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