Kyoto Chie Matsuri Alley Cat Report
I recently made about 50 new friends in a single day. I shit you not.
Last Sunday I arrived in Kyoto by Shinkansen for the Chie Matsuri Alley Cat. The event was held for the first time this year, in place of the much larger Kyoto Loco event held the past two years. The main reason they had to stop doing Kyoto Loco was that it got too large by its second year and the city planners were not keen on having a third one. In order to keep it a bit smaller it was deliberately held on August 13th, the first day of the Japanese Obon holiday. During Obon many people leave Kyoto to travel, so the attendance would theoretically not be as high as if it were held at another time.
My first stop was Ginrin Bike shop, which is about 5 minutes walk from Kyoto Station. Muga Amemori is the master of this shop, and is one of the first dealers in Japan to carry Surly. But more than that, he really understands the Surly brand, and has worked very hard to spread the good word all through Japan. Needless to say, we owe him our gratitude, and no trip to Kyoto can begin anywhere but his shop.
I spent about an hour chatting with Muga about various things, then another great friend, Takuya Kodama, stopped by the shop to meet me and take me to Fortuna House where I would spend the night. We finished assembling my Karate Monkey and then headed out for about a 10 minute ride before arriving. Upon entering I was introduced to several messengers who were lying around on the tatami mat floor trying to cool off on this hot summer day.
Only three people live in this house, but numerous friends are always there and on the weekends a lot of them will stay there. The first person I met was Reiko, who is one of the tenants. She graciously allowed me to stay in her room for the night, and she stayed at her parents' house nearby.
After hanging out and chatting with the Fortuna House folks, Takuya asked me if I wanted to see a cool temple about three minutes walk from the house. I said sure, and so did Reiko, so we headed out. The name of this temple was Sanjusangen-Do. I had no expectations going in but when we got there I was pretty amazed. This temple is very old, built in the 12th century, and its most impressive characteristic is that it contains 1001 full-size statues of Buddha. I personally am not interested in all the history of Buddhism, but the cultural significance of these temples in Kyoto is really moving. Kyoto is the cultural center of Japan, so if you ever go there you will likely be spending a lot of time in temples and shrines.
After visiting the temple we headed back to the house for a bit to gather our stuff and then we rode over to the Kyoto City Hall, where the meeting spot for Chie Matsuri was. There were quite a few folks already there when we arrived, most of them signing up for the races. I guess I shouldn't really call them races, because although there were many riders who took them very seriously, the winner of the races in no way determined who got the prizes. Chie Matsuri had the slogan, "Neko wa daremo korosanai," which means "An alley cat never kills anyone." Chie Noguchi, the event organizer (hence the name Chie Matsuri), wanted to emphasize the participation of women, so she deliberately made the prize structure such that anyone could win. Indeed, they asked me to make the decisions about who would win the two Surly frames we donated for prizes (a 46cm Crosscheck and a 54cm Pacer). I really liked the anti-competition theme of this event. Chie's goal was to try and introduce women who were not hard-core messenger types to the fun of riding a bicyle for sport. It seemed to work in that several women showed up for the event on bicycles unsuitable for racing.
The first race/event was a team alley cat. Each team had six members on it, and were given a manifest with a variety of quiz questions that would need to be answered along the way. There was also a lot of room left to be creative, so the teams were encouraged to get jiggy widdit. The first race took a little over one hour to complete, and in the end I had no idea who won (as I metioned before, winning the race was no relevant anyway). It was clear, however, that everyone was having fun.
The second race was the individual alley cat, mixed between men and women. While the riders were out completing their manifests I was struggling to come up with a way to decide who would win the frames. I didn't want it to be completely arbitrary, so deciding was very difficult. In the end, I decided on one woman and one man to give them to. It was much easier to choose the woman than the man, since the theme of the event was aimed at bringing in new female riders, and setting one of these ladies up with a new rig would really help her get started. So, my choice for the lady winner was Akane Edo. She showed up on an aging city hybrid and managed to come in third in the individual alley cat race. I was really impressed by this, but this is not why I chose her. The reasons I picked her were: 1) She badly needed a new bike; 2) She has an irresistible pureness to her that made it really hard for me not to pick her; 3) She was very interested in the Surly brand and asked many questions to me before the race; 4) She bought me a beer (this should be #1 I suppose). Anyway, congratulations Akane san! We are looking forward to seeing pictures of your new Crosscheck after it's built up.
Choosing the winner for the men was much more difficult, as there were no clear standouts. So, I decided that the winner would be decided by derbying for it. Muga organized the derby by asking all men interested in winning the frame to gather around the circle in the arcade area. In all there were about 20 men who entered, and after they were taught the rules they began in heats of three or four members per. There were some great battles, and luckily, no serious carnage, but in the end the winner was Yusuke Mori on his Karate Monkey. He was well deserving of the Pacer frame. He was so happy to win it that he gave me the saddle off his Karate Monkey. This was no ordinary saddle though, it is one that he made out of Manta Ray skin. Mori-san works as a shoe and leather repairman, so as a hobby he uses his skills to make bike related items. The saddle he gave me was a Velo saddle, the same one we spec on our Crosscheck complete bike. He also made some really cool leather bar tape which looks a bit like the tape that Brooks makes. I asked him to make some for me. Mori-san? What do you think??? Congrats on winning the Pacer frame. I know you will ride it well.
This was the first time for most if not all of these guys to try derbying, and by the end of it everyone was talking about how great it was. Shortly after the derby ended the event was officially wrapped up and we all headed down to the riverside to hang out, eat and drink. The Kyoto riverside is beautiful, with lots of grassy flat areas and other places to sit and watch the river. It's really a date spot but it is in the central part of Kyoto so it's always bustling with activity. This night was no different, with the moon shining bright and everyone in a great mood. We had a veritable lovefest hanging out and talking into the wee hours of the morning. Mori san and I started another derby in the grass and pretty soon four or five more riders joined in. We all ended up with some bruises and scratches but the most notable feature on all of us were the big smiles on our faces.
My god what a night we had! I want to personally thank each and every one of the folks who showed up for this event. I can't remember everyone's name but here is a list of some of the new friends I made:
Masatoshi Kato (Good English!)
Naoki Odoro (The Party King)
Kaori Tsuchiya (Maybe next year you can win the frame)
Akane Edo (Kyoto okusan)
Yusuke Mori (stay in touch brother)
Chie Noguchi (this event rocked!!!)
Reiko chan (thanks for letting me crash on your floor, big hugs and kisses)
Brett Peary (Hope to see you again)
Sayaka Matsuse (I read part of the book you wrote - it's really nice!)
Junichi "GON" Murakami
Sachi Nishikawa(You scare me you are so fast!)
Muga Amemori (Friends forever!!!)
Takuya Kodama (My Kyoto bodhisattva)
One thing is for sure, I will be back in Kyoto as soon as I can and I want to see every one of your faces again!
On Monday my train didn't leave until after 5:00 so I had much of the day free to ride around and explore. Akane chan met me at Fortuna house in the morning and took me around to see some cool places. The day was really hot, and not having eaten any breakfast I was starting to bonk by mid-day. We stopped for a nice Italian meal for lunch and then decided to take it easy the rest of the day because of the heat. We headed back to Ginrin Shop to hang out with Muga and Takuya, and basically just try to stay cool. Many friends came by to say goodbye to me, a detail that was really nice. Honestly, everyone was so kind to me on my trip to Kyoto. This city truly remains my favorite city on earth!