Monday, July 21, 2008

Yesterday Once More

I no longer recall for sure just how I thought I'd be getting around Japan before I moved there for 3 years after college, but I'm pretty sure I thought I'd buy a car because the idea of not having a car seemed more foreign to me than octopus in salad (which is delicious and better than on pizza, if you'd like to know the truth). Due to the paperwork hassle and even nuttier cost for shaken (appropriately pronounced similar to "Shock-en"), the required vehicle inspection that costs the equivalent of $1000+ (every two years!), I never got around to bothering with a car, even if I lived in the rice fields and dreamed of one.

Really, I didn't need a car. Instead I had what the good folks of Japan had relied on for lots of many years. I had a Mamachari.

Mamachari is slangish for something like Mama's Chariot (or maybe an entirely different meaning, but that one sounds good), and it's the shorthand for those very utilitarian looking granny bikes with baskets that are everywhere in Japan and ridden by everyone. I rode my mamchari through hot and humid summers to a school without air conditioning, in cold winters against the chiling wind back to an apartment with no heat, I grocery shopped with bags hanging from the handle bars (once in a typhoon), I somehow once carried home a book case on it from the DIY store, and I rode on the back rack cushioned with towels on romantic rides holding on tight while he drove under the summer moon and along to the music of the chirping frogs.

My mamachari was my transportation, even just to get to the train for additional transportation. I loved it; I didn't love it, both, but quickly it became what I knew, at least as far as my life in Japan was concerned, where many things I came to know as familiar were different from "home" - squat toilets, bullet trains, coffee creamer called Creap, drinks called Pocari Sweat, rice cookers that are smarter than some people I know and hanging clothes to dry for lack of a dryer.

Moving back to the States, I got right back into some old ways and had a car within about 24 hours, even if I cringe at the thought of wearing shoes in the house to this very day and still eat ramen with chopsticks. I was sure that my mamachari days would remain a bittersweet memory of my days in Japan.

Then a decade later, I quit smoking and started walking but found I couldn't run without expensive shoes due to ankle issues, and the price of gas went up well over $4.00, and suddenly riding a bike seemed like an excellent alternative to running while also saving money I don't have to spend at the pump. I'd already mysteriously started boycotting my dryer and more mysteriously stuck with it (and still now) citing as a reason to myself that I'd done it for 3 years in Japan, so getting back on the bike seemed a good idea.

A friend from work loaned me a bike, a mountain bike, and I was in shock (expressed in a haiku that ends with a bottle of wine) at how difficult it was to ride and how damn uncomfortable, too! Each time I rode a little, I found myself daydreaming about comfortable bikes with baskets in the form of granny bikes, mamacharis, and before I could name The Carpenters as the other favorite musical artist next to The Beatles in all of Japan, I realized that I *had* to have a mamachari immediately.

After a few weeks, I convinced Tom to agree with me, and on Sunday I went to the Target and bought something I never thought I'd own outside of Japan, this wonderful, perfect, comfortable and exactly as I've been dreaming about mamachari (this one).

Riding it for the first time, every bad karaoke version of Yesterday Once More by The Carpenters ran through my mind (I was witness to many versions, none exactly good), and I just hummed aloud and cruised along agreeing that yes, it is, indeed, yesterday once more. I've already bought a cool quick-release basket, and I've come full circle: boycotting the dryer, riding a mamachari, other small oddities. However, if you see me squatting over my toilet, the kind with, you know, a seat, please intervene, thx.


  1. I agree about the bike. I was appalled at not having a car in Belgium but eventually got used to riding a bike to the city center and to my classes. It's been slow going and I still don't do well with hills, but a lot of that has to do with the amount of weight I have to lose I think. I do think though, if we ever move to the states, I'll be looking for a house in a city that is biker friendly and I'll be purchasing a shiny new bike before a car.

  2. HI Maggie! I haven't posted here in a while so I thought that I would drop in and say hi!

    Glad to see that you are still doing well!

  3. Nice! Props to you for taking the plunge and doing something I have no intention of doing. I'll have to *gasp* ride public transportation first, but I haven't sunk that low yet. Not that's there's anything wrong with the public transports, just that there tends to be lots of crazies lurking there, and I've had more than my fair share of interesting encounters.

    Loved your helmet post, btw.

  4. I was wondering where you have been Maggie....who would have thought you were out buying a new bike (even after the punk ass pre-teen boys encounter!) I am glad you were buying a bike and not redeeming your coupons for Snus! I am STILL irate with big tobacco over this one! Ah, the sunny side of truth right?
    Gotta run,
    Have Fun on the bike.

  5. ROFLMAO! Altho I kind of liked the squat toilets, I loved the fancy schmancy ones that played sounds to as to disguise the ones humans might make, the ones that washed and blew dry your nether regions, the ones that had warmed seats. Japan really does toilets!

    Also, those bikes are a great idea. However, living on a military base, we got a discount for the car so I had one...even tho, looking back, I really didn't need it! I did ride my mountain bike town to the Tama River from time to time, tho.

    Yeah for octopus on pizza and for okonamiyaki (yeah, you didn't mention it, but yum!).

    The Carpenters? Really?

  6. Hi Maggie. I was drawn to your name on David's blog as I am also a Maggie with connections to Japan! How funny!

  7. Hey....thats a pretty cool ride! Congrats on taking it to the next level. BTW, I thought you were going to say "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head" was you bike song. You know, like from Butch and Sundance.

  8. The first link to the pink mamchari is awesome! I cannot imagine towing a bookcase on there!

    Love the new bike :) I would love to trek around town in one of those.

  9. I think it's so great you are doing this. I have vowed that when our new Publix opens up this week, I'm going to ride my bike over to it - because dammit, it's close enough, and I'm sick of my car.

    I don't think I could do it the 35 miles to school though. I'd have kick ass legs though...

  10. Funny you should mention it. I have just gotten my bike out of the garage and taken it to the place where I bought it to have it 'tuned up' so its's ridable again. we'll see how much riding actually gets done - but it's a start.

  11. hahaha! ok i was in hysterics over the bookshelf on the bike.

    great new bike though!! (did you get a new matching helmet?)

  12. I love this bike and I love the initiative you take in life!

  13. so how are you liking it?
    i think it's too dang hot to be riding around, my hat is off to you!

  14. Half-Past Kissin' TimeMonday, July 28, 2008 7:25:00 AM

    I'm happy for you about the bike! Mr.4444 and I own 40-year-old his and hers Schwinn's, and we love them. Each has a pedal-powered headlight, so we cruise around the neighborhood on hot summer nights; it's fun. Thanks for poppping in today! :)


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