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.

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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.

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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.

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

Kogen Onsen

Should one find oneself on the island of Hokkaido, which is the largest island north of Japan’s main island Kyushu, one should definitely pay a visit to the aptly named Daisetsuzan National Park – the ‘big snow mountain.’ While being the largest national park in Japan, it offers a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy and sights to explore.

One of the best ways to experience one part of the 2,300 square meter large park is to seek the Kogen Onsen, one of the hot spring resorts of the area. The Kogen Onsen is located at a high altitude, a novelty when one is used to the onsen located closer to the sea level. The air is fresher and the wind is colder, providing a crisp contrast to the pleasure of relaxing in a resort area powered by a hot spring. Located well over 1 kilometer above the sea level, visitors are also treated to a prime seat to observe columns of smoke rise from the volcanic parts of the area, a rather impressive sight to see.

Those who wish to do more than to simply lounge and observe, are welcomed to gear up and head out for some climbing. There are some difficult and rewarding belts to try one’s hands on, but it is recommended for tourists to go in the company of a guide as inexperience can lead to fatality.

For the less adventurous, the area around the Kogen Onsen provides some very scenic walking trails and tracks. There are some that lead through areas populated by swamps and its respective wildlife. It is noted that the areas filled with swamps have a decidedly orange and brown tint to them, giving the impression from afar that part of the mountain is on fire in contrast to the snowy white that dominates most of the park. An important aspect to consider is that those particular trails lead through one of the areas which the brown bear is home to, thus giving it a relative measure of danger. However, visitors must attend a lecture at the relevant information center prior to heading out anyway. There have been instances before wherein the trails were closed due to a high number of bears nearby, so it is recommended for visitors to make some back-up plans just in case the trail is closed on that particular day.

There are numerous spas and bathhouses in the town around the Kogen Onsen, all of which gain their hot water from the volcanic hot spring.

First image by go-nagano.net

Second image by tokyosnowclub.com