Minoh is a dangerous place for pedestrians. You always have to be on your guard. Because at any moment, a young mother, balancing a toddler in the seat behind her and a newborn baby in the front, could come shooting past you without a word. If not a young mother, then students coming home from school, or an elderly woman with the ingredients for that night’s dinner piled up in her basket. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE rides a bike here. It’s not hard to see why – the city is small but spread out, the streets are flat, there’s bicycle parking on every corner, and peddling groceries home in a nifty basket is a lot easier than walking them home.
By the first week that I’d arrived in the city, I knew that I wanted a bike. First, because owning a bike is convenient, and Second, because I’m lazy and not a fan of walking long distances in the sun. I ended up buying the cheapest one I could find – about 12600 yen, or $113.
Being the cheapest on the market, my bike is nothing to rave about with its rock hard seat and squeaky brakes. But it’s durable overall, has a basket, AND comes with a lock already attached to the back wheel. Kind of like this:
All you have to do to unlock the bike is insert a tiny key and turn the key to the right. To lock the bike, you close the ring around the wheel and the key will snap out. Convenient right?
That’s what I thought too. Well, up until yesterday afternoon, when I realized I lost the key to the lock…
So here I am. It’s 2pm, nice weather out. I’m ready to take a quick trip to the grocery store for cucumbers. (Because you can’t have kabocha salad without cucumbers.)
I walk out to the bicycle parking area beside my apartment. I’m thinking, I’ll be in and out of the store in 20 minutes tops. I open my coin purse, where I keep both my house key and my bicycle key. But there is no bicycle key in my coin purse.
I don’t believe it. I close the purse. Open it. Search through the coins. Close it, open it again, search again – to no avail. The key is not in my coin purse.
I ran back up to my apartment and began rummaging through my belongings, not yet ready to admit that I’d been careless enough to lose one of my most important possessions. I searched through every nook and cranny of every single bag that I owned (even the bags that I haven’t touched since arriving in Minoh) and even scanned the sewers surrounding my apartment building, just in case. Still, nothing. With a heavy heart, I forced myself to come to terms with the fact that I’d lost the only key to my bicycle.
So, there I was – squatting beside a sewer, key-less, and basically bike-less, since there’s no way to get another set of keys. And all I’d wanted was to buy a cucumber! (But life is never that simple, is it?)
As is my immediate response to having no idea what to do in a given situation, I pulled out my phone and typed my problems into Google. ‘I lost my bike key in Japan.’
To my (pleasant) surprise, I discovered that many people have faced that exact same dilemma.
There were plenty of results – even detailed, in-depth articles dedicated to the topic. Though, the first two that I read weren’t all that helpful. In short, they told me that I needed to remove the lock from the bike myself if I ever wanted to be able to ride it again – which would require multiple types of screwdrivers, a wrench, and the cover of nightfall (since a random foreigner trying to break a lock off a bike in the middle of the day looks a tad suspicion), all of which I did not have.
I went back and clicked on a different article. The author of that one explained that someone else has taken off the lock for him – he’d lost his bike key in a public lot and the parking attendant had broken off the bike lock for him with a clamp. Well, I definitely did not have a readily available parking attendant with a clamp to come to my rescue. But after reading the article, I was reminded of someone who might be able to help.
About a 2 minute walk from my apartment is a bicycle shop called Cycle Seven. I pass it on my way home everyday and always see the same repairman sitting at a tiny table in the middle of shop staring intently at his computer. I’d never stopped by before, (since there was never any reason to) but it was always comforting to know that in the case of a flat tire or faulty break situation, help was only a block away.
I doubted that I’d be able to coerce the repairman to follow me to my apartment so he could fix my bike there. So my only option was to transport the bike to him.
I wasn’t particularly ecstatic about the idea of carrying my entire bike up the street alone, but I had no other choice. I went back to my apartment to get my bicycle registration, just in case anyone tried to accuse me of stealing. (Not that I’d blame them – I mean, if I saw a poorly dressed foreigner lugging a locked bicycle down the sidewalks of Minoh, I’d find it questionable too.) And then I returned to the parking lot, grabbed onto my bike’s handles with my left hand and lifted the seat with my right, and began making my way towards Cycle Seven.
The bike was heavy. Really heavy. I had to take a break every seven or eight steps. I also had to appear as nonchalant as possible, so during my breaks I’d casually lean on the seat and hum and nod at passing cyclists.
Thank goodness Cycle Seven is super close to my apartment – I made it to the shop in less than 10 minutes, even with multiple breaks. The second closest shop is about 2 miles away… lugging my bicycle all the way there would’ve taken me an hour at least.
I walked into the shop and got straight to the point – I’d lost my bicycle key. The repairman nodded. He’d probably dealt with the same problem multiple times. He told me he’d have to remove the lock from the bike and asked if I was okay with that and I said go for it (in more formal words of course).
He brought my bike into the shop, whipped out a pair of clamps, and broke the lock in one snap. He asked me if I wanted the same type of lock for 1200 yen and I said sure, so he brought out a new lock and fit it on the back wheel. He also checked my breaks and filled my tires with gas after he finished with the lock. Even with the additional work, the whole process lasted less than 3 minutes. I was prepared to pay him extra for his services, but after all that, he only charged me 1200 yen – the price of the new lock. I wanted to tip him, but there’s no tipping in Japan. So I gave him as sincere of a thank you very much as I could express, wheeled my bike out of the shop, and rode to the grocery store to finally buy my cucumbers.
Hopefully, I won’t need to go back to Cycle Seven anytime soon, but if I do, I definitely plan on bringing Mr. Repairman a thank you present for his quality customer service.