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Tuesday, June 2, 1998

High-fashion bikes hit the streets of Harajuku


Staff writer

In the heart of Tokyo's Harajuku, the nation's fashion capital, Yuumi Mizunaga has opened a shop she hopes will win over the area's young trendsetters.

Its draw is neither high-heeled nor handmade, but a designer consciousness is still prevalent.

Mizunaga opened Harajuku Jitensha (Bicycle) last November, to turn bikes, long considered merely a means of transportation or a vehicle for rural scenic routes, into a fashion item.

Forget those basket-laden "mama-chari" bikes that housewives across the country pedal through local shopping arcades for groceries. Gone too is the idea of bicycle rentals as a tourist attraction in the countryside.

Located in an alley off the bustling junction of Meiji Dori and Omote-sando, the shop attracts customers with rows of shiny bicycles, including those bearing brand names such as BMW and Hermes. The 32-year-old former freelance editor and writer said she got the idea to rent out bikes after years of hanging out in the Harajuku and Shibuya districts herself. "I always thought it was so tiring to have to walk everywhere in this area," said Mizunaga, president of Moto, a Tokyo company operating the shop.

Dubbed "Hara-chari," the store owns 340 bicycles, including 100 mountain bikes. "Chari" is Japanese slang for bicycle, taking its name from the clink of the bells cyclists use when passing pedestrians.

The biggest attraction of the shop is its name-brand bikes. About 10 such models sit in a corner of the store, sporting such logos as BMW, Hermes, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Rover. Some models cost as much as 380,000 yen to buy. But a customer can rent one for 1,000 yen the first hour and 250 yen every 15 minutes thereafter.

The rest of the bikes are no-name brands, but their appearance still measures up to the area's standards.

To pick designs that would appeal to the fashion-conscious Harajuku crowd, Mizunaga's staffers looked through hundreds of catalogs and handed out questionnaires to people on the street.

In the end, three models were chosen. One features a "retro-chic" design, while another takes a simple, basic style. The third is a 21-gear mountain bike. Any of these bikes can be rented out for an hourly fee of 500 yen. "The red ones go fast," Mizunaga said. "Red fits the image of Harajuku, I guess."

Her clientele are mostly students in high school, college and professional schools, she said, adding that the average customer is about 21 years old. But people have a variety of reasons for renting bikes from her store, she said.

Some use them for dates, while others use them for business purposes, such as quick deliveries. Some just use them to make themselves look like locals cycling around the city. There are even those who use them to train for triathlons, she said.



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The Japan Times

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