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Osaka: Reclaim your childhood in Japan’s land of unique bikes

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Bicycles designed to look like a drone, left, and takoyaki octopus dumplings

By Osamu Nitta / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer KAWACHINAGANO, Osaka — Do you recall the very first day you were able to ride a bike? You may remember how you felt the wind with all your senses, or how you were excited just to be pedaling. The Kansai Cycle Sports Center in Kawachinagano, Osaka Prefecture, has been popular for nearly half a century as a place where you can soak in the fun atmosphere of being a child again, riding unique bikes that can’t be found on ordinary streets.

“It’s so fun!” On a weekend in June, the square at the sports center was filled with the laughter of parents and their children.

The square, which has an area of about 10,000 square meters, contained numerous unique bicycles, including one with square-shaped tires. There were also bikes that looked like animals or food, making it hard for visitors to choose which one to ride.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    People enjoy pedaling unique bicycles, including a caterpillar-style bicycle, at the Kansai Cycle Sports Center in Kawachinagano, Osaka Prefecture.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    The Takihata Dam

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

There were 800 bicycles of about 80 kinds there. “Bicycles are popular among young women, too, lately. They apparently find them instagrammable,” said Harumi Shino, 34, section chief of the sports center’s sales planning division.

Company worker Ippei Kuwahara, 36, came to the sports center with five family members from Ikoma, Nara Prefecture, and rode a caterpillar bicycle. Up to five of these round bicycles can be connected, and they weave through the course.

“I haven’t ridden a bicycle for a long time. I actually enjoyed riding more than my children,” Kuwahara said.

The Cycle Center, which operates the Kansai Cycle Sports Center, was originally an industry association of bicycle makers. It started in 1963 as the Kansai Jitensha Sangyo Kyokai (Kansai bicycle industry association) to promote the spread and research of bicycles.

It was the period of high economic growth, when interest in health was growing along with improvement in people’s daily lives. The Kansai Cycle Sports Center was established in 1974 to help promote the health of residents through bicycles.

The sports center has an area of about 190,000 square meters, equivalent in size to about five Koshien Stadiums.

In contrast with other theme parks, it also offers the joy of “human-powered” attractions. They include “Bicycle Luge,” a sled with a handle that slides down a steep slope and “Bicycle Parachute,” which is pedaled up to a height of 30 meters.

Besides the attractions, the sports center has a three-kilometer cycling course that runs through a forest and a cycle track that became the venue for a national athletic meet. Both are used by high school and university bicycle clubs for practice.

“There aren’t many opportunities for us to practice on an authentic cycle track. It’s helped to improve the competitiveness of cyclists in the Kansai region,” said Yoshiaki Tada, 63, an adviser to the Sakai municipal Sakai High School’s bicycle racing team, which uses the track for practice 20 times a year.

The unique bicycles that are synonymous with the sports center have been part of its operations from the beginning. In 1978, the sports center began inviting ideas for unique bicycles from the public, and about 360 “dream bicycles” have been built.

The “Futari de hei hei go,” which won the top prize in fiscal 2013, has tires that move when two people face each other and pull a handle back and forth between them. The handle is shaped like a long saw cutting through a log.

A fiscal 2015 prize winner that looks like a dress skirt was designed by a female high school student in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture. It’s popular as a “kawaii,” or cute, ride.

The “Drone jitensha” that won a prize in fiscal 2017 has wheels that are modeled on a drone. Although it can't actually fly, “We may come up with something that can fly in the future,” Shino said with a smile.

To move a bicycle, all we have to do is operate pedals. Due to this simple structure, bicycles may offer endless opportunities for enjoyment. I wonder what kind of unique bicycles will be created in this Reiwa era.

Takihata Dam is the largest dam in Osaka Prefecture that was completed in 1982. Its total storage capacity is 9.34 million cubic meters.

Around it, in addition to walking trails and camping sites, there is the Takihata Furusato Bunkazainomori Center that exhibited old folk houses that were transferred before the dam was built.

A road on the right bank of the dam lake was open to the public in March 2018 and bicycle riders can make a 6.1-kilometer trip around the lake. The dam is popular among bicycle lovers who call the dam “Takiichi.”

Access: It takes about 20 minutes to get to the sports center by bus from Kawachinagano Station on lines operated by Kintetsu Railway Co. or Nankai Electric Railway Corp. It also can be reached in 20 minutes by car from the Kishiwada-Izumi Interchange in Izumi, Osaka Prefecture.

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