TTAC Investigates: Why Japanese Suddenly Hate Cars

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

Yesterday brought you news of the tepid Japanese car market that has been down 26 percent for the year. Commenter Alex Nigro DEMANDED the answer to “Are Japanese people still not interested in driving?”

The Nikkei [sub] immediately went on the case and reports today that there is one segment in the industry that is booming: Bicycles. Writes the Nikkei:

“The March 11 earthquake triggered an increase in the number of people who commute to work by bike, and new business are cropping up to accommodate this trend, including high-end park-and-shower services in central Tokyo.”

Two years ago, the Tokyo government started to promote commuting by bicycle. There even was a new word for the two-wheeled salary-man: “Tsuukin-isuto.” That spurred a mild trend, but not necessarily a craze of Japanese proportions. Did you ever had the pants of an Armani get into the chain?

Then, disaster struck. Millions of Japanese were stranded in downtown Tokyo on March 11 afternoon after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake closed down the sprawling mass transit system. “Suddenly, bikes became a lot more attractive to many people,” says the Nikkei. In a matter of minutes, bicycle stores were empty.

In the aftermath, saving power replaced Buddhism and Shinto as a religion in Japan. Salary-men were urged to ditch their blue suit and tie for “super cool biz” (short sleeves and open collars). Thermostats of the A/C were set to barely bearable, the nation perspired for a noble cause, and the bike race was on.

In short order, bikes turned into big business. Downtown office buildings opened high-tech full-service indoor bicycle parking operations: Racks for the bikes, showers, lockers. The monthly fees are steep: They range from $200 to $300 a month per bike. That approaches Manhattan fees – for a car. But in Tokyo, I get a free shower and don’t have to tip Gonzalez. I can also buy a bike for the same price.. A really cool bike.

The real craze in Tokyo is not the Roppongi daytraders that switched his Porsche for a Miyata (the bicycle.) The REAL craze in Japan is mamachari.

That’s a Japanese portmanteau of “mama” (mama) and “charinko” (bicycle): It denotes a utility bike with chainguard, fenders, rack, skirt guard, dynamo lights, baskets, and child carriers. It used to be to conveyance of choice of a housewife with two small children and shopping bags. Helmets? Who needs them?

Now, mamachari have been co-opted by the super-cool set. There are weekly mamachari meets, mamachari race s, and of course, gobs of mamachari blogs.

If you want to pick up a girl in Tokyo, forget dangling the keys to your 911. The operative phrase is “want to ride side-saddle on my mamachari?”

After a few hundred yards, claim you are out of breath, and lock the bike to a lamp post in front of a love hotel: “Shower-ga hitsu you desu.” (We need a shower.)

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href="http://www.tomokoandbertel.com"> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href="http://www.offshoresuperseries.com"> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Ajla There's a melancholy to me about an EV with external speaker-generated "engine" noise and fake transmissions. It feels like an admission from the manufacturer that you're giving something up and they are trying to give back some facsimile of it. Like giving a cupcake scented candle to someone on a diet. If I was shopping for an EV I'd rather go to a company enthusiastic about it rather than apologetic.
  • EBFlex More proof of how much EVs suck. If you have to do this, that means you are trying to substitute what people want...and that's ICE.
  • Akear The only CEO who can save Boeing, GM, and Ford is Alan Mulally. Mulally is largely credited with saving both Boeing and Ford. The other alternative is to follow a failed Jack Welch business model. We have all witnessed what Jack Welch did to GE, and what happened to Boeing when it was taken over by GE-trained businessmen. Below is an interesting article on how Jack Welch indirectly ruined Boeing.https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-boeing-was-set-on-the-path-to-disaster-by-the-cult-of-jack-welch
  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.
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