On Sunday August 18th, Whitchurch will welcome a fleet of Japan’s finest. We’re not talking samurai, geisha, sushi chefs or sumo – the reputation of the Silk Mill’s special guests is not nearly as international. Yet, back in their home country they are ubiquitous. The humble mamachari can be seen on every street, most commonly tethered in herds outside railway stations across the nation. Stylish but workman-like, these simple bicycles are an important part of the Japanese way of life: the cheap, non-tech essential that few people could do without.
For those not in the know, the mamachari (the name translates as “mamma bike”) is a solidly built errands bicycle that looks not dissimilar to the kind of thing you might expect to see Miss Marple riding. That’s not to say it’s aimed specifically at women; these bikes are ridden by everyone in Japan. Tokyo produces changing fads and fashions on an hourly basis, but the mamachari remains comfortingly unchanged. The ultimate town bike – strong, sturdy and utterly reliable.
Earlier this summer, cycling enthusiast Noah Fisher opened up a mamachari shop on a backstreet in Dalston, London. Keenly aware of the increase in cyclists on the capital’s roads, Fisher spotted a mamachari-shaped hole in the market and promptly set about filling it by buying discarded bikes from railway stations in Japan (where they’re most commonly abandoned) and shipping them to the UK, where he fixes them up and sells them at only a very modest markup. Typically in Japan a new mamachari will cost around ¥20,000 (approximately £130), and it’ll last you many years providing it’s treated with the respect it deserves. Fisher sells his imported and refurbished bikes for about the same price, and says that you can expect a similar lifespan.
So great news for the cycling and recycling community, then, but – as is so often the case – London lags some way behind Whitchurch when it comes to breaking trends. Many readers will have seen local artist Emi Wilks riding her own mamachari around the town’s streets for some time now. Having moved to Whitchurch in 2011, her bike was one of the first things she thought to bring with her from her home country.
“I can’t remember a time when I haven’t owned a mamachari,” she explains. “Life ebbs and flows, but the mamachari is always there.” However, while Emi didn’t think twice about bringing hers to the UK with her, she admits that the idea of these bikes becoming a big thing in London tickles her. “I love my mamachari,” she says, “but I can’t imagine them as being fashionable. It’s like saying a member of my family is about to become a trend. My brother is great, but there’s nothing trendy about him!”
Emi is looking forward to the Silk Mill’s mamachari event, which she has helped organise alongside the Test Valley Cycling Club. Visitors will be able to test out and chose from a selection of Noah Fisher’s bikes being brought down from Dalston for the day, and the organisers have taken the chance to give the afternoon a Japan theme for the whole afternoon. Look out for Japanese arts and crafts, food, and kids’ entertainment. Entry is free, and you’re welcome to bring your own picnic. Forget being Big in Japan: the mamachari is about to get Huge in Hampshire.
For more information on the picnic, the bikes and what to expect, visit http://www.testvalleycc.org.uk/Japanese-Bike-Picnic