Just behind the gates of the entrance to Yoyogi Park a black BMX bike cuts a deceptively lazy semi-circle, suddenly stopping and exploding into a complex and violent movement. The rider, “Cho-C”, 38, regularly practices freestyle BMX tricks and this flat patch of rough concrete is his domain. It’s perhaps not a scene you’d expect to come across next to the flowering bushes and informational signage nearby. The same could be said about his black bandana, white vest and goatee which standout amid the throngs of young couples and large groups of friends that pass by, occasionally stopping to take photos and videos.
The entrance of Yoyogi Park is famously known for the Rockabillies that perform for the tides of people that flow through, but as anyone who has spent some time here will know, there’s a lot more to see. Interesting characters (and animals) make appearances all over, the personalities of Harajuku and Shibuya having seemingly overflowed into the park, creating something eccentrically special in its own right.
“Cho-C”, a Tokyo native, is a calm and friendly guy who sat with me to talk about BMX, music, his love life, and the park in general. He tells me he’s been practicing for about 20 years now and truly, the tricks he pulls off are not something one picks up quickly. I ask him if he enters competitions, but he says it’s not for him. As intense and public as his practice is, he’s actually very modest and isn’t seeking fame; he simply found something he loves to do and a place he loves to do it.
On occasion, he meets up with some other BMX riders, but these days he usually practices alone, accompanied by the reggae or reggae-ton playing in his ear. Onlookers clap when he lands a trick successfully and cheer him on when he occasionally meets the uninviting floor. This hobby is obviously dangerous, and he’s suffered several injuries such as broken fingers and grazes. He rubs just below the base of his pinky finger and tells me it’s really painful at the moment. A friend of his recently took a bad fall when attempting a trick and has been out of action since. Cho-C’s bike is also new, as he recently managed to break the frame of his old one. The pegs of the previous bike are all that remain and are conspicuous in their worn-down jaggedness.
As dangerous as this hobby may be, he is very spatially aware and at no point do I feel any onlookers are in harm’s way. Seeing a bike spin around its front wheel and the sudden unmistakeable squeak of his brakes leading into a trick also gives fair warning, which most sensibly abide.
While we sit, an older man walks over and begins to regale us the history of the park and public performance legality and licenses, lamenting that not everyone has quite the same opportunity to perform publicly without being told by local security or the police to pack it up. Cho-C and the Rockabillies have a fortunate freedom in this regard, as they’re well-known, established entities of Yoyogi Park. A short time later, the aforementioned local security — a patrol of 3 bicycle-riding old men — ride past and greet Cho-C, exchanging brief small talk and a quick laugh before continuing on.
A young boy separates from his family to stop and gawk in amazement just as Cho-C happens to miss a trick and tumbles over the handlebars, walking it off with nothing to indicate any injury. A couple of minutes later, as the boy leaves, the father asks him if that’s what he wants to do when he gets older. Whether asked in jest or not, it is in these moments we find what characters like Cho-C contribute to society beyond just a quick photo opportunity for passersby — vibrance, inspiration and sub-culture visibility. As much as we all might be interested in seeing the arts, crafts and sports that people spend their lives pursuing, most are not advertised and are therefore less accessible, hidden away from the public eye. A BMX wildly contorting in a popular space is, on the other hand, hard to miss. People such as Cho-C make-up part of the living personality of Tokyo — a bit of the right kind of chaos in a largely orderly and peaceful city.