One important part of everyday life in Takamatsu (and I assume in a large number of Japanese towns and cities) are bicycles.
A lot of people move around town on bikes, maybe less than in the Netherlands – although that could be up for debate – but definitely more than in France. I won’t even mention North America here.
It usually is my main mean of transportation when I’m in Takamatsu and during that first trip in May 2009, I was pretty happy about that (I still am) as I lived in Paris at the time, which means that I hadn’t ridden a bike in a few years. For those who don’t know, riding a bike in Paris is a peculiar form of attempting suicide, between the gas fumes and crazy drivers it really is not a sane nor safe thing to do.
However, in Takamatsu, there was one problem. In Japan, people drive on the left side of the road. That alone was enough to turn what is normally a quite mundane and uneventful activity into an adventure on its own. Actually, I need to be thankful for the fact that Kagawa drivers are not as terrible and as disrespectful of the road rules as French drivers can be or else I wouldn’t probably be typing those lines right now.
Ok, to be fully honest, the chances to be hit by a car are slim as in most streets you’re supposed to ride your bike on the sidewalk, not the street itself.
First, I was somewhat relieved; I wouldn’t have to worry that much about cars and being on the left side of the road and those things. What I hadn’t envisioned was that this would create a completely new range of potentially dangerous situations. Having pedestrians and vehicles (even if those vehicles are just bicycles) share the same narrow space is not necessarily the best of ideas in my opinion, and in the end, I wonder if I didn’t barely escaped more accidents on the sidewalk than if I had had to ride my bike on the left side of the road with cars.
Also, in Takamatsu, there are a certain number of streets, all connected to each other that are covered and are reserved for pedestrians and bicycles (I learned later that those types of covered streets are actually quite common in Japan). Apparently, Takamatsu is the city in Japan that has the most length of those or something. I happen to really like them. They associate the advantages of shopping malls of North America (everything is more or less in one place, we’re protected from rain and wind, etc.) as well as the advantages of shopping districts in Europe (we’re not in an enclosed space lit with neon lights and attacked by loud and stupid music, most shops are independent family run businesses and not nationwide chains – they are not absent, mind you). And traffic is, in theory, calm and safe because of the absence of motor vehicles.
In theory only.
Actually those streets, especially at rush hour, get so crowded with people both walking and on bicycles, that as of today, I still wonder how I didn’t hit anybody or didn’t get hit by anybody.
Update: Remember, the previous text was originally written in 2009. Actually, that happened last Fall. Bicycle collision between a high-school student and I. Nobody was injured, not even the bikes. I’m still not sure whose fault it was, but what I’m sure of is that I didn’t improve the reputation of Gaijins on bikes in Japan.