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Dog lover discusses parks and bikes in Los Angeles versus Tokyo

The following post was written by intern Maggie Su as part of a series of profiles of API members of the community.

Ranko Fukuda has a foot in two different worlds. Having grown up in both Tokyo and Los Angeles, she has a multicultural background that gives her a unique take on her surroundings.

Fukuda’s background is in banking; she worked with Capital One straight out of college, where she stayed for over a decade. Now, she works in the nonprofit world, running an adult education program that trains underserved adults to begin a career in banking. She made the switch after moving to LA from the East Coast, following her 2011 stint in Japan to aid tsunami recovery efforts.

Thoughtful and reflective, Fukuda notices differences in even the mundane aspects of life in each city. Tokyo citizens, for example, are generally diligent about not leaving trash behind, despite the reduced number of trash cans in the city. This is in sharp contrast to the hot Cheetos bags that litter the sidewalks near her residence, presumably left there by students from one of the three schools in the area.

Another difference is the lack of large parks in Tokyo, such as LA’s recently unveiled State Historic Park. Tokyo favors smaller pockets of land — occasional bubbles of green space, complete with benches and playgrounds, in otherwise urban areas.

Perhaps the largest difference, though, is the importance of bicycles in Japan relative to the United States. As a student in Tokyo, Fukuda commuted first by bike, riding 10 minutes to the nearest station, then by train, taking two of them to reach her school. She and countless others would leave her bicycle in a parking lot at the station — a feature of the Japanese transportation system that she appreciates.

Six years ago, on a trip to Tokyo to visit family, she brought her then-four and six-year-old niece and nephew to school via bike. The bicycle in question was equipped with a seat in the front for the younger child, a seat in the back for the older child and assisted pedaling. Although, Fukuda suggested, such a bike would likely not merit a second glance in Japan, it would raise some eyebrows in the US.

In Japan, where there are not many raised sidewalks, cyclists generally ride on the side of the road separated from vehicle lanes by a line of paint denoting the space intended for pedestrians. Cars drive more slowly, not necessarily because drivers are safer, but rather because streets are narrower. Biking in the US is indisputably a different experience: on most streets, cyclists ride between parked cars and oncoming traffic.

“It shouldn’t be that way. They shouldn’t be next to each other,” Fukuda said. “I’m just always perplexed by that bad design of cyclists being so close to cars.”

Fukuda no longer cycles on a regular basis, despite having ordered a custom basket for her bike — something that most bikes in Japan come equipped with. Instead, she walks around town with her dogs. On sidewalks, across bridges, along the LA River and around parks such as LA State Historic Park.

LA State Historic Park, which reopened in April of this year, includes numerous newly-planted trees, which Fukuda anticipates will provide shade a few years down the line. The park also features plants native to California in some sections and grass in others, the latter of which requires a significant amount of water to maintain. Fukuda appreciates the natural landscaping.

“It’s a different look,” Fukuda said. “You can’t sit and have a picnic in the [native plants] over here, but it’s just much more of a natural look.”

Fukuda, who lives about a mile away, didn’t venture to LA State Historic Park until Chinatown Fit Club began its Wednesday evening meetings. Now she comes all the time to walk her two dogs around the mile-long loop used by cyclists, runners and walkers alike. She appreciates how spacious the park is at 32 acres, but thinks some of the land could have been put to better use as space for low-income apartment buildings — additional housing that LA sorely needs. Nevertheless, she acknowledges the history of the park and is content that it has become a recreational space.

Fukuda recalled how, one day, when there was movie night happening at one end of the park, she didn’t even realize there was an event going on until she was about halfway across.

“I think there were several hundred people there, and they only used up a small corner of the park,” Fukuda said. “That’s how big this park is. It’s going to take a lot to fill it up, and that’s cool.”

She does, however, take issue with the fact that she was uninformed of the event despite living in the immediate neighborhood. The majority of those who attended were not local residents — a fact she has mixed feelings about.

“I was just here walking, and there were food trucks, all these white hipsters descending on the park,” Fukuda said. “Which, right now, if you look around, you don’t see that.”

Although she appreciates that events such as the movie night provide people with some exposure to her neighborhood, she wishes they were better marketed to her and her neighbors. She suggested flyers in the mail rather than exclusively online marketing, which she feels is not very accessible to the multigenerational Latino and Asian families that populate the surrounding neighborhoods of Lincoln Heights and Chinatown.

“For a park to work, the local community needs to support it, first and foremost,” Fukuda said. “It was nice to see all these people come in from other parts of the city to use it, but you need some local pride first.”

Fukuda questions the presence of the gate that surrounds the entire park, restricting access to it outside of its opening hours of 8 a.m. to sunset. Although she understands why the city may feel the need to close the park at night, due to the possibility of vandalism, for example, she laments that the space is not available to the homeless.

“If it’s not a space for everybody, then what’s the point?” Fukuda said. “I just feel like this is such a great space where someone who might need a bench to sleep on at night could come. What’s wrong with that?”

Despite the park’s restricted access, Fukuda has happily noticed people from the neighborhood utilizing the space.

“On a regular basis it feels like the locals are using [the park], which is really awesome,” Fukuda said.

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