Cycling in Kyoto is the most friendly and economical means of transportation. It’s used widely by the people here, regardless of age or social status. The roads are large enough to accommodate both cyclists and cars, and most of the times it is allowed to cycle on sidewalks. Now that I have my own bicycle, my favorite route is along the banks of the Kamo River that crosses Kyoto. The view is scenic, especially when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
All is well and good now, but buying a bicycle was not an easy thing to do. Since we’re only staying in Kyoto for 5 months, we decided to buy second-hand bicycles. I spotted mine the first day we arrived, in a small, a bit run-down store and it was love at first sight. I could already picture myself riding through Kyoto’s back alleys, admiring the cherry blossoms and the fairy-tale like houses.
The next day, we returned to that bike shop to buy it. We went in and waited, and waited, and waited. No one came out to greet us. Fortunately, the bike was still there, hidden beneath a pile of several others. Finally, a grumpy old man comes out and starts speaking in Japanese. We try to keep it simple and use key words in English like “buy”, “bicycle”, “try”. No response. We switch to signs, showing him that we want to try the bike out and then buy it (we even took our money out of our wallet). But he just shrugs, and points towards the corner where the bike was lying. So we have to start going through the pile of bikes ourselves, just to reach the one we want.
Finally, despite the domino-like position of the bikes, we manage to pull it out. We want to try it outside but the man forbids, since it’s raining. So we stay inside and check the brakes, the wheels seem ok, the lights are alright. We ask him how to work the lock, and all we get from the guy are some words in Japanese. Finally, I figure it out myself. So we’ll buy it, arigato gozaimasu!
We hand him the money, which seemed like the only way to make the old man understand what we want. Arigato gozaimasu again! We know we must register the bike against theft. Not knowing the Japanese phrase for registration (we later learned it was “bou han touroku”), we drop the idea. We decide we’ll register it ourselves at the police station. All we manage to get out of him is a receipt, so we smile and bow, keep saying ‘arigato gozaimasu’ and then walk out in the rain.
It was a strange, yet funny experience, and now I have a new mint-colored friend to take me exploring in this magical city.