KAWAGOE, Saitama - She arrived on a red bicycle at our meeting spot at Koedo Kawagoe, an area studded with classical storehouses with white mortar exterior walls in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture.
The woman, Kinuyo, leads the "Pota Girl Saitama," a group of women who like "pottering," a word meaning wandering around in an aimless manner, although to the group it means using a bike rather than walking.
"The sky is clear," she said. "It's great out. Let's start pottering."
More and more people enjoy pottering about these days. I asked Kinuyo for some hints about thoroughly enjoying it.
"We say, 'I'm going out for pota,' when we plan to go on a short ride by bike, rather than going long distances," Kinuyo said. Pottering enables people to travel farther than walking and allows more freedom than driving.
We leisurely rode on the Ichibangai street lined with souvenir shops. Along the street, I found a shop that had attracted many people and also smelled the savory scent of heated soy sauce.
"Ah, it's osenbei [rice crackers] that have just been made," Kinuyo said. "They look delicious!"
Thanks to our bikes, we had no problem stopping by the shop. If I had been in a car, I wouldn't have noticed the scent of soy sauce in the air and would probably have driven past the shop.
"Ninety-per cent of women who go pottering do so to find great places to eat," she said. "Members of our Pota Girl Saitama enjoy touring cafes and calling themselves a gourmet club."
Kinuyo often goes pottering with her family, too.
"We can find a great pizza restaurant in an unexpected place or enjoy talking to the elderly manager of a restaurant," she said. "It's fun,"
In warmer weather, they ride together to parks and waterside areas to experience the joys of nature and take photos.
The red bike she rode that day is a mini velo type, which is a sports bike with smaller wheels and therefore easier for beginners to ride. The so-called "mama-chari" (bikes with higher handlebars and a basket meant for short-distance trips) is also good for pottering, Kinuyo said. Rental bikes are great, too.
We finally came to Kashiya Yokocho (Penny candy alley), an area that attracts many tourists at Koedo Kawagoe. To navigate through the crowd to reach shops we had to dismount and walk with our bikes.
"It's shopping time," Kinuyo said. "Ask a shop clerk where we can park our bikes."
She then detached the basket on the front of the red bike and held it in her hand. As it is removable, it's useful for pottering.
I checked out handmade candies and other cheap confectionery in the area. We also enjoyed chatting with some shop staff.
Kinuyo said: "We can find wonderful shops along the narrow alleys here. Koedo Kawagoe is very suitable for traveling around by bicycle,"
She told me that until her mid-20s, she had no real opportunity to enjoy sports because she was physically weak.
"I became healthier after I began riding my bikes," she said. "Pottering doesn't require much physical strength and is fine for beginners. I hope more people will enjoy cycling."
A bicycle parking rack has been installed at the Kawagoe Bakery Rakuraku near Kashiya Yokocho. It's helpful for those with sports bikes since they are not often equipped with kickstands.
More and more local governments started buying such racks in bulk and have installed them at public facilities over the past few years, according to Minoura Japan, a bicycle tools manufacturer in Godo, Gifu Prefecture.
The company also receives orders from convenience stores. Sales of such racks have increased 10-fold over the past five years, the company said.