These are from a four day trip James and I took to Tokyo last month before we flew to Taiwan. We went to hang out with Blue Lug and see the Nitto factory. We really packed it in those four days; we'd wake up at 4:30 in the morning from jetlag and then stay out ‘til late. Most days we’d get back to the hotel room and I'd fall asleep on top of the covers fully clothed.
It was an incredible trip. Blue Lug are hands down the best hosts of all time, they put as much care and attention into hospitality as they do their bike builds. I remember sitting in the lobby of our hotel and, while watching the other tourists bustle about, thinking there's no way anybody in here had as much fun as we did, especially in such a short amount of time. Not that it's a competition, but if it were.. we woulda won.
I had grand plans to darkroom print all these and scan actual prints with handwritten captions, like the one below, but I realized that would probably take me about 4 months, so I ended up DSLR scanning them. They look better as prints, but I just take too long.
James also has a ton of pictures and video from the trip, so he'll make a blog post of his own.
This is the best picture I took, I think. Between this blog and the upcoming Taiwan blog, there are a lot of photos of people using torches.
Every morning we had some spare walking around time because we were waking up at such uncivilized hours. This particular morning we walked through Yoyogi park, a short ride from the hotel. This is probably at six in the morning. James and I were waking up at 4:30am like clockwork. By Monday we started to acclimate a bit, but it was still 5:30am wakeups.
Even the little guardhouse at the park entrance is cool.
The rest of the Yoyogi park pics. Not pictured: intense humidity and super loud cicadia buzz.
Korera wa tomodachidesu! (these are our friends!)
From left to right: Jag, Colonel, Toshi and his shiba inu Daikichi, and Chuyan. The last time I went to Tokyo, our AirBnB cancelled the day before our arrival, and Chuyan temporarily moved in with his girlfriend (now wife), and let us stay at his apartment. Incredible!
One of our first stops was at Nasuoyaji curry. The owner, Shinya-san, who I sadly didn't get a picture of, is a Riv fan, makes incredible curry, and has created a bike-y destination out of his restaurant. There were a bunch of bikes out front, all Rivendells. Someone we talked to out front told us they do city loops and end the ride at Nasuoyaji.
Colonel, next to James above, lived in the States for a long time and speaks perfect English. He's a skateboarder too, so we “vibed”. He got the nickname Colonel because he lived in Indiana, the same place Colonel Sanders is from. The best nicknames are always deep-cuts.
Jugg, pronounced Jag, hung out with us all weekend and led the way for us all over Tokyo. Anything we wanted to do, he made it happen. Wakako, Riv's main contact at BL, had asked me what I wanted to do in Tokyo, and I rattled off a couple quick things thinking she was just making conversation, but when we got to Tokyo, Jugg knew all about my list and we did every single one of them.
Jugg got his nickname from juggler, because he was a professional juggler for a traveling circus in Spain. He went to Parsons in NY for design, and now designs and makes a lot of the Blue Lug bags. Arigato-gozaimasu, Jugg!
We met this Clem rider, Ryojin-san, outside Nasuoyaji. It's neat to have fans in such far away places. And a Calling in Sick shirt, too!
A good portion of the Japan trip was biking around Tokyo and visiting different Blue Lug stores.
I'm hoping James got a bunch of pictures at each location, because I definitely didn't. I wasn't as concerned with taking pictures as I was with shopping. I was limited only by the size of my luggage. If you're in one of their stores, every direction you turn your head you'll see something cool. I drew this cat in 2016, or whenever Grant and I went out there. Grant and I were wearing suits, I remember that.
Here are some phone pics from inside the stores. They had a lot of track frames squished behind the toilets.
The saddle lineup outside Blue Lug
This is Siesta, a clothing shop owned by Aoki, who's also a Riv fan. We got to do a shirt with him awhile back.
Blue Lug loaned us some bikes. I rode Chuyan's 58cm Sam, and James rode a 54cm Roadini.
The bike is easily the best way to get around Tokyo. It's fast, and bike theft isn't really a thing there. I saw a lot of bikes with flimsy little cable locks from the downtube around the front wheel, and nobody messed with them.
Forgot to scan this one. It's Jugg, leading us towards another delicious meal.
We had a little free time on Sunday and we met up with my friend TK, pictured on the left. TK has as many Rivs as I do, including a custom, and we happened to be there the day he and his wife, Erica, opened their new acupuncture clinic. James and I got to be customers # 1 and 2. Neither of us has had acupuncture before, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The day after we felt pleasantly tingly in our feet and arms. Skip the next pic if needles gross you out.
I got the same treatment, but I ain't showin' the pics. If you're familiar with the movie Hellraiser, then you can picture it. James gave me approval to post the one above, btw.
After that we went to a big dinner at Lug, the Blue Lug restaurant, where a ton of Blue Lug staff met us. Toshi's b-day was coming right up and I got to surprise him with some cake, although he had some stickers ready to go for the occasion.
TK gave me a super nice camera as a gift so now I can be in the Ricoh club with James and Sergio. I immediately loaded up and shot a roll on our next 5am walkabout.
The Ricoh gift was timely because I've stared to use 28mm lenses a lot more often. I usually use 40 or 50, but I've been enjoying the 28 lately. It feels more casual, more fun. Here are the early morning pics I took with a 28mm on an SLR:
That last picture is of a Mamachari, which is the most popular type of bike in Japan. They're made with economy in mind, but they're strong enough to hold two kids and be comfortable. Bridgestone and Panasonic make tons of them.
I had the idea that Mamacharis might make good super-cheap n comfy “beater” bikes for over here too, but basically everybody I talked to about it assured me that importing them is a terrible idea. Ha! Maybe they're better suited to super dense, relatively flat places like Tokyo.
On Monday morning we met up with Masa, Riv's Tokyo trading agent, pictured second from right, and he took us on the subway to Nitto's office where we met up with Yoshikawa-san, (third from left) and his staff, Yoshikawa-san-Jr, (third from right) and Kato-san (throwing the peace sign). We all piled into the Nitto van and drove to Fukushima, three hours away, to visit the factory. They go out there once a month for meetings.
Once we got there, we had quick meeting where we went over a couple Nitto projects we have cookin' (new stems that everybody will want, racks, etc), and then Yoshikawa-san gave us a factory tour.
This was one of the first stations we saw, after checking out some bars and seatposts being tested (James has video). That tube is about to become a Noodle bar. James has a video of that too.
This is either the main or the only fillet brazer at Nitto. That's a front rack being made. Not one of ours, but you can bet it's a good one anyway
This is a CrMo quill stem being welded. The quill is attached to a machine that slowly spins it so it can be welded all the way around more easily. If you've got a tig'd faceplater, or any tig'd Nitto stem, this is who made it. And look at the welds next time you're on your bike: they're perfect.
A little blurry here. He's using this big machine to construct alloy quill stems. I think James has video that'll explain it better than I can write it. Yoshikawa-san told us that this guy has been working at Nitto for a super long time, like 50 years or something. I forget the exact number. He also made a ton of Bridgestone frames back in the day. Sensei-desu!
He was pulling blanks from this basket
I love this photo of Yoshikawa-san holding a Jitensha bar.
And a couple more from around the factory. I'm glad I got a couple images - every shot was wide open at 1/15th or 1/30th of a second. In hindsight, I should have brought some HP5 400 speed film, but I'm so used to 125 FP4 now.
The Nitto office had an eclectic little collection of bikes. We knew Grant would get a kick out of the Nexave frame.
After that we hopped back in the van and, after a brief pit-stop for ice cream, drove back to Tokyo. We said goodbye to the Nitto crew at the train station, and Masa took us back to Shinjuku.
The next morning some of the Blue Lug crew met us at our hotel to say goodbye and Chuyan drove us to the airport. After we had made it through security and were descending the escalator to our gate, I looked up and saw Chuyan through the window waving us off. He had stayed to make sure we got through OK and to give us a final send off.
Everybody we met in Japan made the trip so special for us, and even though it was just for a couple of days, it felt… pivotal. I hope I can return the favor when they come here to visit.