I twisted the throttle on my rented 50cc scooter all the way open and raced up the up the winding road out of Asuka-mura. The air blowing past me was refreshing and removed the weight of the summer heat. As I rounded a bend the trees on the downhill side of the road ended revealing the rice paddies and tiled rooves of Asuka Village. My friend rode up next to me on his scooter, cast a long glance at the scenery then turned to me and said, “This is awesome!”
Getting around in rural Japan can be a logistical challenge. Even when there are local bus services available, the amount of departures is often quite limited. Asuka Village in Nara Prefecture has come up with a brilliant solution to this: Asuka Rent-a-Cycle. Several Rent-a-Cycle depots have been established at Asuka Station, the Ishibutai, Kameishi and Kashihara Jingumae Station’s East Entrance. The service has bicycles for adults and children as well as electrically assisted bikes to help get riders up Asuka’s many hills. They also rent 50cc scooters to those with valid Japanese Drivers Licenses or International Drivers Permits. Renting a regular bicycle is ￥900/day during the week and ￥1,000/day on weekends and holidays. Electrically assisted bikes cost ￥1,500/day anytime and 50cc scooters are an outright steal at￥2,000/day!
A friend of mine who holds degrees in archeology and anthropology was paying me a visit and there was no better way to show him an interesting time than to show him around the historic sites of Asuka Village, the first permanent capital of Japan. The sites are spread out so we opted to ride the scooters. All the documents and signage for Asuka Rent-a-Cycle is in Japanese, but the staff of the Asuka Station Rent-a-Cycle depot made the process quick and easy.
“Show us your license and alien registration card, sign and date this and pay the fee… OK! We’ll bring out the scooters.”
The scooters were clean, well maintained and the engines started as soon as their start buttons were pushed. My friend confessed that he had never ridden a scooter before, but after two or three laps around the parking lot he was confident enough to ride on the very lightly trafficked streets of Asuka. The scooters gave us no trouble at all allowing me to show him all the most significant sites in the area and even though the burial mounds, stone tombs and ancient temples fired both our interests, at the end of the day we both agreed that riding the scooters was the most fun.
Asuka Rent-a-Cycle also offers the convenient “norisute” or drop off service. Anyone can rent a bike or scooter from one depot and return it to a different depot for a ￥200 fee. Especially useful for those riding the train because trains from Asuka are far less frequent than trains from Kashihara Jingumae Station just to the north. When was the last time you felt the wind in your face and the bugs in your teeth? Happy Travels!