Meet the Mamachari

Bicycles have been an important aspect of Japanese life since the 1870s, when the Japanese began modifying European imported bicycles to better fit the Asian body type. In 1927, the government declared a “Bicycle Commemoration Day”, set on November 11th. And by 1940, there were over 8 million bicycles in use in Japan.

JapaneseBicycle001

The war took its toll on much of the country: 3 million bicycles had been lost; what remained was in very bad shape, leaving a markedly low morale among the Japanese people. But from these and other painful casualties of the war- the destruction of much beauty, hundreds of lives lost, Japan comfort women- the country and its people slowly but surely recovered.

Today, bicycles are widely used all over Japan, the most common type called the “mamachari”, or “mom’s bicycle”. They are usually equipped with a basket (for marketing and visits to the shops) or a child seat. These are bicycles for everyday use, and are available for rent all over the country.

Japanese CityCycle FashionableType

Despite the name “mom’s bicycle”, the mamachari is suitable for use by both genders, and are usually quite affordable to rent, going from about 1000-1300 yen a day.

Mamachari are known as “utility” bikes, setting them apart from typical athletic bicycles. However, an annual Mamachari Endurance Race is held at the Tokachi International Speedway- a fun event filled with festivities and costumed cyclists.

Japanese CityCycle LadiesType

Mamachari have also, in recent years, gained popularity outside of Japan, most notably in London, where worsening traffic has made cycling a practical choice.

Etiquette on a Japanese Golf Course

Japanese culture dictates politeness and is generally based around the concept of honor. This has been part of the nation’s way of living for many centuries and is relevant to this very day, with a big emphasis and weight being put with manners and etiquette. With golf being one of the most popular sports across the nation, especially among the middle-aged male, corporate-job class, attention must be paid to how etiquette and such factor into enjoying a decent round of golf in the Land of the Rising Sun – after all, it is a gentleman’s (and lady’s) sport.

The first step is to assess where you’re going to play. If you’re headed to a private club by invitation (often at the friendly behest of a business partner or associate), you better get ready to bring your best manners to the course. A measure of safety would be to always wear long pants, even on a public course. This rule doesn’t really apply all that much to women, however there are obvious guidelines on the difference between appropriate and not. If invited to play, a polite inquiry into dress code guidelines is advised, but in either case, keep your long pants (not jeans or slacks) and polo shirts ready.

Another point of etiquette is that there is generally no tipping in Japan. If you’re playing with a caddie, and if you are playing on a private course you will be playing with one, do not tip them unless the other, more experiences players, do. In some courses it is acceptable for groups of players to throw in a few thousand yen each for the caddie, but leave that decision up to others. Given that on most Japanese courses you can only play in groups of two or larger and not on your own, you shouldn’t worry so much as most likely you are in the presence of someone knowledgeable anyway. In the case that you aren’t a discreet inquiry at the clubhouse prior to teeing off could be a good idea.

On that note, it is important to treat both the course and the caddie right. If you leave a chip mark on the fairway after a good chip, fix it up with the appropriate tool. Normally the caddies will take care of this, but it is a good gesture to fix your own damage instead of assuming others will do so, which serves as a sign of integrity. Be friendly to your caddie and make sure you appreciate his assistance. While, sure, it is his job, your treatment of those working beneath you is a huge indication of character.

First image by whitefields-golf.co.uk

Second image by pilotguide.com

Vega

Golf is, interestingly enough, one of the most flexible sports that has become popular in the past few centuries. Rules change from club to club, there are a variety of different scoring systems to play the game under and many different professional leagues and tournaments are held regularly across the world with excessively high price pools – an extremely competitive sport that is not to be taken lightly. One aspect that golf has over many other competitive sports is the variety in gear used and required. This makes golf far from being a cheap sport, as equipping oneself with good clubs, clothes and accessories needed doesn’t happen cheaply. It just so happens that Japan is one of the nations well known for manufacturing some truly high-end gear – and the Japanese manufacturer Vega is one of the names only those with good knowledge of the industry might recognize.

The company’s origin lies in Kobe, a place in Japan with much background in metal work, generally focused on the production and forging of weaponry used by the Samurais – a very intricate craft. And while those skills may not be relevant anymore nowadays as the demand for swords is rather low, the skill to produce such an epic weapon is far from wasted and, today, applied to the creation of golf clubs.

Vega states to be in pursuit of crafting the perfect golf club. Their product line is focused on the clubs made of iron and steel, which in golf terms normally relate to irons, wedges and putters. To them, every single golf club they manufacture is a piece of art, not meant to be displayed in a case of glass, but used to perfection in the hands of a capable artist, on the wide, green, competitive fields of golf. Japan is a country known for both culture, craftsmanship and technological dominance. Vega strives to embody all of these aspects – “a fusion of old and new” as they claim themselves. Like some other Japanese golf club manufacturers, Vega Golf handcrafts each and every one of their clubs, meaning there is no mass production by the means of factories. Thus their clubs are of highest quality – and this is, of course, reflected in their prices. A single Vega club will set you back a pretty penny – well into the thousands of US Dollars, which is more than what the average beginner pays for an entire set of new clubs.

First image by wizgolf.com.sg

Second image by fourcountriesgolf.co.uk

Differences between Golf in Japan and the rest of the world

Golf is one of the flexible sports that has different scoring systems as well as rules and regulations depending on where you go. In most countries, this tie in with the local culture and change accordingly as you travel across the world to play golf. With Golf having become one of the most popular sports in the Land of the Rising Sun, trailing behind the other two modern sports of Football and Baseball, it comes a little surprise that the Japanese golf pioneers have put their own little spin on the sport, which is of course in line with their cultural diversity.

Let’s highlight some differences between Japan’s golfing tradition and the rest of the world. Prior to tee-off, most things stay the same, except that most Japanese courses provide lockers for their players to keep valuables in. In addition you will be given a card corresponding to your locker, which can be used for purchases at the pro-shop or cafe, to be paid after you play.

The real differences start when you’re half way through your round of hitting the greens. After 9 holes it is often customary to have a lunch together with your fellow golfers. This is generally not done in the west, but is a pretty big thing in Japan and skipping it is frowned upon. It is generally a good idea to indulge in the beer or coffee, as they are meant to relax you and loosen up your swing for the back nine.

Now really interesting is what happens after the 18th hole. There is normally a post-round communal hot bath in a hot-spring powered onsen. The aforementioned locker will contain slippers for you to replace your shoes with. You keep your clothes on as you make your way to the baths, but bring a spare change of clothes with you. In the bath area, you take off your slippers and go to one of the changing areas with baskets. Change your clothes and grab a small towel and make sure it is a small one as taking a big one is a big breach of protocol. Proceed to either the western-style showers or do it in the style of the true Japanese and go to one of the open bathing areas. Here, you sit on a little stool and wash yourself rigorously before washing off and relaxing in a pool of hot water.

First image by mydemoninyou.blogspot.com

Second image by agoda.com

Two Tips for the casual Golf tourist in Japan

Golf is one of the sports that has seen a significant rise in popularity across Japan, firmly entrenching it as one of the most popular sports across the nation. Golf is, by nature, a more exclusive and expensive sport than many others, appealing to the older generation of inhabitants living in the Land of the Rising Sun. Given the sport’s rise in popularity not just in Japan but in Asia overall, Japan has become one of the premier destinations in south-east Asia to play the sport at, mainly due to the large variety of high-quality courses available in the country. Golf is, of course, one of the more engaging of outdoor activities and is regarded as a great way to regulate one’s health and well-being.

 

Of course, when one visits Japan, especially from overseas with the intent of combining a holiday with a few rounds of golf, there are a few things one has to keep in mind. The first would be that it would be advised, in most cases, that one leaves their own clubs at home as they make traveling a hassle. Of course, this depends on whether you’re going solely for the purpose of playing golf or not. If all you plan on doing in Japan is playing Golf, then by all means, bring your clubs. If you’re more on the casual side of things, leave them at home – you can rent clubs in many places in Japan and bringing your own can become a nightmare with additional air-fees and customs. Some countries such as Australia are very strict when it comes to bringing back used golf gear from abroad, thus research into these things are essential.

Another point to keep in mind is dress code. If you’re a casual golfer who decided today would be a good day to not see any more of the prolific Japanese sights but play a round of golf, be aware – even though you can rent clubs, they might not be of the same quality as you’re used to. In addition to that comes the dress code, in many of the Japanese clubs there is a strict dress code to be adhered to, including the wearing of pants and polo shirts. Being ignorant of this could lead to more problems than worth the money, especially in a country like Japan wherein etiquette and manners are very much valued.

First image by factsanddetails.com

Second image by nodivot.com

Golfing Near Tokyo

When you head to Japan, you’re most likely heading to the capital of the city, the metropolis that is Tokyo. Of course, there is much to do in Tokyo, much to see – after all, it is a city of wonders. And despite being a hub of technology and culture, there is also much nature to see in the area, including some wonderful venues for exploring the great outdoors. However, for the lover of Golf, Tokyo in itself might not be the prime destination. One of the reasons for this is the lack of space, constraining many golf courses in the immediate area to smaller-than-average square kilometers of open space, making courses rather challenging as well as uncomfortable, especially on a crowded day. Fear not, however, as there are several worthwhile golf courses within driving distance of the Land of the Rising Sun’s capital city.

The Kawana Hotel Resort isn’t for the golfer faint of heart. This hotel is home to two golf courses which are known for their high degree of difficulty. The more prolific of the two courses, the Oshima course, has nicknames for every hole along the way, one of which is affectionately called “Goodbye” by its veterans, in memory of all the innocent golf balls lost along the hole. Kawana Hotel’s courses also have majestic views of the famous Mount Fuji, and the course is entered on the Top 100 Golf Courses of the World at rank 77. Playing here will set you back Y20,000 on a weekday and Y27,500 on a weekend (USD185 and USD250 respectively). A rather pricey affair but well worth it. It is also to note that the secondary course, the Fuji course, is only accessible by those who have also booked a room in the hotel.

 

For those not willing to risk losing all their balls on that course, the Windsor Park Golf And Country Club might be more along one’s tastes. This one is located very conveniently for those staying in Tokyo as it is only about one hour away from the city via the Joban Expressway. The Windsor Park Golf and Country Club’s course is maintained to a very high international standard, home to some exceptional staff. Compared to the Kawana courses, this one is significantly less harrowing but should still prove to be a good challenge for players of all levels. It is home to beautiful greens and has a clubhouse with a very classic golfing feel to it. Playing here won’t break your bank too badly, as the weekday cost lies at Y6,800 and the weekend cost lies Y13,000 (USD63 and USD121 respectively.)


First image by cnn.com

Second image by japantimes.co.jp

Miura Golf

When it comes to golf, Japan is one of the leading nations in the Asia region as reflected in the country’s local adoration for the sport, trailing behind only two other western sports in terms of overall popularity across the nation. Given that Golf is a somewhat more exclusive-feeling sport and not all that cheap to get into, this is not a real surprise – what is, however, surprising, is the amount of Golfers throughout Japan, populating the nation’s thousands of courses, given that it is a time consuming sport played by those that normally don’t have all that much time.

When one lives in Japan and wants to engage in the outdoor activity of hitting the greens and teeing off on the regular, one needs equipment. Golf equipment, ranging from balls to clubs to bags to clothes comes in a huge variety of selections, most of which is carefully manufactured by the industry leaders across the world. Japan has a reputation of being some of the best the world has to offer in the fields of engineering and construction, and this is also seen by their care in manufacturing golf equipment – in particular, golf clubs, the most essential part of a golfer’s arsenal.

Katsuhiro Miura - Master Craftsman

Miura Golf is one of the leading Japanese manufacturers of clubs. They are significantly less known than, say, Nike or Nixon, but produced some of the highest quality products a golfer living in Japan can get their hands on. The company is lead by the Miura family – Katsuhiro Miura and his sons, Yoshitaka and Shinei, both of whom he trained from an early age.

They manufacture a specific subset of clubs, namely fairway irons, wedges and putters, all of which have the same base component of steel – also the reason why the company does not manufacture drivers which are generally made from a mix of carbon fiber and other lightweight materials. Every single club the Miura family sells are forged in their one factory and forge, located in the city of Himeji, which also has a historical reputation of being the home of the best sword crafters in the world, giving the city a significant background in steel working.

The manufacturing process is a team effort as Katsuhiro Miura grinds newly ordered clubs by hand in his factory each and every day, a true statement of his passion given that he has done so since 1957. Every single club is hand-crafted and will never be mass-produced, making them a speciality product that is rather high in demand among those who have been lucky enough to try them out at some point – however, the only reliable way of getting them is to make one’s way to Japan and order them in person.

Images from miuragolf.com

Kasai Rinkai Koen Driving Range

Western sports are, for some reason, Japan’s favorites. It surprises many that visit the country when they find out that of all the sports, Baseball is the single most popular across the nation, with the international sport of Soccer (football) being a close second. What surprises visitors even more than that is that Golf is among the top 3, if one ignores the traditional sport of Sumo wrestling. With the rise in popularity, Golf is more accessible than ever in Japan – as evidenced by the over 2000 courses one can play on across the nation. Of course, every hobby golfer knows that Golf is a very time-consuming sport and not many can afford to hone their skills by going out for a 6 hour round on the regular – thus, the importance, and availability, of driving ranges has become all the more prevalent.

There are many driving ranges in Japan, and close to 100 alone in the Tokyo area, meaning that there is a high chance of one simply discovering one by just getting lost in the city. One of the problems with this is that while there are many driving ranges in Tokyo and its are, due to space constraints, they often are limited in length, with most maxing out at 100 yards – which while great for practicing one’s swing and technique, is not ideal for seeing the results of a good hit and limiting players to practising irons and clubs meant for lower ranges.

One good place to head to in Tokyo for getting some decent practise in is the Kasai Rinkai Koen Driving Range. This one is rather large, especially in comparison to some other ones – there are 300 booths available, spread out over 3 floors, making it one of the most impressive sights for an inexperienced golfer to see. The range is only 30 minutes of out Tokyo’s inner city and spans a whooping 250 yards – shooting any farther than that and you’re likely creeping into the lower levels of handicap in the sport of golf. This particular driving range is generally rather busy and packed with golfers around the clock, even around 10pm one can find it a struggle to find a free booth. One impressive feature here is that the range is almost completely automated – there aren’t even any clunky trucks driving around the range to pick up balls, as the range is constructed in a clever way that balls will roll into feeding system which will bring them back straight to the booths.

First image by dylangoestokyo.com

Second image by shibuya246 on flickr.com