These photos are from Will and I's quick trip to Japan to visit the Blue Lug crew and see the Nitto factory. We were there for 4.5 days and we really packed the days.
I had never been to Japan but everyone I talked to about it beforehand told me I would have an amazing time. Little did they know!
After the long flight, we were picked up from Narita by Chuyan and Jugg and drove straight to Blue Lug Kamiuma.
Chuyan and Jugg were holding this sign when they greeted us. That night we had dinner with Toshi, one of the Blue Lug founders. He told us that one of the most memorable parts of his first visit to Riv HQ in 2016 or so was being greeted by a Will-drawn cardboard cat sign.
We had the best Izakaya at one of Toshi's favorite neighborhood restaurants.
We woke up at 430am most mornings so we would walk around the quiet alleys of Shinjuku before heading out for the day.
On the first full day, we were picked up by Colonel and Jugg for a full day. We started by going to a few camera stores then headed to Nasu Oyaji Curry. The curry shop is a long-time neighborhood establishment and the owner Shinya is a huge fan of vinyl records and Rivendell.
There were decked out Rivs parked outside and a few people who heard we would be there that wanted to meet us.
They even had Will and I sign the wall!
From there we went on to tour the Blue Lug shops. We rode to Blue Lug Kamiuma, Yoyogi Park, Tandem/Sai botanical, then back to Hatagaya.
Riding around Tokyo is so mellow compared to riding in Californian cities. The streets are generally narrower and quieter, riding on the sidewalk on busier streets is normal and expected by people walking, and people of all ages seem to use bikes as a primary means of transportation.
Walking through Blue Lug for the first time is a crazy experience. Whenever I want to see cool new bikey stuff I go to the Blue Lug web shop, so seeing all the stuff in person was something else. Even US made stuff was so cool to oggle in the shop. They have everything so well curated and decorated. They make our bikes look so good in their shop.
Will and I did a lot of shopping. We were limited by our bag space but then we each got Blue Lug messenger bags which were designed by Jugg and the bag team.
It was so nice to be guided by two locals on quieter routes. Because we didn't need to navigate, Will and I were looking in every direction pointing out cool stuff.
Will is riding with his camera in hand behind Colonel and Jugg.
The next night the Blue Lug staff hosted us at Lug, their restaurant near the Hatagaya shop. We were also celebrating Toshi's early birthday.
The food was great and we had so much fun chatting with the folks from Blue Lug, through the few guys that could translate. Will has been studying Japanese for his next visit. I should get on that too.
I sent this picture to my mom and she said she had trouble finding me in it.
The next day we woke up early to meet our trading agent Masa. He took us on a maze of trains to the Nitto office in Saitama. We were meeting Yoshikawasan and a few other Nitto employees to accompany them on their monthly visit to the Nitto factory in Fukushima.
Katosan, the Nitto Sales Manager, rolled out his Rivendell Allrounder to show us. It was freshly rebuilt with parts from Nitto, Mikashima (MKS), and us. He told us that he and Yoshikawa jr had ridden to the base of Mount Fuji a few days prior.
Before we even left Walnut Creek, people warned us about the long drive to Fukushima. We heard from one person, the drive could be 6 hours. Luckily it wasn't that long after all. Will and I were so caught up looking at the clouds, small japanese cars on the highway, and the green Japanese countryside that the time flew by.
I'm glad I took my digital camera because I took so many blurry photos out of the window of that van.
It reminded me of a similar time I was on a school field trip in fifth grade. I had packed two disposable cameras for the week-long trip. I burned through about 40 shots taking photos out of the bus window as we drove north on Highway 1. I remember thinking how cool it was to have my own camera and be able to take my own photos. When I got my prints back, my mom was confused as to why I had so many blurry photos of the ocean.
We got to Fukushima while the factory was on a lunch break so they took us on a short detour. This is a video of the scenery while driving through the hilly roads in the big blue Nitto van.
At the Nitto factory, we talked rack modifications, new stems, and toured the factory floor.
It was really neat to see the process behind manufacturing some of our favorite parts. We got to see stems brazed, our Basket Racks being assembled, and stacks of Nitto cages.
In the video below, they are attaching the sheath and bending Nitto Noodle bars.
The next video shows how they stress test seatposts and handlebars.
After the tour, we hopped back into the blue van and rode back to Saitama. We stopped for some of the best soft-serve(I got vanilla with mangoes and Will got sweet potato) and drove through a 90 second rainstorm.
Yoshikawa jr., Yoshikawasan, and Kato dropped us off at the train station then Masa took us back to Shinjuku for Yakitori.
We would later learn that Masa passed away on September 24th. Although this was my first time meeting Masa, he was super kind and easy to talk to. I know how much he helped Rivendell, Nitto, and Blue Lug as well as how much history he and Grant have.
Last Christmas, Grant gifted us all this little wooden bird and egg sculpture. He had seen it in Japan years ago and wanted to get a few more for family members. He asked Masa if he knew where to source them but he didn't. Masa asked around and was able to source Grant a whole case. That little egg is sitting on my bookshelf and I'll think of Masa when I see it.
The next morning Jugg, Colonel, Toshi with his dog Daikichi, and Chuyan were waiting outside of the hotel to send us off. Will and I took identical photos.
Chuyan drove us to Narita and waited in line with us. He even watched for us to pass through security!
It's difficult to put into words but, so much of our thinking about bikes intersects with the way they think about and do things at Blue Lug.
When a few of the Blue Lug staff visited Walnut Creek, Tani told me he was going to emulate the way I set up my rear rack on his Riv. I found that funny because I looked at the BL site for inspiration when I first set it up!
Everyone at Blue Lug and Nitto went out of their way to make us feel super welcomed.
The whole trip, Will and I had wide eyes and big grins. Visiting Japan was such a special experience and I can't wait to see our new friends again. I hope they can all come to California! I'll definitely be back to Japan