Rickshaws roll back into style

July 16th, 2012 by Felicity Hughes

Handsome “onisan” are part of the attraction of a jinrikisha ride for the ladies

Slightly cheesy and very pricey, a ride in a jinrikisha (hand-pulled rickshaw) around Asakusa is Tokyo’s equivalent of a spin around New York’s Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage. And thanks to the opening nearby of Skytree Tower, this anachronism is still fighting fit in the 21st century as jinrikisha companies cash in on the hordes of tourists who flock to Asakusa to check out Tokyo’s newest landmark.

Skytree Tower tours don’t come cheap. A 70-minute Skytree Tower Course with Kurumaya Asakusa, which takes you from Kaminarimon in Asakusa through the streets of downtown Tokyo, costs ¥12,690 for two. That price rises to ¥18,000 if you opt to travel in a rickshaw that has been custom-made to resemble the tower itself. The newly unveiled Tokyo Skytree Model lights up at night and comes complete with a tiny Skytree Tower at the back.

The surrounding scenery is not the only attraction of a jinrikisha ride. Many women also enjoy checking out the hunks whose job it is to cart customers around town. On April 4, a show on Nippon Television Network introduced the ikemen  jinrikisha oniisan (good-looking jinrikisha guys) who are admired by female visitors to Asakusa for their fit bodies. These companies obviously know that their stables of young men are all part of the attraction; the websites of Ebisuya Asakusa and Jidaiya jinrikisha companies both have profiles of these charismatic rikshaw pullers, called shafu, for potential customers to check out.

Back in the Showa Era, the jinrikisha was not the only form of transport available for sightseeing around Asakusa. Elegant pedicabs, called rintaku, as a short form for “wheel taxi,” were also pedaled along the streets. Those interested in the history of transport in Tokyo can check out a collection of latter-day carriages in the lobby of the Asakusa Central Hotel. The vehicles are kept in working order and are available for hire for special occasions. The site says that in 1947 a ride was ¥100 per hour. A wedding rental now can cost 100 times that, at ¥30,000 for three hours.

Just can’t get enough? We suspect Kurumaya’s sales target is jinrikisha companies, but we don’t know if there’s anything stopping them from selling their two-wheelers to the general public. The Skytree model three-seater is a trifle at ¥2 million. And no, that does not include a handsome driver.

Photo: Jon Rawlinson, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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