Thursday 13 April 2017

One Bicycle - Four Riders?!?

April means back to school in Japan, and for many mothers (and a surprisingly few fathers) this means shuttling their children to and from nursery or kindergarten by bicycle. A bicycle is colloquially called chari in Japanese and the type typically ridden by a parent taking their kid/s to nursery is called a mama-chari (even if dad is riding!). Mama-chari usually have a child-seat at the back and a basket at the front, though an extra child-seat can be added to the front if two little ones need transporting. On top of this, one also occasionally sees a baby strapped to the parent's chest or back papoose-style, making for a grand total of four riders!

A picture of a parking lot full of mama-chari bicycles next to a local kindergarten. Most have one or two child seats and are power-assisted.
A Line of Mama-chari parked next to a local kindergarten
This may seem a little dangerous to non-Japanese and indeed fatal bicycle accidents have risen in recent years, something which prompted the government to revise the Road Traffic Law in 2015. The new law allowed a cyclist to carry one child under the age of six in a designated child seat; children under 13 also had to wear a helmet. However, the ban was greeted with outrage by Japan's army of mama-chari parents who campaigned against the ruling, forcing the government  to back down. Now, discretion is left up to individual prefectures who generally allow two-under-sixes if the bicycle is a proper model, though strapping a third child is usually not allowed (see, for example, Tokyo's rules here). But, as one soon learns living in Japan, there are many rules but few which are actively enforced: bicycle helmets, cycling on the pavement, and riding holding an umbrella are typically ignored - and mothers with kids are almost always left alone.

Riding with kids front and back is a precarious - and tiring - experience, and recent years have seen a number of lighter electric models introduced with smaller 20-inch wheels giving a lower centre of gravity and a more stable ride. For an example of a popular power-assisted model see the Panasonic Gyutto Annys EX here which costs a paltry ¥160,000 (£1,160 or $1,440), including tax!