volume 38, number 5
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

Visual Anthropologists Take on Japanese Visual Culture
Richard Chalfen and Lindsey Powell, Temple University Japan, Tokyo

Bicycles in Japan by Naoko Wada (2007)

Handlebar View of the Street


Naoko came to this summer’s program as an undergraduate visual anthropology major at Temple. She is Japanese and was returning home for the first time after several semesters on main campus. Though an accomplished photographer, Naoko decided to create her first video, a DVD exploration of the changing world of bicycles in Japan, for the program. The opening scene is of a bicycle’s view of the street.




Utilizing narration, written text, and video and television clips, Naoko introduces a growing conflict in Japan: for years Japan has been dominated by a homogenous and utilitarian culture of biking, the Mama-chari (or Momma’s Bike). But now, there are hints of revolution in the air…

Bike used in Clothing Ad

The first signs of revolution appeared in advertising. There were always “otaku,” of course, the rare and mysterious strangers who would whiz by on a road bike. But, advertising brought these folks (imagined as they were) to center stage. Now there are two kinds of bikes, Naoko declares with bold titles: Mama-chari and Road/Pist.


Messenger Bag


Naoko verifies this trend by placing herself in it. While away in Philadelphia studying for two years, she discovered for herself the world of biking she had been missing growing up in Japan (she had sacrificed her unblemished skin and bones to the road on a bike in Philadelphia a few weeks prior to joining the program). When arriving in Tokyo, she was struck by how much what she was seeing in Philadelphia was now prominent in Japan. Was this just a fad, a boom, a trend, or was this a new lifestyle genre?


Naoko explores this issue in an interview with a road/pist bike dealer in Tokyo. What emerges is a deeper understanding of how people in the midst of a lifestyle change verbalize and conceptualize the phenomenon. Naoko’s piece worked well as an insider’s response to what we were reading about and discussing in the program in and around Donald Richie’s Image Factory