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Archive for the ‘Vehicles’ Category

Photo #58 – Japan’s European Car Invasion

Smart Car in Kyoto, Japan parked in front of the Kyoto Art Zone

Episode 5 of the Savage Japan Podcast, the racism episode, was recorded at the nearby Kyoto International Community Center shortly before this photo was taken. Episode 5 with its difficult subject matter is proving to be a tough episode to crank out. The current target date for availability is Friday, September 10th. You can hear previous episodes of the Savage Japan Podcast at SavageJapan.com or SavageSnowPodcast.com.


Though Japanese automakers certainly make plenty of in demand, small cars in Japan, it is interesting for me as an American, to see the variety of tiny world cars being driven here.

In the US, I have never once seen one of these mini Smart Cars made by a division of the Mercedes-Benz company, even though they’ve been sold all over the world for many years. Admittedly, I live in a high alpine, very snowy environment when I’m in the US, not well suited for cars this small and with only 3 cylinders, but it is also true that the world’s long ago transition to smaller cars is not a bandwagon the US has been eager to jump on.

I see these little Smarts and many other new and old European tiny cars mixed in with Japanese domestically produced small vehicles every day in Kyoto.

Photo Details: After being prevented from entering an International Food Festival at the Kyoto International Community House because I was not Japanese, I enjoyed myself by biking around the interesting streets of Gion and just west of the Kamogawa River. This clean yellow Smart Car parked in front of the Kyoto Art Zone was begging to be photographed. I need to stop in there during open hours one day and figure out what kinds of things go on in the Art Zone’s Art Project Room. It appeared as if the Art Zone was a gallery, but it was in transition on this particular night.
 This photo was taken just south of Sanjo Dori between Kawaramachi and Kiyamachi, quite close to Pontocho.

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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Photo #55 – Approach to Heian Shrine, Heian Jingu’s Torii Gate

Female rickshaw driver approaches Heian Jingu Shrine in Kyoto, Japan Heian Jingu torii gate in background.

This photo was taken on the day I attended a kyudo examination at the Kyoto Budo Center just around the corner from the Heain Jingu Shrine. Episode 5 of the Savage Japan Podcast, the racism episode, was recorded at the nearby Kyoto International Community Center shortly after this photo was taken. Episode 5 with its difficult subject matter is proving to be a tough episode to crank out. The current target date for availability is Friday, September 10th. You can hear previous episodes of the Savage Japan Podcast at SavageJapan.com or SavageSnowPodcast.com.


After rounding the corner from the Kyoto Budo Center on my way to my first visit to the Kyoto International Community House, with the entrance to Heian Jingu behind me, I spotted this female rickshaw driver heading my way.

I had a relatively clear road, the giant Heian Jingu torii gate in my sights for the first time ever, and this rickshaw driver unknowingly doing her best to set up an iconic Kyoto photo for me. You can probably imagine how frantically I was digging into my little backpack trying to get my camera out before the moment slipped away. :-)

I think it’s pretty cool that this photo represents my first few seconds ever in this vicinity of Kyoto, and I also really like the fact that the rickshaw driver is a girl. I think she is the only female rickshaw driver I’ve ever seen in Japan.

I’m getting more accustomed to seeing this giant Kyoto landmark since taking this photo. I’ve biked through this part of town a few times now, but the Heian Jingu torii gate is still new enough to me for it to command a moment of acknowledgment every time I pass by. Often, I comment out loud how freakin’ huge it is. This torii gate’s size is even more shocking when you are very close to it.

The Heian Jingu shrine is one of the newer shrines in 1200 year old Kyoto, with the main structure having been built in 1894 or 1895 (the official Heian Jingu website cryptically references both years). The pictured torii gate was constructed much more recently in 1929. I will venture inside the shrine area (behind me in this photo) and photograph the main Heian site in the future.

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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Photo #23 – Lamborghini Countach, Oike Dori, Kyoto, Japan

Lamborghini Countach in Kyoto, Japan.
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.


I couldn’t resist adding one more photo of this shiny, well-preserved 20 year old Lamborghini. See the previous photo for more about this Lamborghini in Kyoto and to see my current Japanese transportation next to the Lambo.

Interestingly, an old acquaintance of mine bought one of these Countachs near the end of their production run, around the same time this one was made. You can tell this was one of the last Countachs made because of the Testarossa style strakes and slots added on the sides and above the engine.

It was quite amazing how poorly built the cars were. Interiors were crudely finished and already coming apart before they even left the factory. Front body pieces on my friend’s car were also incorrectly mounted and misaligned at the factory. A modern day economy car has better workmanship than these Lamborghinis had.

But with a wrench, a tube of super glue, and a long afternoon, you could patch up your freshly delivered from Italy, brand spanking new super car and be on your way.
At least until the engine overheated or some other catastrophe occurred.

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.

Photo #22 – Lamborghini vs. Mama’s Chariot (Mamachari)

Lamborghini Countach and Japanese Mamachari Bicycle
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.


I am fortunate that one of my new house mates just bought a geared bike and is letting me borrow his old mamachari. The mamachari may not be quite as sexy as this Lamborghini Countach I stumbled upon in my neighborhood, but I would still choose this mamachari bicycle over any car for exploration in Kyoto.

Mamacharis are not only ridden by moms as the name might suggest. They are the main source of transportation for all age groups and both genders in Japan. There are plenty of cars in Japan, but I’m sure the number of cars is not anywhere close to the number of mamachari bicycles. Mamacharis are single gear, simple mechanisms that are very low cost, efficient, and easy to keep functioning.

Not having ridden a single gear bike regularly since I was a child, I already find myself longing for one of the many standard and sometimes quite funky, geared bikes that can also be found in Japan. But even with this single geared mamachari, I’m sure I’ll be staying in great biking shape, sprinting all over Kyoto as fast as I can make this bike’s single sprocket spin.

I used to like to think that the word mamachari came from the the English words mama and chariot, but I have since learned that though mama does come from mama, chari comes from another word.

I have heard different ideas on where chari comes from, from different Japanese persons. But my friend Hiro gave me the true answer a long time ago. I need to check with him again to make sure I get the specifics right. I’ll be adding a lot more about Japanese bicycles here and on the podcast in the future

Photo Details: A small group of uniformed staff from Art Sports, a Japanese exotic car broker, were transporting an old, but very well-preserved Lamborghini Countach and a white Porsche Carrera near my new residence in Kyoto. They had just pulled over to grab some drinks from a bank of vending machines on Oike Dori as I was cycling past.

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.

Photo #21 – Keep it Movin’! (Preschool Kids in Kyoto, Japan)

Preschool kids in Kyoto, Japan

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.


A group of kids on a Kyoto field trip are herded back on small buses after enjoying some time at a Kyoto playground on the street running along Nijo Castle’s northern perimeter. Peach, lavender, and white caps helped keep everyone organized.

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.

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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