Compared to Tokyo, Japan’s former capital, Kyoto, is fairly compact. Most of the commercial development is clustered around Kyoto Station, with a ring of temples, gardens, and other historical sites surrounding the more modern parts of the city.
Kyoto is also relatively flat, and the grid pattern its major streets are laid out on makes it an easy town to get around by bicycle. Of course, Kyoto doesn’t want an unsightly mass of parked bikes marring the scenery and cluttering pedestrian walkways, which is why at one of the city’s major transportation hubs there’s a subterranean, automated bicycle parking lot, and if that sounds awesomely high-tech, wait until you see it in action.
The rail lines that connect Kyoto Station with the rest of Japan, including those for the Shinkansen bullet train, run east and west from the station. While you’ll find a few hotels and businesses scattered south of the building, the vast majority of the city’s accommodations and attractions are found in the neighborhoods to the north of the station, which can be accessed by the Hachijo Exit.
Aside from the huge crowds of tourists Kyoto draws, the city is home to well over a million people. With so many people needing to get in and out of the station through the Hachijo Exit, leaving your bike on the sidewalk is a big no-no. Besides, why would you want to, when you could do this instead?
After hopping off, users slide their bike into the slot and hit the “park” button on the terminal. From there, the bike is whisked away to parts unknown.
▼ “So long!”
Or, the parts would be unknown if the video didn’t then cut away to show us the next leg of the bicycle’s fantastic voyage. While the whirring of the motors are probably inaudible up at street-level, the bicycle rides the elevator down to a cavernous array of bike racks before being slid out into an empty slot.
And no, there’s no need to shimmy down there to retrieve your ride. All you have to do is hold your registered card up to the scanner, and the machines will go to work and spit your bike back out in no more than 15 seconds.
So why doesn’t every city in Japan have an awesome setup like this? Well, the apparatus isn’t exactly cheap, with the cost for the whole thing coming out to 426 million yen (US $3.61 million), meaning that it’s strictly for places where it’s going to get enough use to justify that price tag, such as Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station and Nishinomiya City, located near Osaka.
Still, seeing as how Kyoto prides itself on hospitality, even by Japan’s high standards, we’d say the city is an appropriate location for a cutting-edge valet bicycle parking system.