Live Fast,  Retire Young

Live Fast, Retire Young

Metropolis hits the streets with Tokyo's top bike messengers


Originally published on on September 2009

Nocchi - Photo by Benjamin Parks

Nocchi - Photo by Benjamin Parks

An average working day can go on for ten or eleven hours. You’ll spend most of that time operating at full pelt—enough to leave you drenched in sweat and with muscles the size of an Olympic athlete. There are no fixed breaks, so you’ll just have to enjoy those brief periods of respite you get before the next job comes in. The wages aren’t great, accidents are common, and you can expect a short career with limited prospects for advancement.

Ask the people who do it, and they’ll tell you this is the best job in the world.

They might be right, too. Talk to any daydreamer who’s done the office-bound 9-to-overtime in Akasaka, Shimbashi or Marunouchi, and they’ll probably admit to having cast an envious glance at the bike messengers who ply the streets of those neighborhoods. I know I did—practically every day. Whether perched on a corner munching some carb-laden convenience store snack or gunning hard to make a traffic light before it went red, the messengers are like an antidote to all the stiff seriousness around them. Bursts of color in a sea of dark blues and gray. Free spirits. Really bloody fast.
Mind you, it’s easy to get carried away glamorizing a job you’ll never do yourself—to see romance where there’s only sweat and hard graft. What’s it like for the people who actually spend every day in the saddle?

After talking to four bike messengers from different courier companies in Tokyo, I’m tempted to report that it’s even better than I’d imagined. Or, perhaps more accurately, that the couriers themselves are even cooler than I’d thought.