NASA employee stays grounded with weekly cycling tours

Courtesy of Garvey McIntosh
Garvey McIntosh, second left, and four others pose at the Roppongi Crossing in Minato Ward, Tokyo, before beginning to cycle.

For some foreign residents in Tokyo, the COVID-19 pandemic offers a fresh opportunity to make use of their time in Japan. Excellent dining experiences might not be on the menu, but new aspects of the capital can be discovered, especially by people who like outdoor activities.

One recent convert to the outdoors is Garvey McIntosh, the NASA attache in Asia. His activities for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States are based at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, where he is a liaison with Japanese space authorities. For example, he was involved in coordinating NASA’s receipt of 10% of the sample that the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 took from the asteroid Ryugu.

While NASA has its sights set on outer space, McIntosh likes to see the view on Earth while cycling.

Courtesy of Garvey McIntosh

Garvey McIntosh sits on his bicycle in Tokyo.

The American did not cycle much when he lived in the United States, but since he began cycling in Tokyo in April 2020, he has made it a habit, rather than a hobby. He goes on four- to five-hour journeys “pretty much every weekend,” he said during an interview at the embassy. He skips wintertime and rainy days, ending up cycling about 40 times a year.

“I find it a good way to see many different parts of Japan,” the 52-year-old said. “It’s a good way to enjoy living in Japan.”

Residing in Minato Ward where the embassy is also located, he arranges to meet up with three or four cycling friends at Roppongi Crossing. From there, they sometimes cycle into Chiba or the Kanagawa side of the Tama River, but mainly they stay within the capital.

Tokyo by itself gives him lots of pleasure. One of his favorite cycling courses is a round trip to Kasai Rinkai Park in Edogawa Ward, located just across the Edogawa river from Tokyo Disney Resort.

The typical route from Roppongi goes down to the Hamamatsucho area, then crosses several bridges east to Harumi, Toyosu and Kasai Rinkai Park. Then the route turns north to Tokyo Skytree, west to Marunouchi and back south to Roppongi. He enjoys cycling across the “huge bridges” in between, over canals and the Arakawa and Edogawa rivers.

He also likes the views of the Hama-rikyu Gardens on the way from Hamamatsucho to Harumi, the Tokyo 2020 athletes village in the Harumi district and the Tokyo Disney Resort from Kasai Rinkai Park.

“When you get outside [central] Tokyo, you see the outskirts of Tokyo, there is a lot of green. It’s beautiful, a lot of nice bike trails,” McIntosh said. “Kids are playing baseball and soccer. People are out and about. It’s a fun time to see what people are doing.”

Another favorite course is to Futako-Tamagawa in Setagaya Ward, Tama Hills Golf Course for Yokota Air Force Base, Haneda Airport, Shinagawa and back to Roppongi.

Time is not of the essence for this casual cyclist, who is apt to get off his bike to enjoy some coffee or visit a museum. He says his road bicycle is “not too expensive, not too cheap” at about $1,500, while really top-class bikes can cost about $10,000.

McIntosh has been based at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo since August 2017, and this is his second time living in Japan.

Upon graduating from Northeastern University in Boston, he visited his brother, who was with the U.S. Navy in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture. He then landed a job teaching English at Nagasaki University of Foreign Studies for four years from 1994.

“I didn’t have a job in the U.S., so I tried [teaching] English and was lucky enough to get a job in Nagasaki,” he said.

“It was an interesting time because it was very different than Tokyo. There weren’t many foreigners in Nagasaki at all, so I got a chance to really experience what it was like to live in a small city,” he said, adding that he lived near the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

His experiences in Nagasaki and Tokyo helped him brush up his Japanese language level. He won the Foreign Minister Award, the top prize, in the Japanese Speech Contest for Foreign Diplomats 2020.

In July, he passed the second highest N2 level in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test after having failed four times.

“I thought it was easy, but they made it pretty hard,” he said, adding that he wants to pass N1 before NASA transfers him to Washington, D.C., in August.

Garvey McIntosh / NASA Attache in Asia

As the NASA attache in Asia, based at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, McIntosh is responsible for coordinating NASA programs and interests in Japan and other countries within the Asia-Pacific region. He has taken on various positions in NASA since he began working for the Office of International and Interagency Relations at the space agency in 2003. Prior to working for NASA, he studied economic policy and language in Vietnam as a Boren Fellow. He also spent four years, from 1994 to 1998, in Nagasaki, where he taught English conversation and composition. He received his graduate degree in International Policy Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, and his undergraduate degree in Communications Studies from Northeastern University in Boston.