Soba Delivery Bike Race Tests Traditional Balancing Skills

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A participant of Demaesou Asakusa 2020 cycles with a stack of empty soba noodle boxes in the Asakusa district of Taito Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 29.

Cyclists balancing trays of stacked soba noodle boxes competed against each other on Asakusa’s public roads in Tokyo on Nov. 29.

The 300-meter round-trip Demaesou Asakusa race was held to cheer up the town during the novel coronavirus pandemic by revaluating traditional Japanese food delivery techniques, while the pandemic and the voluntary stay-home practice have resulted in a surge of food delivery services.

Organized by the Asakusa Okamisan-kai, a group of proprietresses of shops and restaurants in the area, and other groups, the event comprised a total of 24 members of the general public aged 18 or older.

One by one, the cyclists started the staggered race. Each contestant had to balance a stack of rectangular lacquered soba noodle boxes with one hand and use the other hand to steer a bicycle to the end of the 150-meter-long course and then cycle back to the starting line. They had to avoid obstacles while trying not to drop the boxes. The bicycles were for professional delivery use and were prepared by the event organizers. Men had to carry stacks of seven boxes, while women held stacks of five. All of the boxes were empty.

As part of the rules, if a contestant dropped one or more boxes, they were penalized points and had to pick them up. Each competitor’s run ended when they placed the boxes on a table near the goal and shouted, “Hei, omachido!” (Hey, you must’ve been waiting!), which is the soba delivery person’s traditional message on arrival.

The participants were rated for several factors, including the time from when they started to making the call as well as the originality of their outfits. Contestants who dropped all the boxes or failed to reach the goal within three minutes were disqualified.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
So Kataoka, the first champion of the Demaesou Asakusa race, smiles with an ornamented kumade bamboo rake, which was presented to him as a trophy.

The first champion of the event was So Kataoka, 48, a company employee from Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo. His delivery time clocked in at 56.51 seconds, and he also scored a hefty 25 points for his costume. He said he spent one week practicing for the race on a bicycle at a gym and did handstands to train his muscles to hold the soba noodle boxes.

“I joined the race to cheer everyone up,” Kataoka said. “I’m relieved that I’ve been able to show my children they can do anything as long as they put in the effort. I’ll use the ¥100,000 prize money to eat some delicious food with my family.”

(Old & New is a series exclusive to The Japan News.)