Tokyo BFF and the Halloween Ride!

The Bicycle Film Festival has come to Tokyo, and has gone. I really enjoyed the films shown and also the events on Halloween that ended the festival.
Highlights included Riding the Long White Cloud, a documentary of a group of pro skaters who decided to bicycle across New Zealand, stopping and skating as they went. Beautiful and engaging, it was definitely one of my favorite films. The Birth of Big Air, a Spike Jonze premier about the life of Matt Hoffman, revolutionary BMX-er was very well made and having had no interest in BMX all of my life, very interesting and informative. (I've been thinking recently of branching out as a cyclist, and about the personal benefits, as well as massive widespread understanding that could be bred amongst cyclists if we all tried someone else' style at least once. More on this later) There were lots of great shorts, including a clever clip about the first (and likely last) unicycle tandem called A New Challenge. (from the Neistat Brothers, regular contributors to the BFF) a great 1987 short about a messengers ironic battle to deliver a package (On Time, Ari Taub)
and an inspiring and wonderful farm boy inventor film called Ski Boys that made me want to ride my mattress down the stairs again.
The Kintaro theater where the films were played is located in Daikanyama, a beautiful little section of Tokyo graced by a tree lined canal and many cobblestone streets. Interesting cafe's and boutiques line the avenues and lent to the hip feel of the event. The first few film programs were poorly attended, and I was a bit disapointed by how small it was turning out to be, but saturday saw sold out shows and Halloween some 70 people gathered, mostly costumed, to ride through some of the busiest streets of Tokyo and spread Halloween cheer. In true Japanese fashion, bystanders were snapping photos with their phones, and I manged to catch some of the ride on video as well, which I will post here as soon as I'm finished editing out the long boring parts. :-)We worked our way from the Farmers Market at the United Nations University up to Meiji Park where several events were held and people chatted and enjoyed the clear day.
But for me perhaps the best part of the whole weekend was meeting Wada. On Saturday the film Tokyo to Osaka was shown and it featured a Japanese who helped guide the riders part of the way down to Osaka. In what was for me the most compelling 10 minutes of the entire festival, Wada told the story of how his father, an Olypic bicyle racer, had died over a decade ago, and now he rode his beautiful Olympic bike. He felt like he was chasing his father still when he rode, and not quite able to catch him. Wada, the guide, was present at the screening and was cheered by all.

Tokyo to Osaka Teaser from John Murillo on Vimeo.

(Wada shows up at sec 56 in the trailer :-)

The next day I saw Wada waiting for the Halloween ride to begin. I approached him and told him my thoughts on his very touching story in the film. He informed me he had no idea that he was even in the final cut, and was humble as I complimented him. As we rode we made conversation in a mixture of Japanese and English (his English was excellent) At one point I mentioned that I spoke Spanish, and he instantly began speaking to me in Spanish! I was surprised and excited. People cheered and took photos as we rode down the street in a crowd of costumed bikes.

Wada and I both agree that the barriers that exist within 'cycling culture' need to be breached. Riding BMX is no less valid than riding a sports bike or fixed gear bike. (or mamachari as is more often the case in Japan) but Wada had an interesting idea I had not thought much about. He said that people need to ride for fun. FUN! Almost everyone in Japan rides a bicycle, but very few ride for fun. That is the difference between a 'bike person' and everyone else. In the United States I feel like almost everyone who rides a bike does so because they enjoy it. If you ride a bike you stand out and have to be passionate about it. In Japan the majority of the population ride bikes in a similar way americans drive cars (not fast and reckless) but without thinking. It's just how you get around. It doesn't matter if you like it or not. Wada has ridden Critical Mass in the United States and while on the subject I asked if Critical Mass happens in tokyo. He said no, but that he has tried to start one a few times. The general public just aren't that interested he said. In America he rode with all kinds of people in CM, many who had no connection to the ride, but just showed up for fun. Passing out fliers and inviting people doesn't really work in Japan he said. It was apparent that for Wada the purpose of Critical Mass is to get people not already heavily involved in bicycle culture to ride, to branch out and break barriers. I realized that I agree with him. The negative side to Critical Mass are the things that alienate and build barriers (like deliberately annoying drivers, riding dangerously, etc) and the wonderful thing about it is anyone and everyone can do it together. I've made many friends riding Critical Mass and it was a Critical Mass that first made me feel like I wasn't a lone ranger on my bike in Utah.
By now we were through the busiest section of Shinjuku and approaching Meiji Park, our final destination and block party location. We pulled up, tall bikes rolling by, kids on tiny mountain bikes and families in cargo bikes rounding up in a big parking lot.
Wada was fascinating because not only did he have great ideas about bikes and know how to express them, he also had a fantastic personal story. He added to what he had shared in the film on saturday: As he raced more and more he stopped using his fathers old steel bike and switched to carbon, but he always carried some piece of his fathers bike with him. The handlebars, a water bottle, or pedals. One day, he raced without anything of his fathers bike. Solo. I expected Wada to inform me he crashed or that something terrible happened, but instead he turned to me and said "I won the race." I was tingling. All of these years he felt he was chasing his father, always just behind him and his legecy, and then he leaves his father behind and wins the race.
Needless to say, The Halloween Funride turned out to be one of the most enjoyable rides I've ever been on.

I hope you all had a wonderful Halloween (even better if bikes were involved :-)
ride safe, and make friends!


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