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A Leisurely Way to Tour Cities and Tourist Spots (February 5, 2004)

A passenger rides in a velotaxi. (Jiji)
More and more people are taking to two wheels to get around cities and resort areas. Cycling is an enjoyable, efficient, and inexpensive means of transportation, and bicycles have the added bonus that, unlike cars, they don't pollute the air. As bicycles gain favor, popular tourist spots and city governments have been launching rent-a-cycle services that enable visitors to make their way around at their own pace, stopping along the way to take in whatever sights interest them. These services are finding favor with foreign visitors, who use them to broaden their holiday experience beyond mere sightseeing.

Touring Kyoto's Temples on Two Wheels
Kyoto, long renowned as a tourist haven, attracts around 480,000 foreign visitors every year. Nowadays the savvy sightseer in Kyoto can rent a bicycle at the nearest train station, roam around taking in the city's famous temples and shrines, enjoy a ride amid the scenic natural splendor of the surrounding area, and return the bike at his or her hotel. This is the new way to tour Kyoto - by bicycle.

Bicycles are delivered and collected by an organization called the Kyoto Cycling Tour Project (KCTP). In Kyoto, with its many narrow lanes and one-way streets, bicycles are a common means of transportation, and cycle rentals are set to exceed 20,000 per year in the near future. Tourists from Europe and North America reportedly account for 15% of that figure.

The KCTP has created 23 different cycle-tour routes, including a six-hour tour of historic homes and another tracing sites of interest from around the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Rather than a whistle-stop tour of the sights, these trips offer participants a more leisurely experience and a chance to gain a deeper appreciation of Kyoto's many attractions, and this has made them very popular. Rental fees vary, depending on the type of bicycle, from ¥1,000 to ¥3,000 ($9.52 to $28.57 at ¥105 to the dollar) per day, with an additional ¥500 ($4.76) charge for having a bike delivered to or picked up from a hotel. Guides are also available to accompany visitors on the tours and provide detailed insight into the places visited.

In Tokyo, meanwhile, tourist-oriented rent-a-cycle operations are proliferating in districts where young people congregate, such as Odaiba and the Omotesando-Aoyama area. It's easy to get from one local hot spot to the next on a bike, and over short distances cycling is a lot faster than riding the subway. Traffic jams, the bane of every motorist, pose few problems for cyclists. One of the great charms of cycling around town is discovering little shops and restaurants tucked away in nooks and crannies, where they can't be seen from a passing train. Cyclists even gain a new perspective on the office buildings that make up the urban landscape of the workaday world.

Battery-Assisted Bikes Also Available
For people who would rather not do the pedaling themselves, human-powered taxis are also now available in Kyoto, as well as in Shibuya, Roppongi, and other areas of Tokyo. Known as velotaxis, these covered vehicles have three wheels - one at the front and two at the rear - with pedals for the driver and room for two passengers on the rear seat. They travel at about 10 kilometers per hour, a leisurely pace. In Europe, where they are also in use, velotaxis are operated by private businesses, but the velotaxis imported into Japan are operated by a nonprofit environmental organization. The fare is ¥300 ($2.86) for the first 500 meters and ¥50 ($0.48) for each 100 meters thereafter. In addition to tourists, velotaxis are also used by elderly people to go shopping and by people traveling to and from hospitals.

Battery-assisted bicycles, which can carry their riders up steep hills easily, have also become popular rental items. When first introduced, battery-assisted bicycles had a reputation as expensive and too heavy, but recent improvements have made them much easier to use. Rates are low in the city of Nagasaki, the home of Holland Hill and many other hilly streets, where a battery-assisted bicycle can be rented for two hours for only ¥500 ($4.76). The number of tourists and others requesting these bikes, which can travel up to 60 kilometers on a single battery-charge, is rapidly increasing.

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Related Web Sites
Kyoto Prefecture
Kyoto Cycling Tour Project
Tokyo Tourism Info
Nagasaki City

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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