Banned from riding to school... not quite what you think

Irecently moved to Japan to teach English here for a few years as a participant on the JET Programme. Today I got a call from my supervisor at the Board of Education.

Apparently some parents complained that they’re scared for the safety of the children because of the foreign guy riding to school on his unicycle (my 36" I brought with me from the US).

Unicycling has been my primary transportation for the past two years, yet now I’m banned from riding it to work.

It’s never crossed my mind that this would happen, but now it has and I’m left… seething.

So of course I tell other people on the internet.

That is insanely crap.
And in Japan of all places?
I thought there would be much more understanding of the unicycle in Japan.

What are you going to do?

How exacly can they control your behaviour outside of school? I can understand them not wanting you riding on the site, but on public property what power do they have?

Ride to the street in front of the school. Walk across the street, walk to the building. Should be good enough.

I dont think the school will try to ban you form actually ridding it there, and are only meaning to not ride it on school grounds, or at least with children present.

It makes sense though. 36" is pretty big, and somewhat heavy, and not everyone can stop them so quickly. I also know, not all kids pay attention to their surroundings. They step in front of you, you have half a rev to do anything. Most likely someone is getting hit and hurt.

Its just like getting told to not unicycle at parks and stuff, there is always a risk, rather big or small, it can happen. There can be insurance issues, and I am sure no one wants to deal with that. It sucks, but its not too bad is it?

You’d think. I was attempting to talk to a teacher today in my broken Japanese and the unicycling bit came out. She said “ピエロ” (piero)! After a seconds pause I realize that she had just called me a pierrot… a clown. Dammit.

While there are lots of people that unicycle here, they’re all mainly just little elementary school girls who are riding around on their tiny unicycles, like so. Hence, they’re considered toys.

Most kids thought I was joking or didn’t take me seriously, that is until they actually saw my 36" and saw me riding it. Even so, it somehow got back to parents that a crazy foreigner was dangerously riding a giant unicycle around the kids. The country as a whole generally tends to be quite racist, and as a foreigner I, by default, am guilty until proven innocent.

This is one of those “I’ve heard of it and been told it, but I didn’t really expect it to happen to me” things.

Furthermore, this incident brought up another stereotype I had heard but was hoping to not jump the gun and assume- the group mentality. During my phone conversation, my supervisor said that while many elementary school kids unicycle during school, people have never seen a unicycle used as transportation. As no one uses them for transportation, no one should use them for transportation. So just stick to what everyone eles does and don’t ride it to school.

I suppose that logic might work in Japan, but I’m a stubborn American. I plan on being here for a few years, so I feel that if I give in now I’m giving up riding to school for the next few years. I’m not planning on doing that.

Tomorrow I’m going to visit my supervisor in person and give him my case and discuss options.

It’s because whatever I do reflects on them. Being a foreigner stands out here, and being a foreigner on a large unicycle stands out even more. People know who my employer is, and they know who to call and complain to (point being, this whole situation).

They paid thousands of dollars for my flight over here and my hotel room in Tokyo when I came here. They give me free rent every month. They give me my paycheck. They have a lot invested in me and have an inherent interest in my well-being and staying out of trouble.

On the other hand, they paid all of that money to get me over here and set up, so unless I really mess up and break the law and get deported, I’m here for at least a year whether they like it or not.

Considering that I do wish to be here for multiple years, I wish to stay on good terms with them and work out problems. I’m willing to negotiate instead of just saying, “Screw you, I’m riding anyway.”

It’s not good enough. While I do see that as being my last-ditch effort/compromise, without discussing it beforehand that’s still explicity going against what they’ve requested.

I think that most of the problem is simply fear fed by ignorance. They see the giant wheel and the foreigner on top of it and automatically assume that it’s dangerous. For the past two years I’ve ridden daily through a crowded college campus (40,000 students). I’m quite well-versed on how to handle a 36" in a crowd.

At the school in question I’m riding on school grounds for about a total of 1.5 minutes each day. It’s literally from the bike racks down a nice wide driveway then on to the road, and at the times I come/go there’s really not much of a crowd to speak of.

On the surface it’s really not too bad, as after all I can still bike there once I get my flat tire fixed. The problem comes into play because, as stated earlier in this post, I wish to stay here many years. I want to get this cleared up now, as I don’t want to be banned from unicycling to school for the duration of my employment here. Yes, it’s an important part of my life, I enjoy doing it, I can do it safely, and they really shouldn’t feel it necessary to step in and say that I can’t do it. I want them to know and understand that.

And ofcoarse your car is going to hurt less! :roll_eyes:

Since the folks at the school seem upset (racist) about a foreigner on a large uni, here are some options:

  1. Have them price a Schlumpf. On a 24" guni, you’d be much lower (about 6") but still travel roughly as fast. Let them buy it for you. Tell them you’ll return it before you leave in a few years. They’ll have no use for it and will give it to you.
  2. Have plastic surgery and treat your hair so that you look Asian. Someone did this on Nip/Tuck, the tv series, in order to please his fiancee’s parents. He doesn’t succeed in fooling them, but they appreciate the effort. Plus it would be a fun way to surprise your friends and family back home.

Good luck in your predica. It’s a pain when cultures clash so. Do your best to get your supe to see things from your side and explain how you view his/her side. But honestly, aren’t foreigners expected to be a bit, uh, foreign? Isn’t that part of the cultural exchange?

Send them the pic from this thread and tell them the Japanese ride even bigger wheels:

Good luck in convincing them that big wheels are for big boys.

Sad, sad. It sounds like the people at your school don’t know the history of unicycling in Japan. Do they know Japan has more unicyclists than probably the rest of the world put together? Do they know the 100-mile record holder, Takayuki Koike, age 18 in 1987, is Japanese? The record has stood for over 20 years now at 6:44, a time that’s fast for a bike. His wheel? 43".

You could contact the Japan Unicycling Association and see if anyone there can offer you any advice. That organization is the source of most of the unicycles found in Japanese schools, even though they were paid for by the Japanese lottery system. The JUA set that up. Mostly it seems the folks at your school need some background information to find you less fearful. If you want I can connect you with some English-speaking unicycle people over there that might be able to help. Including Jack Halpern a non-Japanese resident of the country (since the 70s) who founded the IUF.

They hired a foreigner to teach English. Not just any foreigner, they hired an American! They expect you to act Japanese? I’ve been to Japan three times, but I’m no expert. All three times were for unicycling though. Two Unicons and once to do shows (in Kobe). I was always well-received, but this was by people expecting me to be a unicyclist.

On my first visit to Japan, for Unicon III in 1987, the first day we were there we spotted some girls riding their 16" or 20" unicycles on a sidewalk between our hotel and the track. That was in the Edogawa area of Tokyo, 20 years ago. Jack Halpern did a 100 mile record around 1981 or so, much slower than Takayuki of course, though it may have been the exact same wheel, at 43". People ride Cokers all over the world now.

BUT, it’s their school and you do not wish to defy the wishes of the people there. What about only walking the unicycle when you’re on school grounds or otherwise around the kids? Is there a lot of bike traffic in the area otherwise? I know there is in Tokyo. You should fit right in. If the worry is danger to the kids, that’s easily solved by not riding around them and I highly recommend that until they feel otherwise. If it’s something else I recommend you politely push back. They hired an American gaigin; don’t let them get the wrong impression of what Americans are! :slight_smile:

That sucks

hahaha thats kinda funny…but ya that sucks

Really sorry to hear something so unreasonable has happened. I wish you the best with the negotiations.

I was just wondering how far from school you work. Sometimes you have to concede a battle in order to live to fight another day. If you live realitively close to work and are doing it for the exercise, bike home and then ride. I am just very impressed you can handle a 36 in such congested areas. Do not give up just yet, talk to the boss like you are going to. Maybe you can put out more in country resumes and work elsewhere. You could label yourself a scholastic free agent!

Other than this, how do you feel about the JET program?

In matters like this, I always hire a convincing lobbyist to represent my interests and handle any misconceptions or language barriers. These lobbyist are very convincing to the people you are negotiating with. They usually appear with many tattoos, missing fingers, and respond in “He” instead of “Hai.” I say one of these guys might costs you $500-1000 at most.

Otherwise I would say suck it up and eat it. Being original isn’t good in a country where everyone is expected to conform–unless you are a celebrity.

I hope you get it worked out. Please let us know how the meeting with your supervisor goes.

I live about a 15 minute unicycle/bike ride from the school which equates into about a 45 minute walk.

Yesterday I walked straight from work to the Board of Education to talk to my supervisor in person. We chatted about it for about 20 minutes, and I came to the conclusion that I’m just going to have to grin and bear it.

He understood my position, and he was better able to explain his.

Apparently the people that called and complained to him just weren’t parents–they were random citizens on the street who assumed that because I was a foreigner that I worked for the BoE. They were right.

What it came down to is that because no one else commutes via unicycle, commuting via unicycling is bad. While culturally everyone here must obey the rules, as a foreigner I’m under even more scrutiny and must obey the rules even more. Because people know that I’m employed by the BoE, any scrutiny of me becomes scrutiny of the BoE.

He also told me that there’s a lot of criticism of the BoE in the community, and even in a city of 300,000, gossip and criticism gets around quite quickly. Me, as an oh-so-dangerous foreigner-on-a-giant-unicycle, merely provides a lot more fuel to the flames.

And that is why I walked to school this morning.

The kids and teachers are still asking me why I didn’t ride to school.

On the walk back from school I happened to come across some elementary school girls who were learning to unicycle. I gave them a hearty “ganbatte” (do your best) and moved along.

JET itself seems to be a very nice program for the participants. I emphasize that because they invest thousands of (US) dollars to get you over to Japan and set up, and then most participants get either free or subsidized rent. I get paid about $29,000 US per year. If you remember that I don’t have to pay rent and realize that I also have to pay zero income taxes, that ends up being a pretty decent straight-out-of-college wage. I actually make more in-my-pocket money than my supervisor does.

And yes, then you teach in schools. These schools are completely on an every situation is different basis. I personally have four middle schools that I rotate between, and next term I’ll be going to some elementary schools whenever they want me to. You usually have a Japanese teacher of English with you in the class, and if it’s a good teacher you’ll team-teach and bounce back and forth between the two of you. If it’s a bad teacher you stand in the corner and look foreign.

If you think of the program as being simply to teach English, it’s not really all that great. If you think of it as being an effort to internationalize Japan (its actual goal), I’d say it’s a success.

If you truly want to come over here and live for a couple years, I’d definitely say to go for it. The application/interview is a long and arduous process, and the selection process sometimes seems to border on the random.

I don’t know about you specifically, but just as you shouldn’t judge what the US is like based on Darkwing Duck, don’t be one of those people that judge Japan based on anime.

Sounds like you made the right choice. Though I’m sure it’s disappointing, you have chosen to honor the BoE by preventing further “ill-informed” gossip.

Do you plan to ride outside of school hours? There must be other road riders in Japan that you could hook up if you’re interested…

This is disturbing, it means that the excellent system of education in Japan may be becoming more like the crappy one we have here in the states!

Just remember to keep a very detailed journal about all of your experiences in this battle. Direct quotes would help too. Also, take some video that you can use when you get back to the states when you make the movie about this. Oh yeah, I can already picture the trailer:

cheesy movie trailer guy’s voice
“One man…One wheel…One nation…”
flash to clips of little Japanese kids screaming and running away from a large American foreigner on a unicycle like he’s Godzilla
“All it takes is one wrong move”
close up shot of foot slipping off a pedal, followed by a bright flash and an agonized scream
“For this English teacher, unicycling will never be the same again”
fade to black
“Coming Fall 2010”