#2 was so upset I had to wait outside the grocery store- in stealth mode- until the mother came out and rode away. I do hope it was his mother as the bike was not locked. I told O#2 I was sure it was his mother because they looked exactly alike.
Anyway, Offspring #1 rode my mama cheri to the store this morning for hot chocolate mix and was hooked until he saw his reflection in a store window and realized it did not fit with the current image he has of himself. When I see my reflection, I see it as assimilation.