Reconditioned Bicycles: The Two-Wheeled Wonders & Where To Find Them

Cardinal rule #9 of living in Tokyo: buy a bicycle.

Whether you’re in the downtown area within the ellipse of the Yamanote Line, or in a suburb of apartment buildings interspersed with small farm plots and convenience stores, there’s no more efficient way to do groceries, avoid being stranded by the last train, or maneuver your kids or friends around in semi-illegal balancing acts. There is almost nothing that has not fit, or been made to fit, in the basket of my yellow mama-chari (how does one explain the mama-chari? It’s something of a dignified workhorse of a bicycle, equipped with several or more of the following: basket, child seat, kickstand, built-in lock with a teeny-tiny key of which you might want to make several dozens of duplicates); and little that has not been accomplished in conjunction with riding the mama-chari–smoking, eating, catching up on cellular correspondence, endurance racing. No lie.

Wearing spandex usually isn’t a requirement
Neither is dressing up like Princess Leia, but do it anyway.

Courtesy of the Mamachari Endurance Race.

Inherently practical in a city too crowded for cars, bicycles are also incredibly inexpensive to maintain and use, especially in conjunction with the ubiquitous train system. Since train fare is calculated by zone (not to mention train line–simply transferring between JR and Keio and the various subway lines will cost you), it may be cheaper in the long run to park your bicycle at a station that falls in the zone closer to your destination. For example, I would usually pay 460yen and make two transfers to reach Shibuya from my local train station; whereas the twenty-minute bike ride to Kichijoji and the direct train I can take from there costs me only 190yen.

In the more concentrated downtown area, using the train seems all but superfluous; the bike ride from Roppongi to Shibuya (a distance of approximately 3km) should take no more than fifteen minutes–but costs 260yen by subway.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. While you can purchase your bicycle new at a department store or specialty shop, reconditioned bikes do the job just as well and much more cheaply; they are also often retailed by “silver jinzai” centers, or state-sponsored senior citizens’ work centers that dispatch the skills of retired folk.

For three days every month, buyers can pick out impounded bicycles that are assembled by the truckload on a vast lot at the Suginami-ku Silver Jinzai Center (Suginami Green Cycle). Bikes are then fixed up and ready for retrieval within a few days.

Come a couple of days early to check out the stock, and prepare to be at the lot early on the first day of sales–I was advised to come well before 11am, so naturally I arrived half an hour before closing on the second day; although the lot was already half-empty, several of the new-looking 6,500yen specimens remained.

Suginami Green Cycle’s next sales will fall on August 20-22 and September 24-26; keep an eye on the website for monthly updates. The Musashino-shi Silver Jinzai Recycling Center in Nakamachi runs a similar service, albeit on a much smaller scale. Since only around 20 bikes are reconditioned each month, I’d suggest calling in advance to check the stock.

Recycle Garden Yoyogi is a glorified 100yen store, stocking bizarre jewelry, smokers’ paraphernalia, and a menagerie of fake eyelashes on the second floor, and a purveyor of used and discounted new bicycles on the first. Bicycle registration is done on-site for 500yen.

New mama-chari cost between 9,500 and 14,900yen, several thousand yen cheaper than they would be elsewhere, according to the employee I spoke to. Strung from the ceiling are used bicycles—a Trek Belleville and a Trek 7.5 FX that retail for $749.99 and $989.99 new, respectively, but cost 39,800 and 59,800yen at Recycle Garden.

I haven’t personally visited any of their locations, but the Cycly chain stores seem to be a good bet for buying used wheels, as does the web store Hashimoto on shopping site Rakuten; or you might check out the classifieds on Craigslist (where do you suppose I found the best job in Tokyo?!),, and in various print publications (Tokyo Weekender, Metropolis, etc. etc.)


Suginami-ku Silver Jinzai Center (Suginami Green Cycle)

View Larger Map

Recycle Garden Yoyogi

View Larger Map

Name: Suginami-ku Silver Jinzai Center (Suginami Green Cycle) Yoyogi Recycle Garden
Location: 2-1-11 Eifuku, Suginami-ku, Tokyo 3-38-10 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Closest Station: 10-minute walk from Shimo-Takaido Station (Keio, Tokyu) or Eifukucho Station (Keio Inokashira) Sangubashi Station or Minami-Shinjuku Station (Odakyu Odawara)
Phone: 03-3327-2287 (Japanese only) 03-5333-5157
Business hours: 11am-4pm 10am-8pm

Mine takes pride in the fact that at any given time 75% of the clothing she's wearing has been lifted from campus "free boxes", used clothing stores, friends' closets, and sundry locations of varying credibility (if it was left in a plastic bag on the curb, then surely it was my responsibility to give it a good home). Her top ten travel destinations include Ithaca, NY, where dumpster diving is a seasonal sport. A graduate of the American School in Japan, she is currently studying to be an English major at Bryn Mawr College, which is sure to set her on the path to bankruptcy--or, as she prefers to think, adventure.

  • Hanlon Razor

    Thanks for the information.  There is one thing I need to add, as a 6’1″ man: to get a used bicycle in Japan you need to be short!  Alright, you need to be average or below.  There are several reasons: Japanese have a shorter average than readers from most of the nations that might read this blog, the market refuses to address the increasing numbers of taller Japanese men, and Japanese of all heights ride bikes too small as they were told in elementary they must be able to sit on the saddle and have feet flat on the ground.  The last not only looks stupid and is mechanically inefficient, but will burn out your quads, too.  If you are not over 6′ you might be able to use a 27″ mamachari with an extended seatpost, but that’s the limit. 

    Almost as hard to get a new bike for us tall people: use the Internet, but not likely to have much luck domestically even if you can read Japanese.

  • PaulaWulff

    Thanks so much for the info! I want to get my bike fixed and I intend to get it done for as cheap as possible, do any of these places have a repair service?

    • CheapoGreg

      Hi Paula, I’m not sure about the places in the article, but you can often find bicycle repair places next to large supermarkets. It’s not super cheap though – I paid 900yen for fixing a puncture. Also the problem with Mama-charis is that they are not designed so you can tinker with them – they must be assembled by robots since trying to remove a rear wheel with conventional wrenches/spanners is next to impossible. Therefore you are pretty much beholden to the repair guys. Also if it’s a more major repair you might be better off getting a new (used) bike.

  • Mila

    Hey, thanks so much for writing such a thorough post! I was in great need of a bike, Craigslist/Gaijinpot results weren’t looking so good … and had no idea about the Recycle Center — I checked it out yesterday (found it right away thanks to your map) and found a brand new bike for 8000. Appreciate it!