Saturday, July 14, 2007


A typhoon has bled over into Tokyo bringing cooler air and constant rain. It's not a really bad typhoon, mind you. The worst one I've ever experienced was the sort that inverted umbrellas and dangerously blows around signs. This is far from one of those.

When I worked in Nishi-Shinjuku, I worked near some of the more well-known skyscrapers including the Nomura Building and it was there that witnessed one of the scariest typhoon-related things I ever saw. The Nomura Building has a metal sculpture near it which is hard to explain the appearance of and impossible to find a picture of on-line (and I don't happen to have one of my own). The best I can say is that it is a couple of huge, thick metal bars (about 2 stories high) which are joined together at one point and rotate when the wind blows.

Under normal circumstances, they may gently roll around. When there's a big typhoon, the bars whip around with sufficient speed and force to make you think there's a serious danger of one twisting off and crushing cars, people, and structures. It's like an ill-placed, artistically-designed windmill. We walked past it to take a co-worker to a restaurant on her last day of work which happened to be a day with a strong typhoon and I was very nervous being anywhere in the vicinity of that thing.

Early on in my employment, I used to ride a bike to work most days. This was before Nishi-Shinjuku Marunouchi line station was built and I was having severe back problems such that I couldn't make the walk from Shinjuku station to my office (about 15 minutes). Riding a bicycle took between 30-40 minutes (one way) which was only slightly longer than taking the train. This offered me both the benefit of sparing my back and of allowing me to keep my monthly train allowance in my pocket rather than spending it on a train pass. For those who don't know, almost all Japanese employers reimburse their employees for public transportation costs to and from their offices. This was also an efficient way of getting some exercise everyday since it used time normally spent standing on the train to good advantage.

There were, of course, disadvantages. For one, there is an absolutely epic pair of hills culminating in a deep valley just before entering Nishi-Shinjuku so you get to go up one coming and going. If you want to bike up it, you have to have extremely strong muscles (and knees) or you have to work up a head of steam coming down the first one to give you momentum to get up the other. This being Tokyo, that is not something one can do safely or well. The sidewalks are crammed with people who will do anything to avoid walking in a straight line or look where they are going. It is essential if one is a pedestrian in Tokyo that one take all necessary precautions to avoid awareness of one's surroundings at all times.

Given the sidewalk conditions, you can't really go barreling down one huge hill to get momentum to go up the next unless you don't mind crippling or maiming meandering pedestrians along the way. Also, ultimately, if you get up a good head of steam and are making great progress up the hill, someone will dreamily zig-zag in front of you forcing you to stop dead so there's no point in even getting your hopes up. Usually, I'd pedal 1/3-2/3 of the way up and walk the bike the rest of the way.

Beyond the shooting gallery experience of biking to work, the main downfall was the weather. During my first summer of riding in, the summer was excessively long and brutally hot with temperatures reading 100 degrees or more. Inevitably, there were also rainy days and typhoons. To cope with this, I shopped around for rain gear. Most Japanese people wear a suit with pants and a jacket. In fact, my company had such a suit which the office girls donned to ride the company bicycle to the post office on rainy days. It was a hideous thing that they all hated because it was ancient, over-sized (it was clearly designed for men) and dirty yellow.

My boss used to ride a scooter to work on Saturdays back then and he also wore one of these. He told me that such suits were hot and time-consuming to put on so I didn't want to go that route. I found the Moschino rain poncho pictured above at Odakyu department store many years ago. It served me very well because it is long enough to cover my legs but the fact that it's open at the bottom means you don't get really hot in it. One can also put it on very quickly. The only problem is that it has an inane smiley face on the back. I guess that it might send the message that it may be raining but I can still smile.

Eventually, I had to give up riding my bike to work because my knees started to trouble me. Also, a station opened up within 4 minutes of my office after several years so I could handle the shorter walk. My old poncho still sees some use though on those rare days when there's a typhoon and I have to go out somewhere on the bike (like today). My husband even wears it on occasion when he's in a situation where struggling to ride and carry an umbrella at the same time is out of the question. Given the choice of looking goofy or staying dry, we'll both opt for being dry.


Anonymous said...

Hi Shari,

How are you?

That's a colourful poncho you have there! I like to cycle to work to get the exercise - but I don't like getting sweaty early in the morning. No matter how slowly I peddle I still get hot - I guess I can officially say that I am not yet used to the Japanese heat.

I started a blog also - so please read if you get the time. I have put a link from my blog to yours also.

Take care and enjoy the rest of the weekend.


Helen said...

I have a poncho too. I use mine all the time. I wish mine only had a smiley face on the back. I have a lovely bright red Tokyo Disneyland poncho with Mickey Mouse on the back. Everyone sees me coming when I wear it!

Luckily the roads/sidewalks aren't very crowded here. I don't often have people getting in my way. I'm not a patient person when I'm on my bike. Is it possible to have Bike Rage?

Roy said...

Here's a photo of that thing in front of the Nomura Building.

Shari said...

Barry: Hi there and thanks very much for your comment and the link to your blog! I'm going to read up on it now. By the way, you never get used to the Japanese heat (or worse, the humidity).

Helen: Ah, you make me feel fortunate and about 50% less dorky! I think a red one with Mickey on the back would definitely be worse than inane Mr. Smiley. I've definitely had a case of "bike rage" more than once. In fact, the moment I decided I really needed to deal with my anger toward Japanese people who acted "stupid" (in my estimation) came during an incident where I gently tapped my bell to warn a couple of meandering pedestrians not to zig-zag over to the other side of the sidewalk and they did so anyway and I shouted out, "stupid" and one of the people was a foreigner who (in a clearly embarrassed manner) haltingly said back, "you're stupid." It was at that moment that I realized I was behaving in a way I wouldn't back home and needed to deal with my anger.

Roy: Many, many thanks. I searched all over and there you found it. My search skills clearly need some help. ;-)