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Photo #19 – Japanese Bicycle Snatching Truck

Japanese bicycling snatching truck.

This photo corresponds with Episode 4 of the Savage Japan Podcast. Episode 4 can be heard here at SavageJapan.com or here at SavageSnowPodcast.com.

This Kato truck attempting to grab an unwary bicyclist in Japan would make a fine Tonka toy.

It is illegal to bicycle on many sidewalks in Japan. These silent trucks creep up on bicyclists before snatching them up and flinging them out on the road. I have been pursued by one of these trucks, but haven’t been caught yet.

Actually, it is my understanding that it is illegal to bicycle on all sidewalks in Kyoto unless there is a specific bike lane marked on the sidewalk. Everyone rides their bikes on the sidewalks though.

There are some sidewalks where bicycle riding is strongly frowned upon near the city center and the crowds there make it obviously inappropriate.

Oddly, the places downtown where you really cannot ride a bike on the sidewalk are also places where they will not let you ride a bicycle on the street. The city pays people to stand out on the road and yell at bicyclists to stop biking. They have signs with English written on them too in case you are a gaijin.

I was startled when a guy in a light green uniform jumped out next to me on Shijo Dori one afternoon. My brain was seriously confused as it was trying to make sense of him and his sign telling me that bicycling was not allowed. It seemed like something he should be doing if I was on the sidewalk.

You are not completely forbidden from moving through those areas with a bicycle. It seems to be acceptable etiquette to walk and push your bicycle through the crowded sidewalks (though that is not easy and is also bothersome to pedestrians).

In Kyoto you quickly learn to take the side streets around Shijo and Kawaramachi, not so much because of any rules, but because there are simply too many people and too many cars for it to be a pleasant route for a bike.

The exception is late in the evening when no one is around and you can do whatever you want. But the side streets and alleys are much more interesting for biking through, so unless I’m in a real hurry and feel I really need to take those streets, I stay off the “Louis Vuitton Streets” at night too.

One neat navigation curiosity about Kyoto is that it was initially designed after the ancient Chinese city Changan (now Xian) and the main streets are aligned like a chess board. You can take any number of routes and they will all be a similar distance and take a similar amount of time. Right, Left, Right; or Right, Straight, Left; or Straight, Right, Straight, all end up at the exact same place and often involve the same number of traffic lights. :-)

Photo Details: I would bet some company in Japan already makes a toy modeled after this vehicle. During a ride around Nijo Castle, I encountered this bicycle snatching Kato truck in hot pursuit of a bicyclist on the north side of the castle.

Just southeast of Nijo Castle near where I’m now living in Kyoto, there is also a giant fire station with an awesome lineup of bright red firetrucks parked neatly within. I’m waiting to catch the firetrucks when the light is better there, so this Japanese Tonka Toy truck is my first vehicle photo for the site.

I have no images of the castle yet. Nijo Castle is not a typical Japanese castle high on a hill or prominently displayed to the community. It’s hidden behind massive stone walls. You can see the double-moated grounds of Nijo Castle in the satellite map below, just south of where I was standing when I snapped this picture.

Japan Photo Journal – Living in Japan
Dan Savage [Email]

Grab anywhere on map to scroll around precise spot where above photo was taken. Zoom in & out with buttons in left corner. To learn more about geotagging your own photos, visit LearningtoGeotag.com.

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