Tuesday 11 April 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 11/4/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Masashi Asada

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

Follow your head

Look around any street in Tokyo and you will see people on bicycles: carrying shopping and children, commuting or just going from A to B without a car. The bike is the only form of private transport for most of the city’s residents yet very few of them (5.6 per cent) wear helmets. Since 1 April, however, a revision of Japan’s Road Traffic Act has made it mandatory for cyclists to wear a helmet. Sort of. Instead of being an enforceable law, the wearing of a helmet is now classed as something that people “have a duty to try to do” (coronavirus vaccinations were in the same category). There’s no penalty for riding without a helmet which leaves cyclists in a bind. Should they wear one or not?

Japanese cyclists resent this kind of interference. Parents rose up in 2008 when the National Police Agency tried to impose a ban on people carrying two children on bicycles (Japan’s hefty mama-chari are designed for that exact purpose) and the police backed down. Grumbles aside, Japan’s helmet-manufacturers say that demand has surged and shops are reporting brisk sales. Some companies have designed helmets that appeal specifically to the urban rider: Osaka-based Kabuto has released the Libero – a helmet masquerading, not entirely convincingly, as a baseball cap.

Judging by my fellow cyclists, most are ignoring the new helmet mandate. Elderly riders seem to be more obliging, while one candidate in local elections has been campaigning on two wheels while wearing a bright-green helmet. The only people who are noticeably wearing their headgear are the police, who cycle around Tokyo on very humble bicycles. Leading by example carries no legal weight but it might at least normalise the use of helmets on city streets.

Fiona Wilson is Monocle’s senior Asia editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Getty Images

Military / USA & the Philippines

Tense exercises

The US and the Philippines began a joint military exercise today. It is the 38th time that the two countries have conducted training together and also the largest exercise of its kind to date; more than 17,000 American and Philippine troops will be participating in live fire, maritime and disaster-response drills between now and 28 April. The exercise is part of a series of moves that will strengthen military ties between the two nations: the US announced last week that it will open four new naval bases in the Southeast Asian country. This will give the US a bigger foothold in the South China Sea at a time when tensions with China remain high. A few hundred kilometres north of the Philippines, China yesterday conducted its third day of military drills in the airspace and ocean around Taiwan, intended as a warning to the Taiwanese government after president Tsai Ing-wen met with American officials in California. There are no signs that tensions in the region will ease in the near future.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Northern Ireland

Welcome attention

Joe Biden (pictured) will touch down in Belfast today for a whirlwind visit to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a landmark accord that largely ended three decades of violence in Northern Ireland. The US president will be greeted by his British counterpart, Rishi Sunak, in Belfast before heading to the Republic of Ireland to take part in various engagements in Dublin, Louth and Mayo.

The Good Friday Agreement, in which US mediators played an important role, is no doubt an achievement worth celebrating. Northern Ireland has enjoyed 25 years of relative peace and the accord maintains overwhelming public support. Major challenges remain, however, and sectarian divides continue to fester. The power-sharing government that the agreement created has not operated for more than a year because of the Democratic Unionist Party’s objection to post-Brexit trade rules. “If you look back at history, the problems in Northern Ireland occurred when Britain was ignoring the Irish question,” Jonathan Powell, a former chief of staff to Tony Blair, told Monocle’s The Foreign Desk. “So it’s welcomed in Northern Ireland when the British government does pay attention.”

Image: Anna Huix

Education / Barcelona

Sketch school

France remains Europe’s biggest market for graphic novels and illustrated magazines but Spain is having a renaissance thanks to envelope-pushing publishing houses including Apa Apa Cómics and Sapristi. Despite Barcelona’s growing network of shops, publishers and book fairs dedicated to the medium, Alfredo Borés and Berta González realised that there were few services to help aspiring creators get a foot in the industry’s door. Today the pair, an illustrator and comic-book artist respectively, run La Gossa, a firm offering daily 90-minute classes on how to draw, write and structure zines and graphic novels. “In the 1980s there were a lot of underground magazines being published in Barcelona,” Borés tells Monocle. “There’s a new wave appearing today. New authors are producing cool stuff that’s totally different to mainstream comics in terms of format and narrative.” He should know: his and González’s classes for adults or children run from a workshop in the city’s Gràcia neighbourhood have filled up fast.

For more businesses with draw, industries on the up and stories that leave an impression, subscribe to Monocle magazine today.

Image: Alamy

Mobility / Canada

Back on the rails

One of Ontario’s northernmost stretches of railway is expected to resume passenger services in 2026. The Northlander line, which launched in 1976, runs for more than 740km between Toronto’s Union Station and rural cities and towns but services ceased in 2012. Ontario, which is larger than France and Spain combined, is Canada’s most-populous province but its sparsely populated northern areas have long needed better transport links to cities in the south.

State operator Via Rail Canada reported a 30 per cent rise in passenger numbers in 2021 (the most recent year available). The revived service will operate with three new diesel passenger trains, which were manufactured by Siemens and bought for CA$139.5m (€97m) in December. Rail expansion in Canada has long been thwarted by political wrangling, with plans for much-needed high-speed connections often kicked into the long grass. All aboard for The High North.

Image: Forest & Whale

Monocle Radio / Monocle On Design

Coffee and community

We find out how coffee shops can create communities and head to Singapore for a contemporary take on the reusable cup. Plus: we learn how a neighbourhood coffee shop in Toronto approached a brand refresh.

Monocle Films / Portugal

Portuguese problem-solving

Lisbon-based architect and artist Joana Astolfi takes us on a journey into the Portuguese word “desenrascanço”, meaning to find an improvised solution to a problem. She explains what it says about Portuguese culture and how it is embodied by an unusual structure in Comporta. Read more stories from the country in Portugal: The Monocle Handbook.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00