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Whipping Through Town with the Greatest of Ease

September 1, 1999

More and more business documents make their way across Tokyo on two wheels. (T-serv)

Bicycle couriers are enjoying a heyday in central Tokyo. Clad in bright racing jerseys, they fly through the central business districts, bearing documents entrusted to them by companies for safe delivery. They have become particularly popular among advertising agencies and foreign-owned securities houses as they charge less than motorcycle carriers and are environmentally friendlier.

Traffic Jams? Hah!
Bicycle couriers originated around 1970 in New York City, where there are now approximately 400 companies employing around 5,000 cyclists. They made their first appearance in Tokyo around 1987, and the number of firms has risen over the past year or so to about eight, resulting in heightened competition.

Bicycle carriers make most of their deliveries in Otemachi, Ginza, Akasaka, and other business districts around the Imperial Palace. Unlike motorbike couriers, cyclists can use the sidewalk or go up one-way streets. They can also choose the quickest route by nimbly avoiding stoplights, making them faster than motorcycles over short distances.

Bicycle delivery is also around 30% cheaper--a boon to cost-conscious companies. While motorbike couriers charge 2,200 yen (20 dollars at 110 yen to the dollar) to deliver a package from Shibuya to Roppongi, 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) away, bicycle carriers can do it for just 1,600 yen (around 15 dollars).

It Looks Good and Keeps You in Shape, Too!
One leading bike courier employs around a hundred cyclists and handles a thousand packages a day. The company is growing by around 30% a year, with monthly sales reaching up to 30 million yen (around 270,000 dollars).

Some of the messengers are diehard cycling fans who see their jobs as an extension of their hobbies. There is even one cyclist who finished third in a nationwide triathlon tournament. Even if they are not of championship calibre, each messenger has his or her own favorite type of machine, with some choosing mountain bikes and others road-racing types. They outfit themselves with eye-catching helmets, sunglasses, and messenger bags, and their unique fashions have been featured in several magazines.

Sailing past motorbikes on crowded streets, bicycle couriers have become popular among young people who see the trade as a way to look good, feel good, and stay in shape. Consequently, the number of applicants for messenger positions has shot up.

A movie about bicycle couriers opened in Japanese theaters this summer, and a television series on the same theme is scheduled to begin fall. It looks as though bicycle couriers will increasingly become a prominent sight on the streets of Tokyo.

Trends in JapanEdited 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.