2017 Tokyo Toy Run

Last month a large group of us got together for our annual toy run in Kanagawa. I did a brief write -up on RideApart.com if you want to have a quick look.

I’ve done a few ride reports for the toy run on here previously: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and indeed 2017 made it our 9th continuous event!

Thanks as ever to the kids at the childrens homes for having us, and all those who rode in, or donated gifts.

 

 

 

Tokyo Toy Run 2012

Another December means another opportunity to do a Toy Run. Bottom line: a bunch of bikers get together, deck the bikes with tinsel , dress up as Father Christmas, and go and spend the day with some kids at a couple of local Childrens Homes.

I wrote up the previous ones from 2009, 2010 and 2011, which were all a little different, but equally fun. This year was no exception; due to some scheduling issues with one of the homes, we decided to take the whole group to both homes in one day, instead of splitting the group. We also changed the meet up point from Tokyo, to the Ebina service area in Kanagawa, to allow for more pillion riders, and to make some of the logistics for non Tokyo riders, that little bit simpler. In the end, these all turned out to be great decisions.

We always manage to score great weather, and I rode the 45Km up to the Ebina SA (I live much closer, but took a long route to get in the right direction) with my Santa outfit on, and the bike all decked out, so I was getting looks and waves from kids in passing cars, and even a request for a present from a guy on a construction site whilst I was waiting at some traffic lights. It was cold, very cold, but a beautiful day, with bright blue skies. It’s also worth noting that a Santa hat and beard securely fastened to your safety approved helmet is about as aerodynamic as a big pillow on an expressway.

Santa on a 400cc
Santa on a 400cc

Ahead of schedule I met up with the riders already at the meet-up point, and we were already getting a lot of questions and requests for photos from just members of the public passing through what is a busy rest area on the Tomei Expressway, even at 9am on a Sunday morning.

Half the group ready to roll
Half the group ready to roll

We cruised out of there to a fair smattering of applause, and a lot of very curious looks as perhaps thirty plus bikes snaked our way onto the Expressway to make our way down to the the first children’s home. On the short video below, we went through one toll booth and there was a Police bike parked near it and he really didn’t know what to make of it. Shame he couldn’t join in.

Near the first home, we met up with some others who were joining from a different route, and all together we rolled in, and the kids loved it. Whilst some of us played games with the kids, we ate some soup and some pizza, handed out the gifts, and some of the kids got rides on the back of some of the bikes.

After a couple of hours, we were off again to the second home, making our way down the coastal road, getting a lot of waves from fellow bikers, as it’s a really popular route. The second place is a little smaller, so we were cramming the bikes in, but the kids there are great too, and they’d also made some good soup, and cooked up some pizzas we’d brought, in a home made pizza oven, and we stood and chatted, played bingo and let them take the tinsel off a lot of the bikes.

We learned quickly that the gifts are important, but the kids really like the bikes, chatting with us, wearing the Santa outfits, and really just having a bit of a party, which is what it’s all about. It’s sometimes amazing how the kids are growing up too, and some are getting jobs, and the small ones, just babies in 2009, are now walking and talking. It must be a difficult start for some of them, but I think these kids are going to make a really good go of life, and I hope next year they let us come back again, and see if we can make it that little bit better once more.

 

Tokyo Toy Run 2011

Last Sunday – December 11th – I joined in the third annual Tokyo Toy Run, where a group of bikers meet up in Tokyo and Ride out in convoy and in groups down into Kanagawa prefecture to deliver toys and other gifts to a couple of children’s homes, and then spend some time with the kids.

This year I thought I’d have some of my own drama the night before when I had to announce my 5.5 year old battery to be dead, and so I headed out to NAPS in the car at 6.30pm to pick up a new one, and give it a test run. The next morning I was up at 5.30am tying on bits of tinsel and such onto the bike, taking care again to make sure nothing was going to sit on the hotter parts of the engine but still look festive. I’d also managed to obtain a Santa suit from Don Quixote which actually fit not just me, but also go over the leather jacket and the Draggin Jeans. It’s still a mystery that many nations see Santa/Father Christmas as a jolly, large fellow, and yet most Santa suits are for people who weigh 60-70Kg. Indeed. I decided to attach the white beard set to my helmet, which worked much better than I expected.

Xmas Bike 2011
Xmas Bike 2011

I met up with a couple of riders locally at 6.30, and we were running in towards the meeting space in Odaiba. It’s a beautiful urban ride in, going past the docks and cranes and factories on the expressway as the sun comes up, and see the planes taking off from Haneda airport as we go under much of it, and then over the rivers on the bridges, getting another great view. Once again, the weather was great – we’ve always been so lucky for the weather on these runs.

We all met up with the other riders at the RicoLand Carpark, and it wasn’t a bad turn out with plenty of bikers, bikes, decorations and a couple of vans to fill with gifts. We then went through a quick run through of the plan, including the one stop we’d be making en route, and the groups we’d split into from there to go on to the two children’s homes. The runs are always great, and each year it seems to get smoother getting through the ETC toll booths, the gents in the booths seem that little less freaked out at a group of (largely gaijin) bikers, many dressed as Santa, trying to get on the expressway. It also reminds me how happy I am to have invested the outrageous sum into getting ETC fitted to my bike a few years ago.

On the road as a bike convoy is always fun, we just have to be careful to make sure we’re not stopping people getting on and off the freeway – sometimes not as easy as it sounds. One point of having this many bikes in one place is that the tunnels are deafening – the only way you know your engine is on is to look at your revs.  We stopped at Daikokufuto, which is a service area in the centre of doughnut upon doughnut of roads, to meet up with a few more people, get our photos taken with a lot of very curious people who themselves were on trips – including with small dogs with santa coats…

Daikokufuto

From there we split into two groups, and again I went with the group for the Chigasaki Farm children’s home, and whilst we may have taken a wrong turn, we did get to the venue not too far behind schedule, after a run through historic Kamakura, and along route 134 along the beach which was fantastic – riding along looking at Enoshima to your left, and Mt. Fuji in the distance to your right: fantastic.

Xmas Tree
Xmas Tree

The venues, the children’s homes are really where the days start – rolling in as a group, all bikes and vans and filling up the small parking areas, then meeting the kids, playing sports and really getting to know them. As I’d been here twice before (the Toy Run last year, and a BBQ we did this last Summer) it was was great to see some familiar faces and catch up with what was going on – some were even getting jobs and going out into the world, which is great.

For once I missed the sports, but chatted with a lot of the kids, had photos taken with the smaller kids with the rest of the Santas, and once the pizza we ordered for the event arrived, sat around for a while talking, playing Uno and enjoying some of the gifts we’d brought. I should say, Chigasaki Farm made a fantastic soup for us, which, after a few hours on a bike in winter felt so much better than that pizza! A lot of the kids were playing volleyball, and throwing American footballs and just spending a good afternoon outside on a nice day – even if the resident dog did destroy a couple of the balls!

Once people had eaten the food, played a lot of games and energy levels were dropping, we all sat around one of the patio areas and played a couple of rounds of bingo, before having more photos taken with the kids, this time on the bikes (now that they’d cooled), and finally, somewhat reluctantly, got back on the bikes and headed off home as the sun was beginning to set.

It’s amazing how fast the time goes on the toy run, from that early start to getting to the kids over 120Km later for me, to doing some games and sitting and talking, to leaving feels like just a couple of hours – not essentially a whole day.

OK, so what are the benefits? Well for one, the kids get to spend a day with people they don’t usually meet and just talk and have fun – this is what we often hear from the staff and volunteers at the homes – they love the gifts and the toys, but what they like is that these often funny and a bit whacky bunch of bikers are happy to come in dressed as Santa and just talk, throw a frisbee, be chased, have reindeer tails pulled and just relax with them. I know one thing debated on the forums after the event is always that of who got the better deal, us or the kids! In the last three years I haven’t seen a single biker, even the tough military ones, who aren’t putting the smaller three- and four year old kids on their shoulders and running them around the yards, and for those of us with similar aged kids, feeling that concern that these kids will be OK. The truth is, I think most of them will be, they’re fun and smiles, they’re resilient, cheeky and witty and easy to get on with, but the places also need the odd day of distraction.

2011 has obviously been a tough year on Japan, and it’s going to be for a while to come, and it’s fair to say that for some of those outside of the mainstream society who rely on government support and volunteers, things are very tough, and its rewarding to know that it’s actually quite simple even for a relatively small group of people to pick a day, pool some money and really help out some kids who themselves are going through a lot as it is – we should all do it more often.

(NB/ There’s one more Toy Run in Yamanashi next Saturday – Dec. 17th!)

Tokyo Toy Run 2011 – December 11th!

Just a rather late note that this year’s Tokyo Toy Run will be on December 11th – that’s next Sunday – so grab your motorbike, some gifts for the kids, and meet at 8am at the Tokyo Bay Ricoland bike shop.

If you want some background, check my posts of the 2009 event, and the 2010 events. Essentially it’s a group of bikers (usually 100+) who ride from Tokyo out to two children’s homes in Kanagawa, give out a pile of gifts and spend the day doing sports and games with the kids, so everyone wins.

Tokyo Toy Run 2011

If you have a bike then, check out the route and rules on TokyoToyRun.com and join us all next Sunday, and follow @tokyotoyrun on Twitter.

Tokyo Toy Run 2010

December 12th. 2010 marked the second Tokyo Toy Run (check here for last year’s).

Essentially the Tokyo Toy Run was a group of bikers and like minded individuals who got together donations and gifts for two children’s homes and rode down to the venues in an almighty convoy to personally deliver the toys to the kids and staff, and spend the afternoons playing tag, football and whatever else the kids wanted to do until exhaustion kicked in.

It’s based off, and organised by, the Gaijin Riders forum, but pulls in attendees from other forums as well as other bikers we know.

Last year’s event was a huge success, and so I was looking forward to this one. As before, I met up with a few riders I knew from last year’s event and the forum at NAPS Yokohama on Route #1 for those of us coming in from Kanagawa. NAPS must have been following the forum (they’re a sponsor), as they left the chains off the car park this time, so we could get in there to make sure we all knew the run in route and have a chat.

We decided that since ManyBu (sorry, it’s forum handles) had the Garmin Navi, we’d follow him, and since he was on the CB1300, he’d likely be the quickest too; the other rider was SomethingWild, who was also the coordinator for the second children’s home. Unlike last year, I have ETC on my bike this year, so no fiddling around for change at the toll booths, but SomethingWild didn’t, so we’d be waiting for him on the other side of the barriers, which is no problem.

The run in was great – we left NAPS around 6.45am, and essentially ran the Bayshore Route through Yokohama past Haneda to Odaiba, to this year’s meet up point at RICOland. It was a beautiful run-in watching the sun come up, and with minimal traffic and only a single error on the Garmin we made good time, and were already waving at families in cars, and at traffic lights as ManyBu was in a Santa suit, and my bike was pretty well adorned with tinsel and gift boxes.

At RICOland, the car park was already filling up quickly at 7.40, with a lot more santa suits than last year, and honestly, a very healthy demographic across ages, gender and nationality – many more ladies and Japanese for instance, which is a great sign.

An Xmas Tree
An Xmas Tree

The camaraderie at these meet ups is great – there’s just no negativity – and after a period of admiring some of the bikes and their decorations, the core organisers started explaining the plan for the day.

Ready to roll
Ready to roll

A few things had changed this year – the meet up being in Odaiba was obviously the first, but then it was much like last year in the middle – a ride over to Daikoku Futou service area for a rest stop and meet up with more riders, and then a ride over to NAPS Sachiura where the staff were ready and waiting for us with marked out car park areas and some more gifts for the homes themselves.

This was where a few competitions were judged (Best Dressed Bike and so on), and we divided up for the two homes – Elizabeth Sanders, which was the home we also supported last year, and Chigasaki Farm Home, a smaller place we were supporting for the first time, which is where I’d chosen to go.

Santas Bike
Santas Bike

Considering we had just under a hundred bikes by this point, it’s quite a feat the group can split into two easily, and quickly organise into sub groups with riders with navigation systems in each, and where possible make sure everyone had the right routes in them (they were available as files from the forum beforehand).

Unlike the ride to that point, which was mainly expressways with large groups of bikes, we were now going out onto normal roads, through Kamakura and down onto route 134 meaning we’d be in traffic and we’d be likely to get split up through traffic lights. In the event, it seemed to work out fairly well, no one seemed to get too lost, and that we were sat in traffic meant that people could take our pictures, children could wave at the Santas and we could even explain what it was we were actually doing, which is great. Mid-way down Kamakura’s main street a KTM blew coolant all over the road and Loco’s leg, but aside from that I don’t think there were many mechanical issues which is good – I’d hate to miss out on this through a bike fault.

Rolling, albeit slowly, down that Route 134 was actually quite nice, watching the ocean I’m quite familiar with, and once past Enoshima we could get a little speed up.  We saw a tribe of bosazoku coming the other way on their noisily modded 125cc and 250cc’s – they’re a beach staple making as much noise as they can – and a few actually waved as they went past the other way. A shame we couldn’t get into their revving game (it’s against our own Run rules).

Soon enough we were at our final staging point, making sure we hadn’t lost anyone, and that we were all at the right place we prepped up for the final few hundred metres in to the Chigasaki Farm home, off the main road and into the venue down a narrow road.

Wow! It seemed like the whole place was there to applaud us in, both from the home and from a few people who seemed to have just happened to be walking down the street. That was pretty humbling, I have to say. We all just about managed to get a place to park in the small parking /recreation area, and after a few more minutes and some shuffling of vehicles, we managed to get the toy van in, and SomethingWild and the head of the facility managed to get a quick aisatsu done, before we could get all the presents moved into the chapel hall for the staff to divide up later; and the excitement level was already pretty high.

To me the highlight of these days are the actual games, and within minutes I’d got into a football (soccer) kick-about with some other bikers and some kids, before Loco broke out some goal markers and an (American) football we’d brought, along with some belts with velcro’d tabs on for some touch football. I wont pretend I understood the rules, but on 5-a-side with three kids and two bikers on each side, it didn’t seem to make much difference; the kids on my team picked it up way quicker than me (I was still having flashbacks to playing rugby which is a different beast entirely) and they were pretty much winning the game for us. It’s good to win like that sometimes!  I don’t know how long we were playing, maybe about an hour, but I was sweating into my santa hat, and one of my team suggested maybe I was a bit overweight and unfit. Frankly, guilty as charged.

Eventually the game wound down, and as people started departing, and the sun got a bit lower we organised about four of the better riders to give the kids rides in the small car park with the others keeping an eye on everything, with the motorbike and sidecar doing circles in the ‘football’ area. That was probably the highlight for some – the kids loved being on the bikes and just bouncing around the bumpy yard at 10km/h.

Somewhat apologetically I had to head away before the bingo kicked off, but it seemed that everyone had had a pretty good day of it, and if nothing else, that was the point.

I think sometimes being in Japan, foreigners can feel a bit outside of things (yeah, hence the term ‘gaijin’ I know), especially with the charity system being quite different to say Europe and the UK. Events like this though remind us that that’s a bit wrong headed sometimes. Everyone on the run found a way to make it happen irrespective of where they came from, and even though it’s technically the bikers helping these kids, when you see some posts in the forum from after the event, and our faces at the homes, I can’t help thinking that in a major way, they’re helping us too.

A Tokyo Toy Run 2011? Already under discussion.

Tokyo Toy Run 2009

So what was the Tokyo Toy Run? Basically, it’s an event whereby a lot of bikers got together, brought toys and such and did a convoy down to a worthy cause. For this inaugural run, it was to the Elizabeth Sanders childrens home in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture. This, as far as we could tell, was the first biker toy run in Japan. I don’t know why, but I find that in itself somewhat incredible.

The event was pretty much suggested, organised and run from the forum around which the Gaijin Riders gather – gaijinriders.com. The original post went up on September 9th but for some reason I didn’t really get it into my head until late November. By that time the core team had put together a rough plan, decided on the beneficiary, and were hashing out routes and other guidelines. You can see in the thread, now spread across a lot of pages, and see how this evolved, and the sheer enthusiasm behind it.

Eventually, things were hashed out in the forum, and then put onto a wiki entry which became the go to place for decided items.

The Day

I got up far too early and went down to NAPS Yokohama on route one to meet a chap from the forums called Manuel, sporting a nice Honda CB 1300 with things like Garmin GPS and ETC units – things my bike only dreams of. Introductions done, and a swift coffee drunk, we headed into Tokyo on a combination of toll and local roads, making good time to Tokyo tower with Manuel regularly having to slow up for me – I don’t ride very fast.

We arrived at Tokyo tower at about 7.20am having seen some other people going our way en route;  there were already about 20 bikes there and once we all parked up, everyone was chatting like we’d known each other for years, that initial exchange with the new people such of myself between forum pseudonyms/avatars , and people’s real names and faces and bikes.

Despite the hour, there were a lot of people rolling up – more than I somehow expected. One number I heard then was just over 60 and I could believe it. The feeling was very, very upbeat, and the bikes seemed to be getting more tinsel and attention by the minute. The only thing moving quicker was the volume of toys being packed into the back of the Hilux which was to act as the support vehicle, but without which would have left a lot of toys seeking transportation.

The core team then went through the few rules for the run, explained the route, the requirements for two-ups to go by a slightly different route whilst in central Tokyo and the basic logistics, along with a brief handout. Oh yes, and getting through the toll gates. There were only a couple, but as one of the ETC-less I was wondering how that would work, so I just asked around for other non ETC people, and quickly four of us decided we’d group, and one would pay for four, and we’d at least be able to hurry ourselves through, and it seemed like a few other ad hoc groups were forming around this idea, and then we were away.

This is really the first time I’ve ever been in a group of more than five, and it was quite a rush to be honest, roughly two columns of staggered bikes in Azabu, patiently waiting to get through the first pay toll gate.  Again, plenty of passers-by staring, some taking photos with their keitais, some whilst walking their dogs, a few even asking what the event was.  Up to the expressway it was fun seeing all these bikes who had patiently and considerately waited for us all to get through, and then us all take off down the road, trying not to block up too much of the lanes, and let cars through. The turn offs were well marked by the coordinators, and then we were off down and over the Rainbow Bridge – another first for me.

Again, it’s a great feeling, being in convoy, the morning sun coming down, going over the bridge. Excellent. I was expecting some wind buffetting on the bridge itself, but it wasn’t bad at all, though coming down the slip road on the other side was like hitting a wall of wind and for a few seconds it got a bit wobbly, then thankfully subsided. Then it was more great road, tunnels under airport runways at Haneda and over more bridges to the quite bizarre Daikoku Futou services.

This is essentially several stacked rings of tarmac, with a car park and services in the middle. And a welcome respite, toilet break and time for a cup of coffee.  It was another chance to talk to more of the other bikers, talk bikes and exchange routes.

As we prepared to roll out, I was towards the rear of the column and so it was readily apparent just how many bikes there were, and how many bikers, and, especially with that Hilux, how many toys we were bringing. All the bikes seemed to have toys in boxes, strapped to pillion space, in panniers, just all over them. Riders in Santa outfits, elf hats, metres of tinsel and various other decorations. I actually wish I’d done more to my bike than the tinsel on the handlebars and around the rear seat bag. Now that the morning traffic was truly in flow, we must have made quite a bizarre sight.

One thing I’ve come to learn about a lot of bikers, is that a decent percentage of them are great photographers. The sheer number of dSLRs coming out for action shots and people getting sensible stationary positions for drive-by shots was impressive, and I’m sure there’s going to be an impressive collection going on line in the next couple of weeks. Next stop, NAPS Sachiura.

I’d not been to NAPS at Sachiura, or Sachiura itself before, so I wasn’t quite ready for that grid of traffic lights so common on industrial estates the world over – especially here in Japan. After a bit of an odd route to the shop itself, we promptly filled their ‘car’ park, though I think we hit before it was due to open, so hopefully we didn’t lose them any business.  This was a fun stop: more toys, a lot of photo shots which turned into pretty cool group pile-on photos, playing with balance bikes, drinking of coffee and more merriment. This was essentially the last group stop before the push down through Kanagawa to the Children’s Home.  Lots of Virgin Airlines stickers too. Were they a sponsor? Who knew, but as we pulled out of there, there were a few of those stickers on people and machines.

Unlike the first half of the trip, we were now pretty much on normal roads – often narrow back roads. Great fun yes, but the sheer number of traffic lights meant we got sliced up into quite a few groups. In fact, at one point I was on my own going down the main road of Kamakura. Chaos theory of course dictates we all re-joined each other at times, mainly sat in some traffic along the coast road, admiring the view, and having pictures surreptitiously taken of us, and vice versa. Cruising on down the coast, then up onto a bit of highway before the Oiso turn off (small as it is), and then down some increasingly narrow roads, and then, yes, at the Home itself.

The Kids and the Venue

At first we just tried to get the bikes in, without making too much noise for the locals, in what is a typically dense neighborhood – stop and engines off – no idling. After a few minutes waiting in a back street, we rode up and into their car parking area, doing a decent job of filling it, and I have to say it’s a nice leafy place. Then – and this is something which made sense – the kids wanted to see all the bikes ride up and park in front of the main building.

Smart decision, so out we went, got in position, putting most of the big cruisers up front, and (slightly over-) revved our way back in, and lined the bikes up, facing off with the kids. For a moment, that was kind of odd, but it did make it easier to see the scale of the ride – quite impressive.  After the official aisatsu and all the presents being hauled into a viewing room it became apparent the sheer volume of gifts, just piles upon piles of toys, books, teddy bears and everything in between. Pete did a top job of the introductions, slicing though that initial apprehension with some banter in Japanese, and kind of explaining to everyone the whys and wherefores.

As I mentioned, its a nice location, on a hill side above the coastline, the collection of buildings an odd hybrid of stereotypical school, with some kind of small apartment building feel to it, with several outhouses, some of which were for sports and other activities, and down the paths, different playgrounds and activity areas. Quite scenic in its own way, even in the grip of Winter.

And there were the kids, and honestly, despite the knowing of what the trip was for, seeing all these kids, from small toddlers up to pretty much adult high school kids kind of surprised me, but I have no idea why – perhaps because of my own child.

Anyone who has taught kids (I did JET for two years), or been somehow involved in looking after a child knows that awkward feeling of where to start with a child you don’t know. We had that, on both sides I suspect, for about a minute and then the chaos you know is coming just descends. They all seemed like good kids, good people, the staff seemed really friendly too, with that calm confidence people who know what they’re doing just have.

One minute I’m impressing the kids with my ability to be the only person who can’t draw Anpanman, when one of the boys asks me if I want to play touch rugby. Why not? I played a little rugby at school, and this touch version probably eliminates the requirements for cuts and bruises.

Actually, it wasn’t touch rugby, but a variety of tag games designed to foster a bit of team work, and grab velcro’d tapers off your opponents. I don’t want to demean our fellow bikers, but there were a few of us there possibly not in the best physical shape we’ve ever been in, touting leathers in many cases, and generally not looking sporty. On the other hand, those kids, boys and girls were as fast as whippets, and you had that feeling that you’d jumped into something halfway through – they all had their tactics down pat.  To be fair to us, we caught on quickly, and in our mixed teams, we faced off well against each other, and I even managed to grab a few tapers but I don’t mind admitting I was outclassed in most games. I don’t pivot like I used to! Actually, I never, ever pivoted like that.

What were we doing there? Oh yeah, we were on a toy run to a kids home. After an hour of throwing passes to kids and trying, and failing to grab tapers I’d sort of forgotten, we were just hanging around at a place and throwing a ball around. I heard people looking around and saying “You know, we could paint this place”, and “You know, we could fix up that flower bed” and it seemed that a future Run wasn’t in any way a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’. I suspect that if we’d have done a poll around 2pm, there’d have been enough people up for a Spring [clean] toy run too.

It was an incredible few hours, and I was actually quite disappointed to have to leave, and on the ride home, I was already thinking about 2010. I wonder if the challenge for the next one wont be getting people interested, it’ll be trying to control the event – balancing the benefit of numbers to that feel you get from having the right group size. That’s a good challenge to have.

The Forum Behind The Event

I became a member of the GaijinRiders forum in August 2009, mainly to ask advice on getting handlebars fixed, and to see what was around for tours though I’d lurked around off and on for a while. After a few months there, it seems the place really does have a decent core community as shown by the Tokyo Toy Run. Getting a group of bikers together – many of whom had never met – some of whom only joined the forum for news on the event is I think the defining point which shows when a forum is a community.  Got a bike in Japan? You should probably sign up and contribute.