One of my first priorities after arriving in Kyoto was to buy a bicycle. Back home in Hawai’i, I normally drive to wherever I need to go but driving as an exchange student in Japan is pretty much out of the question. The subways and trains here, while incredibly quick and convenient, are also fairly expensive. For students, a bicycle is pretty much a necessity.
Luckily for those of us with classes at Doshisha University’s Imadegawa campus, there is a bicycle shop called Eirin within five minutes walking distance of the school. Eirin seems to be a Kyoto-based bicycle store that is a favorite among study abroad students for its low-priced bicycles and its fantastic return program. With the return program, Eirin offers a specific bicycle model for a little over ¥11,000 (the lowest price model in the shop). If you bring that bicycle back to the shop within a year of the purchase date, you are given back ¥5,000! Past students have apparently brought back their bicycles in less-than-ideal condition, too, and were still given back the full ¥5,000.
While they only offer one model for that return program, it is a nice model and it comes in a variety of colors! I picked up a pale dusty teal that I am in love with. This model also comes with a built-in front basket and rear tire lock. (I bought the purple bike lock separately for about ¥1,300.) When you walk around Imadegawa campus, you’ll see tons of this Eirin bike model parked everywhere.
I’ve cycled around Imadegawa to go to campus and grocery shopping, but yesterday a few friends and I decided to try our longest ride yet: biking from Imadegawa to Kyoto Station area to go see a movie, a bike ride of 30 to 40 minutes. We also decided to take the slightly longer but far more scenic route along the Kamo River.
The start of our bike ride.
It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the riverbanks were full of couples and families taking a walk or having picnics. The hardest part about the bike ride to Kyoto Station was probably dodging pedestrians – and also discovering that at some point past Shijo, the bike path along the Kamo River abruptly ends, and we were forced to carry our bikes up a set of stairs to get up from the river.
The ride was definitely worth it, though, because we were treated to this sunset on our way home.
Bicycles are far more common in Japan than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Apartment complexes here have bicycle parking garages rather than carports. Mothers with two children strapped to their bicycle are another common sight. When you’re walking along the sidewalk, you’ll often hear a bicycle bell ring from behind you – the polite way for a bicyclist to say, “If you don’t move, I’m going to run into you.”
I really love riding a bicycle here in Japan, although it does get pretty tricky sometimes. Bicycles are treated like motor vehicles in terms of legality, and are thus supposed to ride on the left-hand side of the road alongside with cars. While cars here are far more patient with bicyclists here than they are in Hawai’i and will often give cyclists riding on the road a wide berth, riding on busy streets can still be a bit scary. Bicycles are allowed to ride on sidewalks, but the constant dodging of pedestrians makes that even more challenging. I have yet to quite master the art of ringing my bell to get people to move to one side so I can pass them. I always feel slightly rude for ringing them out of the way, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it in time.
Yesterday’s bicycle ride along the Kamo River was so peaceful and beautiful. I don’t think I will ever get tired of the scenery here. I hope I get another chance to bike along the river soon!