Tokyo

Rebels too old for a cause

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The average age of motorcyclists in Japan is 53 years old and continuing to climb as younger riders looking to obtain new licenses continues to drift. Between 2010 and 2016 the Japanese National Police Agency (JNPA) noted that large capacity motorcycle license holders (ogata – classified as 400cc+) have fallen by nearly 1,500,000. While mid-size (chugata – classified as below 400cc) have risen around 715,000. Female riders have shown a similar pattern of 178,000 fall in ogata licenses and 147,000 increase in chugata respectively. While there are still 9.175mn men and 625,000 women willing to get out on the highway with large capacity bikes, the trend is alarming. More frighteningly, new graduates aren’t lining up either. 30,000 fewer students lined up to get a mid or large size bike license between 2014 and 2016 representing a 12.3% dip. Latest report found here Motorcycles in Japan – Analogica KK

Ouchijuku & Oyakuen – 2 must see places in Aizu, Fukushima

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Step back in time. Ōuchijuku was a small post station in Japan’s Edo period and is now located in the town of Shimogō, Fukushima (in Aizu area). Think of it as a Japanese version of the Cotswolds given the authentic thatched rooves. For bikers it is a fantastic set of switchbacks to get there.

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There is a stream of fresh water running down the street on both sides which local vendors put bottled drinks as a way to keep them cool.

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The street is probably around 500metres in length but you can sample all different types of food and drinks along the way.

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Anyone wanting to see interesting things in Fukushima, this is a must. Tsurugajo Castle is also worth the time especially the Oyakuen gardens nearby

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Tsurugaoka Castle in Aizu Wakamatsu is also worth the time…especially the Oyakuen gardens nearby…

…especially the Oyakuen gardens nearby.

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Little Chef Tokyo style

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This is what a highway service area looks like in Tokyo. This is Hanyu SA in Saitama. Is it any wonder some people actually do trips where the main purpose is to stop off at unique parking spots.

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Shouldn’t Tokyo be a priority for sea walls?

Driving up 150km of coastline in north east Japan I was struck by the number of concrete bollards under construction. Hundreds of thousands of these Tetris shaped objects ready to be stacked on the shore line to protect from another tsunami. Huge steel molds are filled with wet concrete with the end result a several tonne block. Which begs the question. Many are expecting Tokyo to be hit with a monster quake given the last big quake was Sep 1,1923. Surely the cost of building a sea wall and bigger fortifications off Tokyo makes sense.

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Is the motorcycle market bust in Japan for real?

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Japan may sell around 1/7th the number of bikes at the peak in the 1980s but the latest stats from the 44th Tokyo Motorcycle Show in late March 2017 revealed a record number of crowds – some 146,495, up 10,000 on last year. 155 exhibitors showed up. In fact it was even larger than last year with 2 floors being utilized vs last year’s show. Clearly the motorcycle product market is expanding – from scooters, enduros, adventure, super sports, naked, e-bikes to trikes. Interestingly Japanese brand Yamaha has turned its success on the track to pricing some of its products (e.g. R1M) at premium European levels, something unheard of 5 years ago. In the reverse Harley-Davidson has had to introduce a 750cc bike made in India to compete with Yamaha’s budget entry cruiser, the Bolt.

The average age of riders in Japan is now 53 and rising. Getting a license is an expensive ($3,000) nightmare and finding a parking space can be an even bigger horror. So there are plenty of ways to turn this sinking ship around. Product has evolved along with huge leaps in technology. Cornering ABS and cornering sensitive traction control to begin with. Even Harley-Davidson has realized it can’t survive on just its legacy. It has introduced the Milwaukee-8 engine which looks to modernize its line-up. Europe’s largest motorcycle maker KTM is bringing out incredible range of products in both its KTM & Husqvarna brands while BMW is entering the sub 400 category to attract younger riders. Yamaha is dominating the Japanese makers for product offering. Honda amazes in its ability to bore with totally uninspiring product. The only things that raise a pulse are concepts which the engineers say won’t see production. Suzuki and Kawasaki remain fringe players with a dash of lunacy amongst a pretty ordinary offering.

The golden rule of customer service

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Customer service! What is it? How well do we know our customers? In my case it is a Mr Kamimura, a diligent garçon at Aux Bacchanales in Kioi-cho, Tokyo. No matter what mood you’re in he has an innate ability to make you forget and laugh at yourself. In my case today new shoes are causing blisters. He saw me with bandaids at hand. Sensing what was wrong he scribed “blister” in my latte. A small thing perhaps but isn’t it amazing how something so simple, not discovered in any manual can keep a customer coming. The coffee is pretty good too so it’s a win-win. I’m fascinated how in today’s smartphone gazing culture how as humans were actually missing out what really matters.

2024 Olympic bidders now a two horse race

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It seems that now that Budapest (Hungary) has pulled out of the 2024 Olympic bid meaning Paris & LA are the only ones to remain in the hunt. While many countries go out of their way spending small fortunes on ingratiating themselves with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), 260,000 signatures called for the bid to be halted and the money redirected at hospitals and schools. Is this yet another signal of restless natives getting fed up with the misallocation of state resources to boost egos not services?

It makes perfect sense. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are becoming a laughing stock in terms of massive cost overruns, stadium and logo redesigns and proposals to locate some events in pre-existing facilities outside of the Tokyo metro. Of course the IOC in all of its greed wants to impose its will to ensure that money is spent on brand new facilities with no hope of future return (just exorbitant cost to the taxpayer in ongoing maintenance) to the host city in which will selfihsly boost their income with little consideration for citizens. We can only imagine the type of pandering, entertainment and gift giving to IOC officials that goes on to secure a bid.

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To give an idea on how scrimp and save the Tokyo Olympics is becoming the city went on a drive last week to collect people’s old mobile phones to raid them for gold extraction. Now I am not sure how many mobile phones are required to make one gold plated medal but surely the drive sounds more like people turning in pots and pans during the war to be turned into munitions. While I can see the merit of people recycling unused materials I can’t see this being a game changer. Tokyo itself is still financially very sound (refer Figs 17-28 of the link) but the groans of waste and overly generous contracts is growing louder.

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We can see the state of disrepair after the Rio Olympics. The vast investment which went in now will require huge financial inputs just to maintain it. They’ve forgone that. I doubt Tokyo would ever let its infrastructure fall into such a state but for a country struggling to pay off huge debts and rescue its parlous finances (Tokyo excluded), this Olympics frolic looks like a bad idea. After the debacle over the logo, the ripping up of the original stadium which was then replaced by one made partially from wood (where a naked flame will burn for two weeks) and the continuous cost overruns Tokyo should not have bothered.

It is clear that the Olympic bidding wars of late are a good tell tale sign of how citizens are wanting their governments to fix their financial problems rather than spend up big on a party which will give temporary illusions of grandeur. Japan has enough attractions in and of itself to require an Olympics to push tourism. Many more citizens in Tokyo are no doubt questioning why they bothered to spend all this money. Japan does not have the deep sporting culture to justify the erection of massive stadiums to the scale intended to sustain 40,000 audiences every week.

Await the herd of white elephants in Tokyo. Let us not underestimate the example of the Hungarians to reject government waste and focus on turning the economy into a position of sustainable growth rather than pet public projects to give the illusion that unemployment is falling and GDP is expanding. Perhaps the world’s governments should nominate parliament members for the 100m kick the can down the road race.