In a catastrophe like the one playing out in Japan, it’s inevitable that there would be a high demand for such basic necessities as bottled water, food and gasoline.
But a run on one commodity might come as a bit of a surprise — bicycles.
Bicycles are widely used in Japan, particularly as a means to get from home to an urban rail station in outlying suburbs of Greater Tokyo.
In the aftermath of Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, bicycle sales spiked as Tokyo commuters faced clogged thorougfares, rolling power blackouts that disrupted subway and train service and a shortage of gasoline.
The supermarket chain Aeon Co. has a store on Tokyo Bay, the Shinagawa Seaside branch, which sells more bicycles than any other Japanese store — about 200 per week. On Friday afternoon, the English-language Japan Times reported, 89 bikes were sold in three hours. By 8 p.m. on Friday, the store had run out of bikes and was turning customers away.
“Normally bicycle are lined up in front of our store, but it was the customers who made lines yesterday,” shop employee Izumi Tsuchiya said Saturday. Some of the customers he served lived in neighboring prefectures up to 15 hours away by foot.
Retail giant Olympic Corp. reportedly did $457,000 worth of business in bikes at one branch.
So in one of the world’s most high-tech cities, with a mass-transit system that moves millions of people each day, the humble, low-tech bicycle proved to be a reliable means of transportation in a time of crisis.