When I moved to Utsunomiya, unsurprisingly, I met a lot of Japanese people. By the time I left in 2000 I had met a bunch more. A lot of them were cyclists. In fact, some of the very first people I met were cyclists, Tokyo riders like Ken Iijima and Miki Yamamoto.
One thing was sure. When I met Japanese cyclists they were like cyclists everywhere, and the first order of business was to try and drop the new guy. Whether they did or whether they didn’t, people were always super friendly. It was sometimes hard to remember names at first but eventually I did. I still have dreams about going into Tsunakawa Cycle, or getting pounded in Shinrin Park by Wada-san.
The racing was friendly, too. Guys would rip my legs off but afterwards they would always come over to talk and help clean up the blood.
Over the last few years a group of Japanese riders has sprung up in the South Bay. There is a contingent that shows up every week for the Donut Ride and the Wheatgrass Ride, guys like Koji, Hiro, Satoru, and my son in-law, Torazo. Some of them have been riding for a few years but others are veterans.
What’s noticeable about the J-contingent is that they’re unobtrusive, unfailingly friendly, and they show up like clockwork. I noticed that in Japan, too. People would take something up and then they would stick with it. Maybe it’s because their society has a bigger emphasis on social interaction than ours, on groups instead of individuals, so once you start riding in the South Bay you meet the other Japanese riders and they get to know each other and somehow having a group makes it easier to continue. It’s also more fun.
These guys all love riding bikes, and they are tough, too. And friendly. Welcome to the South Bay.
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