Tokyo: Bicycles Sell Out as Stranded Commuters Turn to Pedal Power

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JIJI PRESS / AFP / Getty Images

Commuters queue for a train at the Akihabara JR station in downtown Tokyo, where only minimal commuter service is maintained, on March 14, 2011, in the wake of Japan's massive earthquake.

The hurried city slowed to a mechanical standstill Friday. Most workers curled up in their cubicles to wait out the post-earthquake public transport freeze. Those who didn’t likely took the long way home on a new set of wheels.

Tokyo dwellers scrambled to buy bicycles at inflated prices in the wake of the calamitous quake, some preferring to stand in snaking queues rather than face the prospect of walking. Tokyoites are well known for commuting extraordinary distances to reach their places of work; for most, strolling home once metropolitan subways were stopped was not an option.

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The supermarket chain Aeon Co.’s Shinagawa Seaside branch, which lies on Tokyo Bay and sells more cycles than any other Japanese store, told the Japan Times that 89 bicycles were snatched up in three hours Friday. Typically, the shop vends 200 per week. By 8pm that evening, the market was bare of vehicles and already turning would-be commuters away.

“Normally bicycle are lined up in front of our store, but it was the customers who made lines yesterday,” shop employee Izumi Tsuchiya said. Some of the customers he served lived in neighboring prefectures up to 15 hours away by foot.

Among the shops that benefited from the rush, Olympic Corp.’s Aoyama branch did $457,000 worth of business in bikes. Other sports stores were kind enough to rent wheels to the stranded if they didn’t live too far out of the way.

And the bicycle boom is far from over: Tokyo’s residents are being forced to turn to pedal power again today as the city experiences scheduled, rolling blackouts. The Japanese capital’s biggest subway operator, Tokyo Metro Co., has not resumed all of its commuter lines. Many offices have shut their doors for the day and many of those that haven’t are welcoming employees to stay home. But the city’s streets have nonetheless been filled with diligent denizens heading to far-off workplaces on shiny two-wheelers. (via The Japan Times.)

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