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January-March 2000


Many young people can be seen these days riding what looks like a skateboard with a handlebar. This vehicle, called a kickboard--among other names--is now very popular in Japan.

Those who ride kickboards say, "It's fun because you can go much faster than walking," or "It's cool zipping around town as if you're riding on a snowboard." Kickboards first went on sale in April 1999, but it wasn't until later in the year that the craze took off. They're so popular now that it's been difficult to get a hold of one since the end of 1999. This is all the more reason for the proud looks of the kids who actually own one. Their favorite places to show off their prized possessions are near train stations, some of which have turned into hangouts for kickboard fans. Some owners personalize their boards by decorating it with lots of stickers.

Riding a kickboard is easy. You just put one foot on the board and kick the ground with the other foot. If you shift your weight sideways, the board will turn in that direction. You can zoom up to 15 to 20 kilometers (9 to 12 miles) an hour, and you can control the speed by stepping on the rear wheel cover, which is also a brake, so going downhill isn't a problem. Kickboards come in two designs: those with two front wheels and one rear wheel, and those with one front and rear wheel each, which can make tighter turns and also cost less.

The kickboard doesn't take up much space when you fold up its lightweight aluminum handle, so some kids carry it onto the train after riding it to the station. Adults use it, too, on their commute or when shopping.

Unfortunately, there have been several accidents in which kickboarders weaving through crowded sidewalks or shopping areas ran into pedestrians and caused them injuries. The kickboard is a vehicle after all, just like bicycles, motorcycles, and cars, so the user needs to mind their "driving" manners.

Photo: For those who ride it, the kickboard is not just a vehicle but also part of their fashion.