Jinrikisha (人力車)

Jinrikisha (or rickshaw) is a human-powered vehicle for transporting people, used as a means of getting around mainly from the Meiji period to the Taisho and early Showa periods. Passengers sit in a carriage with two wheels on a transverse axle and which is pulled by a rickshaw man.

It is called 'jinriki' or 'rikisha' for short. A rickshaw man ('車夫') is also written as '俥夫,' and called 'shariki,' too.
The English word rickshaw comes from the Japanese word 'rikisha.'

Although jinrikisha can hold one or two passengers, the one-seater jinrikisha was overwhelmingly popular in Japan. Jinrikisha were usually operated by one rickshaw man; however, when a passenger was in a hurry, two or more rickshaw men could pull, and sometimes push, together or a replacement rickshaw man would run alongside.

Jinrikisha as a mode of transport

The number of jinrikisha decreased in the Tokyo metropolitan area around 1926, and peaked in the provinces around 1935, followed by a slight increase in number after the war when the vehicles and fuel were scarce; however, no jinrikisha are used for travel and transport nowadays.

Today, jinrikisha are mainly used for sightseeing tours in tourist spots. Such businesses initially started in tourist spots with elegant townscapes such as Kyoto and Kamakura, or in downtown areas like Asakusa in Tokyo where jinrikisha blend in well with the scenery, and gradually spread to hot-spring resorts such as Ito Onsen in the Izu area and Dogo Onsen, and the port of Moji, which appears in the movie 'Muhomatsu no issho' (Wild Matsu the Rickshaw Man), and to famous Chinatowns. In general, jinrikisha take people to tourist attractions on sightseeing tours, with commentary provided by the rickshaw man, who acts as a tour guide.

Sightseeing tours are available in the following locations: Otaru City in Hokkaido Prefecture; the Asakusa district of Tokyo; Kawagoe City in Saitama Prefecture; Narita City in Chiba Prefecture; Kamakura City and Chinatown in Kanagawa Prefecture; Ito City, Kakegawa City, and Matsuzaki Town in Shizuoka Prefecture; Takayama City and Gujohachiman Town in Gifu Prefecture; the Arashiyama district, Sakyo Ward, and Higashiyama Ward in Kyoto Prefecture; Nara Park in Nara Prefecture; Dogo Onsen, Matsuyama, in Ehime Prefecture; and, in Kyushu, the port of Moji in Fukuoka Prefecture and Yufu City in Oita Prefecture.

Under the current Road Traffic Act, jinrikisha are regarded as light vehicles, rather than bicycles, and therefore cannot use bicycle lanes or sidewalks where signposts permit bicycles.

Fares start at 1,000 to 2,000 yen per person for about ten minutes, including sightseeing, with various other fares for fifteen, thirty, or sixty minutes, or for a chartered jinrikisha. Although it is possible to have three people ride on a two-seater jinrikisha for sightseeing, the extra fare will be added in most cases due to the considerable weight.

There have been some delays in developing parking spaces in which jinrikisha can be kept while tourists are given tours at the destination, and in securing rickshaw ranks where they can wait for customers.

Besides sightseeing, jinrikisha are sometimes used in wedding ceremonies and festivals, as well as in parades of kabuki actors.

Preservation of jinrikisha

Because jinrikisha were a common and popular form of transport until the early Showa period, they were stored in Tokyo's Transportation Museum (which closed down on 14 May, 2006 due to relocation), and are kept in museums and resource centers around the country. However, some jinrikisha on display have been refurbished or specially built for display.

Production of jinrikisha

Jinrikisha are still produced for sightseeing and museum display. The Masuya Seisakujo factory located in Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture, could be the leading manufacturer of jinrikisha.

History of jinrikisha in the west

In 1707, Claude Gillot painted the comical work 'Les Deux Carrosses' (literally 'The Two Coaches'). The painting shows two jinrikisha-like carts. These carts were used in the city of Paris in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They were called 'vinaigrettes' for the reason that they resembled the carts made for transporting large items like wine casks at wineries.

Invention of jinrikisha

It is believed that the jinrikisha currently used around the world originated in Japan in 1868, during the early Meiji period.

Since jinrikisha, invented in Japan at that time, could go faster than the previously used palanquins, and human labor was considerably cheaper than using horses, it soon became a popular mode of transportation.

It is uncertain who invented the jinrikisha. Some sources say it could be Albert Tolman, an American blacksmith. It is said that he invented the jinrikisha for a missionary in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1848.

Others claim that Jonathan Scobie, an American missionary to Japan, invented the jinrikisha around 1869. It is said that he transported his invalid wife in a jinrikisha through the streets of Yokohama.

Popularity in Japan

It is believed in Japan that the jinrikisha was invented by Yosuke IZUMI, Kosuke TAKAYAMA, and Tokujiro SUZUKI. They were inspired by the horse-drawn carriages they saw in Tokyo and invented jinrikisha in 1868.

In 1870, Tokyo Prefecture gave them permission to build and sell jinrikisha. This required them to decorate jinrikisha in a less ostentatious manner, and in case of accidents, they would be subject to a penalty.
With this permission, they were called 'Jinrikisha Sogyoji.'
Authorization from one of these men was required to purchase a new jinrikisha, although, as described below, this became ineffective after a few years. In the same year, licenses to operate jinrikisha started being issued.

The 10,000 palanquins that had previously existed in Tokyo City disappeared by 1872, while the number of jinrikisha rose to 40,000, making it the chief form of public transportation in Japan. It is reported that the number of jinrikisha in Tokyo Prefecture in 1876 was 25,038. It is also said that there were over 200,000 jinrikisha in Japan at the end of the 19th century.

In addition, from the mid-1870s, jinrikisha began to be exported to various Asian countries, ranging from Southeast Asia, centered on China, to India; in particular, Daisuke AKIBA, who opened a shop called Akiba Store in Ginza, Tokyo, invented the current version of the jinrikisha with a covered top and mud flaps, producing decorative jinrikisha with high performance and a sumptuous appearance and making huge profits by exporting most of them. On the other hand, Izumi and the others, who had initially been authorized to build and use jinrikisha, had difficulty collecting the usage fees from all the drastically-increasing rickshaw men, which, coupled with the fact that the original patent system ('Summary Rules of Monopoly') was inadequate and hard to use, meant they were unable to make any profit. This eventually accelerated the introduction of a comprehensive patent system in Japan.

Expansion into Asia

Around 1880, jinrikisha were introduced to India. They first appeared in Shimla, and 20 years later, in Kolkata (Calcutta). In India, Chinese traders initially started using them in 1914 to transport goods and then applied for permission to use them to transport passengers.

Soon after, jinrikisha appeared in many big cities in Southeast Asia. In many cases, pulling jinrikisha was the first job available for workers migrating to these cities.

In China, where it was also known as a 'huang bao che' (hired car), Japanese-made jinrikisha spread explosively throughout the country. Additionally, factories to produce domestic jinrikisha were built in various locations throughout China, and jinrikisha became popular all over the country. It is said that there were over 100 jinrikisha factories of various sizes in Shanghai.

However, the use of jinrikisha was prohibited after 1949 when the Chinese Communist Party came to power.

Jinrikisha in Asia

Jinrikisha can still be seen in various Asian countries, where they took root after being exported from Japan and go by names such as 'rikisha.'
Most of them are gaudily decorated with ornaments. There are also some modified jinrikisha which can be pulled by a bicycle, rather than a man.

In India, 'rikisha' is sometimes pronounced as 'rikusha.'
A rickshaw man is called a 'rickshaw wallah' or 'rickshaw puller.'

Jinrikisha in Kolkata

In 1919, the city approved jinrikisha as a proper means of transportation.

Since 1972, the use of jinrikisha has been prohibited on some streets in Kolkata, India.

In 1982, the city seized more than 12,000 jinrikisha and destroyed them.

In 1992, it was estimated that over 30,000 jinrikisha were operating, including 6,000 illegal or unauthorized vehicles.

No new licenses have been issued since 1945.

The jinrikisha fare is around two to three dollars per ride. Most rickshaw wallahs live in makeshift dorms, trying to save money to send home.

In August 2005, the Communist government of West Bengal announced a plan to completely bar jinrikisha, resulting in protests and strikes by the rickshaw wallahs.

As of 2009, there are still many jinrikisha remaining in Kolkata, with an estimated 8,000 vehicles and 20,000 rickshaw men. The rickshaw wallahs' union is strongly against the prohibition of jinrikisha.