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M. William Steele

This article reviews recent scholarship on Asian mobility, focusing on the influence of the prewar Japanese empire on the mobility (and immobility) of people, goods, and ideas in Asia today. Prewar Japanese technicians, engineers, and politicians built highways, aviation systems, electricity grids, and communication networks seeking to create new levels of transnational mobility and human integration. Nonetheless, unlike Europe, this infrastructure failed to stimulate movements toward Asian integration. Mobility scholars, east and west, should be interested in the divergences between Asia and Europe in dealing with the construction and use of emerging transnational infrastructures since World War II.

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Mobility on the Move

Rickshaws in Asia

M. William Steele

The rickshaw initiated an explosion in personal mobility in Asia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Invented in Japan in 1869, by 1872 there were forty thousand and by 1875 over one hundred thousand of the new two-wheel vehicles on the streets of Tokyo. The number reached a peak in 1896 with 210,000 countrywide. The rickshaw (in Japanese, jinrikisha) quickly spread to Asia, to Shanghai and Hong Kong in 1874, to Singapore and Calcutta in 1880. By 1900, the rickshaw had spread throughout the continent, bringing with it new mobility to an emerging urban middle class. Moreover, for many people in Asia, the rickshaw alongside the locomotive, came to symbolize modernity. This article will explore routes of diffusion, focusing on the role played by Akiha Daisuke and his adopted son, Akiha Daisuke II, Japan's largest exporters of rickshaws, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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M. William Steele

Japan is one of the great bicycle nations of the world, ranking alongside the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark in terms of per capita bicycle ownership and use. This article reviews the history and characteristics of Japan as a bicycle nation. It examines the emergence of a distinctive bicycle culture that offered personal mobility to ordinary people in prewar Japan and traces the contribution of the bicycle to postwar Japan's social and economic development. It reviews postwar bicycle history in: the period of reconstruction and recovery (1945-1956); the period of high economic growth (1957-1973); the period of rapid motorization (1974-1991); and the period of raised environmental consciousness (1992-present). The conclusion seeks to offer reasons for the persistence of Japan's vibrant and pervasive bicycle culture.

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Rickshaws in South Asia

Introduction to the Special Section

M. William Steele

The rickshaw, invented in Japan in 1869, helped to produce a revolution in mobility for millions of people in Asia and Africa. By the 1930s, the everyday mobility offered by the hand-pulled rickshaw gave way to several of its off spring: the cycle-rickshaw, trishaw, pedicab, cyclo, becak, and the auto-rickshaw. The three articles in this special section describe how these “primitive” non-motorized vehicles continue in the twenty-first century to play a valuable and irreplaceable role in urban and rural transport in South Asian cities. The authors are traffic experts, geographers, and urban planners who live and work in contemporary rickshaw cultures. Despite the reality of urban hazards, the articles describe cultural, economic, and environmental reasons to keep rickshaws on the road, now and in the future.

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History, Historiography, and Be(com)ing on the Move

Introduction to the Special Section

M. William Steele and Weiqiang Lin

If we now live in the “Asian Century,” what and how are we to think about the seeming incongruence of the traditional rickshaw and the high-speed shinkansen? What is the historical context behind the growing and sometimes alarming statistics of Asian motoring, both their production and use? How do we explain the explosion of mobilities, both local and global, in and about Asia? Amid this evident desire to be on the move, the articles in this Special Section begin to tackle some of these questions, by means of exploring three different iterations of organized transport in East and Southeast Asia in the last century. In the process, they seek to provide some answers (and pose further questions) to the conduits through which historical Asia moved, why it did so in the way it did, and whether there was anything qualitatively different in the way Asia embraced its potential to move.