Riding the Zaku
Tags: MS-06 Zaku II, The World God Only Knows, Tamiki Wakaki, Zaku rickshaw, Cycle rickshaw, Rickshaw, Jinrikisha, Izumi Yosuke, Suzuki Tokujiro, Takayama Kosuke, Emile Guimet, Hikida Eikichi, Fake Humanitarianism, Keima Katsuragi, Otamegane, Mio Aoyama, Miyako Shimbun
Mio Aoyama and her chauffeur Keima – The World God Only Knows ~ E03
Once the Zaku is mass produced…
Runner-pulled rickshaws have mainly been replaced by cycle rickshaws and auto rickshaws. The term “rickshaw” is today commonly used for those vehicles as well.
The word “rickshaw” originates from the Japanese word jinrikisha (人力車, 人 jin = human, 力 riki = power or force, 車 sha = vehicle), which literally means “human-powered vehicle”.
Rickshaws were first seen in Japan around 1868, at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration. They soon became a popular mode of transportation, since they were faster than the previously used palanquins (and human labor was considerably cheaper than using horses). The kago, or open palanquin, was the principal pre-Meiji passenger vehicle, since the horse was reserved for the two-sworded class. It was a rude conveyance, uncomfortable and cramped, borne by two men who moved at a trot.
By 1872, some 40,000 rickshaws were operating in Tokyo; they soon became the chief form of public transportation in Japan. The Tokyo government required that an application to buy or operate a jinrikisha bear the seal of one of the three inventors. This gave Izumi, Suzuki, and Takayama a virtual monopoly.
Emile Guimet, founder of what is today known as the Musee Guimet in Paris, traveled by jinrikisha to Kamakura in 1877. “One’s first ride in a jinrikisha,” wrote the young Parisian, “is singularly distressing. One is being pulled by one’s own kind! The terrible weariness brought by each step of the trot. It fills you with a sort of regret.”
Some Japanese repatriates and foreign residents shared Guimet’s sentiment on first riding in a carriage pulled by a human horse. Their view was championed by an energetic young journalist, one Hikida Eikichi. In 1891 Hikida petitioned the Lower House to liberate the rickshaw pullers from the shafts and ship them along with the other poor off to Hokkaido to perform productive labor. His petition found support, especially among the foreign community, and his proposal was echoed in two English language newspapers, the Mail and the Herald.
Since nothing became of his petition, we may conclude his was a minority opinion. It even elicited a backlash. Following is an editorial from the March 16, 1894, edition of the Miyako Shimbun :
“An old proverb goes, ‘The person who rides in the kago, the men who bear it; pain in the lower back, pain in the shoulders.’ People who repeat this proverb or say like things are the true humanitarians. He who trumpets this proverb should never ride in a jinrikisha. The man in a tall hat who puffs on an imported cigar as he gaily bowls along in a black jinrikisha throwing up dust sometimes preaches about humanitarianism. He’s usually an American or European in Japan on holiday who travels here and there conveniently and cheaply thanks to the jinrikisha. Back in his own country he says, ‘The Japanese are a cruel race; they make their fellow man pull a carriage with passenger.’ If all men are brothers, he would not so readily ride in a jinrikisha. He’s an outrageous humanitarian! If he thinks that the Japanese are not his brothers because they are a yellow race, he’s a disgraceful humanitarian! In any case, if it is inhumane for one’s fellow man to pull one’s carriage, it is also so for one’s fellow man to row one’s boat or bear one’s kago. But no one makes that absurd argument.”
The editorial is a wicked indictment of those foreigners and Japanese repatriates who leaned back in a jinrikisha and spoke of the plight of the soul between its shafts.
The Jinrikisha Story, The East, November-December 1996