Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"mamachari", the aunty bike they call it!

So I thought, I really should get myself a bicycle. I've missed the convenience of having a car since I came to Tokyo. With the exception of going to work or somewhere routine, I've always had to check the train schedule before going somewhere in order to make sure I reach there on time, but more importantly, that I get the right transfer on the right train line.

I've been toying with this idea for sometime, but only seriously went about looking for one when my Spanish housemate got hers. Plus, the weather was getting warmer, time for the outdoors and no reason to laze around anymore! So I checked up Craigslist, an online classifieds of sorts ranging from jobs to household items to some of the more kinkier non-tangible services. It has a simple layout designed to direct you to what you're looking for. A no-frills services which has connection all over the world. Bicycles must be quite a big category for it to have its own link.

I sent an email to a few people whose bike looked decently affordable. The only response I received was from a certain Megan, whom I met up a week ago so that I could assess the goods. She sounded friendly enough and I was pleased to know that it was pretty new, being 5 months and in good condition. She told me that I was the first to respond to her email, and was giving me priority over the many others who also asked for the bike. Almost immediately I told her I would take it!

Before I met up last weekend to collect the bike, I had to make sure I knew how to ride it back home. This being my first time cycling in metropolitan Tokyo, I didn't wanna get lost. Not that I'm worried since I think my Japanese proficiency is a little better than when I first came to Japan. (Updated) Japanese roads mostly do not have names on them! But it was going to be a long ride and I wanna enjoy it rather than feeling flustered about finding my way around. I first looked up Google Maps Japan, a very useful application. (Please click on the following maps for the original screenshot view)

So it was a good tool IF you are travelling by train! It gives you the possible routes to your desired destination, together with the total time taken for each train, walking time and the fare for each section of the commute. Pretty comprehensive if you're looking for train options. I could actually follow this route, go all the way along the Yamanote tracks and still reach home. But it would be a loooooong way home. Plus I would probably have to fend myself against the cars.

From Ebisu station where I met up with Megan. Look at the map, it lists down all the convenience stores in the vicinity with cute little icons. The blue arrows shows 1-way streets while I think the numbers represent the block number in each ward. Just type in your starting point (in valid address & postcode) and the corresponding destination and it will point out the train routes.

But then I remembered Danny told me about this site called Mapfan which was even better as it tells you the directions. You can choose from car on an expressway, car on a normal road, bicycle on a certain speed and even walking on a normal pace. Each will return the relevant route, distance and estimated time taken. The best part about this is, they will list down the route via directions (turn left, right curve, intersection, etc) so you don't need the map itself actually. This can be really useful if you don't want to carry a big map around and refer to it everytime you make a turn. But they have an option to view the map on your mobile, but there's a fee if I'm not mistaken.

It looks pretty much like Google maps, maybe not as prettily drawn but since you don't need the details on the map as much as the directions, then this is just perfect. Notice on the top left - my journey was 8.6km, 52minutes, 0Yen. That wasn't so bad, I thought to myself Friday night as I pored over a bigger hardcopy map and outlined the route just in case.

The whole journey itself took me close to 2 hours since I kept looking at the map to make sure I didn't miss a junction (there are so many small lanes in Tokyo!) and I came across some helpful Japanese people & policemen who helped confirmed that I was on the right track. I also took some pictures along the way. So it was more of a leisurely ride to explore the inner Tokyo area rather than an attempt to see if I could reach home in the shortest time possible.

Feeling really happy that I got myself such a great deal and that I'm no longer restricted to train schedules and such, I decided to cycle over to Akasaka for dinner with friends after that. It really reminded me of the time in Niigata when I "upgraded" from buses and trains to bicycle, and then to car. Each upgrade was a sense of liberation and freedom to go wherever I wanted, at a time of my choice. Cycling really is a much better way to travel especially on good weather days like these, and you enjoy sights that you would usually miss or places that you wouldn't normally step foot on (or in this case, cycled over). Altogether I cycled 4 hours and earned myself butts of steel!

No comments: