SHINYA TANAKA | CIRCLES

Carina Fushimi, Shinya Tanaka

PHOTOS: Max Houtzager and Carina Fushimi

LOCATION: Nagoya, Japan

“If mountain bikers start to think about living in unison with nature and the mountains, something great can arise from that.” -Shinya Tanaka

In Japanese the word for circle, en, has another meaning: to be blessed by fate. It is used to refer to the ties between people that are meant to be. This meaning is what inspired Shinya Tanaka, the founder, to name his shop Circles.

It made sense, then, that Shinya referred to our first encounter as being tied by fate. We first heard of Circles when we published the Chris King Gourmet Century. Without knowing exactly why, we were struck by an immense instinctual urge to visit them in Nagoya to hear their story. We followed this instinct and visited them this winter.

What we found was incredible inspiration in its purest form: a community built on immense care for the betterment of society and the potential for bikes to be a tool for self motivation. Rarely does one encounter a company that imagines so far beyond their shop, their community and even their society. Amidst one of the most busy days of the year, we chatted to Shinya over a smoky stout to get acquainted with the mastermind behind the Circles community.

What draws you to cycling?

With cycling, of course I’m passionate about riding itself, but like all things it’s about having fun and having a playful mindset. Having fun is as important as having a job, so my goal is to think about how I can provide that enjoyment for customers. I`ve always wanted to interlink work and pleasure.
I used to work in fashon, and with apparel having fun means dressing up for different occasions. It’s obviously not the same, but I think about riding in the same way as dressing up when I get from one place to another. You ride to work and back home at the end of the day. On the weekends, you can travel a little further and venture into different routes for fun. So like clothes, bicycles are fascinating toys.

But more importantly, I think it all comes down to the “do it yourself” attitude that biking teaches you. In Japan, we are so used to being provided for because we have efficient public services. When we’re so used to this lifestyle, it becomes much harder to initiate action or spontaneity, which leads to daily inertia. What I’m trying to do is offer opportunities for customers to begin to find motivation within themselves to care about their sustainability through biking. That’s my passion.

Why did you start out with a service-based bike shop?

Society is currently so centered around selling. If there is a problem you call some kind of customer service and get someone to fix it. That just doesn’t feel right. I think it`ll always be necessary to have a system where you physically go into a shop with something that’s broken and ask, “Can you fix this?” With bicycles you can do that. This allows you to support the customers and this is directly related to how the community grows.

There are a lot of people who stop using something or give up when it breaks. If their GameBoy or Nintendo console breaks and they don`t know where to fix it, they’ll probably stop using it. That’s why you have to create a community that is based around service; looking at the realm of IT and electronics, they are moving towards something different. For bicycles, I hope that the customers’ needs can be resolved as close to home as possible.

How do you define a good cyclist?

That’s very hard to explain. What’s best in a biker is having both speed and strength. Fast riding on the professional level is only achievable by people with talent and genius. There are those who cannot be fast even though they try so hard, but they still have that unmatched admiration for bicycles. I like that. If someone has that strong feeling, and is able to maintain that, I believe that is strength.

However, in order to maintain that strength you have to be true and kind to those around you. Striving just for speed means you are always thinking about overtaking someone, and if that’s a hobby, that’s fine, but the more you chase after speed itself, the element of kindness becomes more and more important. Being fast is great if it’s in the realm of competitions and if you are a professional, but when you retire or ride for leisure you need kindness and strength to enjoy cycling no matter what happens.

What influence has surfing had on you?

There are definitely aspects of surf culture that I would like to see in cycling. Surfing has a certain lifestyle attached to it. To begin with, you obviously need to go to the sea, so surfers migrate towards the sea and revolve their lifestyle around waves.

I initially became interested in cycling through mountain biking so I know how mountain bikers feel. We buy clothing and gear, learn techniques to become faster and do all sorts of stuff but I think there is something to be taken from surfing. If mountain bikers start to think about living in unison with nature and the mountains, something great can arise from that.

Japan is suffering from severe depopulation, so there`s less and less people living in the countryside and even fewer in the mountains. If youth start to inhabit those kinds of places and create their own lifestyle there, I believe something beautiful can come from it.

Surfing has sort of been able to popularize a lifestyle like that, where young people inhabit the countryside so they can be near the sea. It’s hard to find somewhere where that’s possible in the city. I think there are loads of surfers out there who’ve managed to find a place where the waves are brilliant and have decided to live there while searching for a living. Recently I’ve been thinking that there’s the same kind of potential in cycling.

In order for that to happen we need to start interacting more so that a new lifestyle can be expressed through understanding the surfer’s way.

Shinya Tanaka

What was the inspiration behind Earlybirds cafe?

Earlybirds is something that I’ve always wanted to do. The Japanese lifestyle or working-style is centered around your job. 80% of the working population are サラリーマン salarymen (businessmen) with a strict timetable. If society wants to change we have to start deciding when to go to work and leave the office ourselves.
Lets say, if the Earlybird staff come into the office at 7am (to be precise they come in at 5am) and they finish by 3pm, they are able to go for a bike ride after work, and have time to enjoy themselves. If that kind of lifestyle is achieved just by the staff, that will inspire customers who see its young staff working hard from early hours. If the staff can achieve that ideal, balanced lifestyle, that alone is enough of a reason to make me believe Earlybirds is worth running.

How do your products relate to your philosophy?

One thing I often tell our staff is to look carefully at each thing, because if you look at something close enough you can envisage the creator behind it. It’s the same the other way round, once you observe people closely enough, you can start to picture the things they want. We select merchandise that is convincing when you examine it. But even when we’re satisfied with our desire to want the object, we have to then think, “Why are we convinced? Why do we want it?”

I go to California three to four times a year to study what Californians are making from the lifestyle they lead. I go because in California I think there is a more balanced lifestyle of work and play compared to Japan.

From there, I select products that are made by people that amaze me. By introducing those products that are created from a leisurely lifestyle, I think that they might be tools to improve my community. That’s why I stress the importance of looking at things carefully, to make sure everything is inspiration for a balanced lifestyle in itself.

Do you think the outdoors movement will grow in Japan?

Certainly. It’s going to grow. I think we are starting to reflect whether we are really happy. For those who are privileged enough to have both money and free time, they have the choice to decide what they want to do. The brave choice is to go outside. More and more people are starting to express themselves outdoors and spend quality time in nature.