Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Slashed Bicycle Tires... ('Deru kui wa utareru')"

When I walked past the bicycle parking area of my apartment building yesterday after work, I noticed that the rear tires were flat on a few of the bikes... including my own. A closer look revealed that they had been slashed with something - probably a box cutter. Some details:

- It's not the first time my bicycle has been sabotaged in this apartment building, but nothing (nothing serious anyway) had happened for a couple of years.

- The only bikes with their tires slashed were the type with a lean-type kickstand - as opposed to the big, heavy, cumbersome U-shaped stands that lift the rear tire completely off the ground and whose sole virtue is that the bike can be parked exactly straight, since it's not leaning. (Actually, when there are a lot of bikes to be packed into a small parking area, there's something to be said for this design, but it makes the bike heavier and slower.)

- Taking the bike to a local bicycle repair shop today, the repair guy commented that he had just fixed another customer's bike that also had the tire slashed.

- Reporting it to the police, they also commented that I was not the first one (today) to report that my bicycle had been illegally sabotaged.

Thinking back to the bike I had before that was most often sabotaged (there have been numerous things happen to a couple of my bikes since moving to this apartment building - from punctured tires, to torn-off bell, to various gouges, bends, etc., maliciously inflicted on the defenseless contraction); it was a strangely modified bike (weird handlebars) that had been given to me. I theorized at the time about the unseen/unknown criminal who kept attacking it, that it was some extension of Japan's infamous "Deru kui wa utareru", which is typically translated along the lines of "The post/nail that sticks out gets knocked/hammered down", apparently based upon the concept of a fence with its neat row of uniform posts - when one is at an angle, it's straightened out to put it in line with the others. When one is sticking up higher, a hammer is applied to it to pound it into the ground to the point where it's level with the others... you get the picture. Nice neat posts, all in-a-row, deviation is bad. Great, except people aren't fence posts!

That one bike stood out so much, that I eventually gave up and threw it away. I don't have the resources to hire a 24-hour secret security detail for my bike, and/or set up hidden cameras in order to catch the criminal and put the sorry excuse for a human being in jail, where it belongs, so I got a new bike, making sure to get the most common color at the time, gray/silver. As an extra precaution, as much as possible, I only parked it when no one else was in the bicycle parking area. When someone was there, I rode around the block and came back later when I could slip the bike into the parking area without anyone seeing which bike was mine. (I'm not a regulation-appearance biped in this country, so I didn't want my appearance to cause "Deru kui wa utareru" psychotic behavior being inflicted upon my new bike.) That seemed to work, as I was able to use my bike without it being molested and/or damaged for... about three years I think... until yesterday.

So, I can't be absolutely sure (you almost never can be), but after being on this spot of the globe for nearly 24 years, I think I understand what form of mental illness generated this latest attack on my - and others - bikes. Some looney feels grievously injured & personally insulted that all the bikes are not identical, and so, for God & Country, is waging war on non-standard issue bikes. And (unfortunately) I'm not even exaggerating (much? at all?)... consider these points:

1) Beginning several years ago, it became normal for bikes to sell at from around Y7,000 to Y12,000 (when the cheapest ones used to be around Y30,000). These new cheaper bikes came with the lean-type kickstands and were all - or nearly all - made in China.

2) About a year ago, there was an ad on TV showing a wholesome, pure, innocent housewife riding her bike - she applies the brakes, but - horrors!! The brakes don't work!
The screen then cuts to a stern-faced upper-middle-aged man oozing wholesome nationalistic fervor, who admonishes the TV audience to only buy bikes authorized by some national bike authority. (Incidentally - have you ever had catastrophic brake failure on a bike with it's independent front and back brakes?)

3) Almost immediately after this ad appears, the price of bikes goes up and suddenly they all have those big, heavy, cumbersome, but (I must admit) practical-for-parking, kickstands. (No difference in the brakes, which never were the real issue.)

4) The lean-type kickstand bikes begin to disappear rather rapidly (I remember thinking "How can this happen so fast? Do people really trash their bikes so quickly?"

5) My bike and others - all with the lean-type kickstands - are sabotaged in the bicycle parking area of my apartment building.

I bought a new tire for my bicycle today for Y4,000... but if it's sabotaged again very soon, I'll either have to invest huge sums of money to hire 24-hour guards for the bike, or else throw in the towel by trashing it and getting a regulation clunker with the heavy-type kickstand. "Deru kui wa utareru" rules it seems. But it sure would be satisfying to see the scum who is out attacking people's property apprehended, beaten, fined (to pay for the damage), and thrown in jail.

Oops. I guess I shouldn't say that? But why not?

One final detail - while the stand-straight kickstands can be good, they're only good when the lock tab they come with is locked (which people almost never do) after the bike is lifted up to set the stand under it (holding the rear tire off the ground). When the lock isn't set, if you very slightly bump into the back of the bike, it rolls forward off the kickstand, triggering the double-springs on the kickstand (part of its rather excessive weight) to pull it up, and the (suddenly kickstand-less) bike falls to one side with no support at all. If the the bike next to it is a lean-type bike, there is often enough force to hold it, but when you have a row of ramrod-straight bikes on the heavy stand-straight stands, the entire row will spectacularly fall down like so many dominoes. Come to think of it - I take back my comment that the stand-straight stands make some sense. They don't. They suck. The only thing that really was bad about some of the lean-type bikes, were the ones with oversize baskets in front (nearly all bikes in Japan come with baskets in front), which took up so much space that they caused some serious parking problems when a lot of bikes were packed together.

Phew! Rant over!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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