lifestyle

Discarded bikes get a new life

18 Comments
By Shaun Davies

Every year in Tokyo, thousands of perfectly good bicycles are sentenced to death in the city’s impounding lots. Picked up by the parking police, these once-mighty urban steeds are left rusting and exposed to the elements. There’s no discrimination here: humble mama-charis are jammed in next to hipster bikes and rusted wrecks, all waiting to be fed into the garbage compactor.

But it’s not all doom and gloom: a number of wards have established programs where these impounded bicycles are restored and sold back to the public. And while this is obviously appealing from an environmental perspective, it also means you can pick up a second-hand set of wheels at a bargain-basement price.

Naomi Aoyama and Toshizo Takada restore bicycles in an Aladdin’s Cave of a workshop in Mitaka. Both were recruited by the Musashino-shi branch of the Silver Jinzai Center, a Japan-wide organization that finds work for community-minded senior citizens. Each month, along with several other volunteers, they restore about 20 bikes and sell them through the center’s recycling shop, which also stocks a range of household goods. The program has been running since 1993.

“Garbage is always being cleared up, and among that garbage there are things that can be used again,” Takada tells us as he scrapes at an orange bike frame with a chisel. “Recycling things that can still be used provides us with a job, while at the same time it can offer you a cheap bicycle.”

The workshop is filled with evidence of this bowerbird mentality. Piles of seats, clusters of tire tubes and tubs of bike lights crowd almost every available space. Aoyama holds up a wheel that he’s been working on as he explains the repair process.

“We fix the brakes and the wheels, and replace the bearings,” he says, spinning it around. “At the moment, this wheel grinds a little, but after a grease-up that will disappear.”

Most of their customers are older locals, but younger people and even foreign residents also come to shop at the recycle center.

“The foreigners have a good eye — they’re very skilled at shopping,” Takada says. “We’ve had people from India, from Nepal. A lot of them speak a little bit of Japanese, and also their native language, but it’s common for them to chat in English — which makes me a little envious.”

The Suginami-ku Silver Jinzai Center runs a slightly different type of recycling program. For a few days each month, several hundred salvageable bikes are placed into a large pen at the impounding lot in Eifuku, on the Keio Inokashira line (between Kichijoji and Shimokitazawa). Members of the public come in and pick a bicycle, which is then restored and made available for pick-up a few days later.

The bikes start from around 6,500 yen for a basic mama-chari, but there’s a great selection on offer. Get in early on the first day and you might be able to snap up a high-end mountain or racing bike for 15,000 yen or less. The staff members are helpful and will even register the bike in your name, so you won’t have to worry about random police checks.

Musashino-shi Silver Jinzai Recycling Center: 3-5-16 Nakamachi, Musashino-shi. Tel: 0422-51-3448 (no English). Open Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-3 p.m., every fourth Sat 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nearest station: Mitaka. www.musashino-sc.or.jp/center/index.html

Eifuku Bicycle Recycle Workplace: 2-1-11 Eifuku, Suginami-ku. Tel: 03-3327-2287 (no English). Nearest station: Eifuku-cho. Next auctions take place April 20-22, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. http://tinyurl.com/eifuku

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine.

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


18 Comments
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Giving new life to discarded bikes cost money, time and labor, exporting them to NK was easy and profitable till Japan imposed sanctions.

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I tried to go and buy an impounded bike and was surprised to hear that they were all going to be demolished. I think they should just sell all the bikes as is for really cheap with people signing a non-liability clause. Otherwise, it's a real waste of money and thousands of functioning bikes.

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Yes, but crushing the old bikes adds to the recycling numbers, and new bikes must be bought which aids the economy. Sensible programs like this have no place in a growing economy!

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I miss Japanese bikes. All we have over here are those expensive, mutli-geared, mountain bikes. I just want a chari on the cheap.

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I am looking for a Trek 7000 or 8000 Aluminum on the cheap or maybe a 9500 or 9800 Carbon.

Always on the lookout for the handmade GT Zaskar or Xiang also. Cannondale Pepperoni forked MTBs, older Trek Matrix rims.

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sounds like a scam, the police use tax money to pay for the removal companies (literally the furniture removal guys) and then sell the bikes for a price and pocket the money. Meanwhile the old geezers who run the impound farms are usually retired police men. Either way for a country that talks about green and eco I have to say they are not very friendly to the cyclists. Perhaps the same tax money spent on FREE parking and better facilities would solve all the space problems as well as enticing more people to cycle.

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This is one of the things I find annoying in Japan. Most people ride bicycles, but the local councils do not provide adequate parking areas for the amount of bicycles being used, hence huge numbers of parked bicycles blocking footpaths and streets that end up being collected. My personal favorite is the people who park their bicycles in the doorway of convenience stores.

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Disillusioned,

I see what you mean, but trust me, they are working on it. They just can't cope with the volume. As a bicycle rider myself I try to find a proper parking, but this luxury doesn't always exist.

What I find more annoying is that there are not enough bike lanes. It's just not safe for bike riders. Maybe they should make bike paths on all major roads here or something.

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You complain about bikes parking? You should check for motorbike parking. And no warning sticker, instead a 9.000 yen fine, grrr.

Moderator: Motorbikes are not relevant to this discussion.

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Cwhite's comments are right on the money. The whole biking situation in Japan is almost as big of a scam as the highway system. Tax the public at several stages of the process for a system no one wants, all the while feeding profits back into some guy who got his job from Amakudari's pockets.

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they used to ship the to Nth Korea, but guess that has been happening for a while.

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They send old bikes to North Korea, where they get recycled into Rodong, Nodong and Taepodong.

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so how many japanese bikes make up one NK missile?

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I just wish they would stop ticketing. People tear them off and throw them on the ground. Just let everyone park where ever they please. Does not hurt anything. I have watched bikes get ticketed when a little old lady gets off, limps into a store such as a drug store to pick up a prescription, comes out and finds the ticket, teas it off and it is on the ground. What a waste of money and time printing up and stapling those stupid things on a bike. I am not going to ark in a bike lot that is a kilometer or more away from my destination.

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But it’s not all doom and gloom: a number of wards have established programs where these impounded bicycles are restored and sold back to the public. And while this is obviously appealing from an environmental perspective, it also means you can pick up a second-hand set of wheels at a bargain-basement price.

In principle a good idea. In practice, prone to abuse.

They've made the entire Sapporo Station area into a no-parking zone. Bicycles are impounded even when I park at my office across from the station. That adds insult to the fact that the station already cuts the city in half north/south for cyclists. It takes me 12 minutes to go the few kilometers to the station, and another five minutes to get the couple of hundred meters to the other side. And now I'm told I'm not allowed to wheel my bicycle through the station. Two steps forward, three steps back.

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so how many japanese bikes make up one NK missile?

Two. One at the front and one at the back.

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bicycles are sentenced to death

kowai

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Does anyone know how I can obtain a container load of discarded bicycles for poor African school children?

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