“Are you a good guide?”
The question came after I casually mentioned a friend should visit me in Tokyo. I automatically replied that I was, going so far as to say, “yeah, of course.” Upon five seconds of reflection, I realized that I am, in fact, quite the opposite. I backtracked a little, gave about a thousand qualifying statements, and finished off with something lame along the lines of, “well, I’ll be a good guide by the time you visit.” Small wonder that particular friend has yet to make any plans to come to Tokyo.
But ignorant of my ignorance, Kyle dropped me an email a few months ago informing me of a visit. A definite one. And with no time to actually become a “good guide,” I compiled a list of places that I’d been meaning to check out but never got around to, put my faith in Google Maps, and told Kyle that yes, yes, I could take him on a tour of Tokyo.
He quickly found out that other than my usual coffee haunts, I am terrible at taking people around my own hometown. And secretly aware of my lack of direction and knowledge, I attempted to make up for it by directing Kyle first to a bike shop whose website I had stumbled on months ago. A uniquely Japanese one with piles and piles of vintage parts. I decided I would alter/completely overhaul the planned itinerary depending on Kyle’s reaction to Cycle Salon Uehara.
Given that I was involved in the process, we got as turned as the map we passed back and forth between us before finally finding our way to this hidden collector’s gem of a bike shop. Nestled in among lunch spots colorfully advertising deals of the day was a smart, old-fashioned store front, a red heart-shaped sign contrasting sharply against the worn wooden doors. Two cyclists – one road, one track – heads down and suffering, adorned the simple door. We had arrived.
It’s the kind of place where the owner lives upstairs and the sliding door makes that satisfying dry rolling sound [with a slightly squeak] that you thought was near obsolete in modern day Tokyo. And typically, it’s also the kind of place where you roll back the door and call out a hello, which rouses feet to descend a close staircase. A small, elderly man peered at us around the corner, as we stepped inside, and gaped.
Primarily selling custom bikes [made domestically], the shop is cramped and tight. But the display of derailleurs, brakes, quill stems, pedals, hubs, seatposts, and other components is simply amazing. 90% of the display is part of a personal collection [and thus not for sale], but the history in that small space is overwhelming. Pictures hang near the ceiling, pressed against the wall where frames and wheels aren’t likely to scratch them, and their dated appearance reinforced my naiveté. There’s a lot packed into that shop, and I realized I couldn’t even pretend to comprehend half of what I saw there.
We gasped and pointed as the owner looked on. I managed to ask some simple questions as he kindly nodded his thanks at our combined astonishment. After going shutter happy on every bike-related item in the shop, we thanked the owner for his time and walked out of that sliding wooden door, back into the busy street quickly filling with office workers hunting down their respective lunches. Back to 2011 and reality.
“Wow,” Kyle said. I could only wholeheartedly agree.
[Better pictures here.]