Kyoto is an easy city to get around since it is built on a grid. You can’t really get lost and it is pretty flat, so a jitensha is ideal for getting around. I quickly learned to ride one while carrying an umbrella. In fact, I quite naturally mastered the art of riding with an umbrella and bowing if I passed an acquaintance. It just comes naturally after you’ve been there during a rainy season.
I had a mamachari of course. This is a purely functional bicycle with no speeds, but at least one basket. It was fine in the daytime, but at night it was much harder to pedal because the required light was powered by pedaling. You could switch it off on small streets, but if an omawari–san caught you, you might be fined. At the very least admonished.
I’d pedal home to Midorogaike from downtown often stopping on the way for a nikuman or ochazuke at a small sunakku that was on my route. I didn’t have a kagi on my bike but it was pretty run down and I never had a bike stolen in Kyoto. Tokyo is another story, though.
Just as I’d gotten pretty good at holding an umbrella while I rode, others had honed their own particular bicycle skills. One night I was walking home from the sentō holding my basin and towel in both hands in front of me. I heard a jitensha come up behind me which was nothing new, but darned if this guy didn’t ride past and grab me in the chest! With perfect aim! And he was gone before I could even properly react. I’d been accosted by a chikan!
That’s the only time that happened to me and to be honest, I couldn’t help but slightly admire his excellent aim. WIsh I had reflexes good enough to react, but who would expect such a thing?!
- jitensha 自転車 bicycle
- mamachari ママチャリ the kind of bicycle used by mothers for grocery shopping and transporting kids on either the front, back, or both.
- omawari–san – お巡りさん police officer
- nikuman – 肉饅 a kind of dumpling with meat inside
- ochazuke – お茶漬け a bowl of rice with tea poured over it, usually served with a variety of pickles in Kyoto. It can also have salmon, or other ingredients with it. It’s a great late night snack.
- sunakku – スナック Okay, you’re looking at it and you think it means snack. And it does… now. But in the 1970s this is what we called a bar. I think it is falling out of favor now, but you can still see signage for older bars using this term.
- kagi – 鍵 key. Also means lock, so lock and key. Ponder that.
- sentō – 銭湯 public bath. I’ll write more about that I am sure.
- chikan -痴漢 pervert. If someone grabs you on the train, you should yell this at the top of your lungs to get attention.