Jinrikisha – The Pulled Rickshaw

I had assumed for some reason, that the word ‘Rickshaw’ was an Indian export to the English language. Much like Bandanna, Khaki, Pyjamas or even Cot! (R thought that was dumb, because “it is so patently Chinese” )

I was also under the impression that the hand pulled Rickshaws had been banned or discontinued around the world.

Wrong on both counts! And best of all, R was wrong as well:/

According to Wikipedia:
“The word Rickshaw originates from the Japanese word Jinrikisha ( jin = human, riki = power or force, sha = vehicle), which literally means “human-powered vehicle”. In 1874, The word Jinricksha/Jinrikisha” was published in the Oxford English Dictionary.

In 1887. The word Rickshaw/Ricksha was included in the Oxford English Dictionary as a relation of Jinricksha/Jinrikisha. The word Ricksha was used as a manual laborer’s slang word in Japan.”

You don’t say!

And what I had thought was an anachronism, is alive and kicking in some parts of Japan, (I even saw a few in Tokyo, near the Asakusa shrine!) and pulled by handsome hunks in uniform who I suspect are part of the attraction.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

79 thoughts on “Jinrikisha – The Pulled Rickshaw

  1. I’d feel like a queen if I am seated in one of those rickshaws. Did you get to try that?

    On another note, I am always caught up, almost caught up with bloggy friends’ posts. Yey! I will go back for your posts that I’ve missed next time. 🙂

  2. wow! one never ceases to learn! loved the write up – informative, short and beautiful pictures. One cant help comparing the happy looking , smartly clad japanese rickshaw pullers , with the scrawny, shabbily clothed Indian ones! The shame is not that we have rickshaw pullers. the shame is that ours work so hard and still not make enough to live a life of dignity!

    1. You are so right Sapna. And although it seems inherently wrong to be pulled by a human being, banning a source of income without ensuring another seems wrong as well. I am not sure if these people were rehabilitated at all.
      http://www.indianexpress.com/news/hand-rickshaw-pullers-want-to-ply-legally/809119
      According to this article, there were still 5935 rickshaws plying Kolkata streets as of June 2011, albeit illegally. They must need to earn twice as much to keep the cops quiet!

      1. very true! so the very legislation that i supposed to help them becomes a curse. When will politicians begin to understand that instant short term solutions don’t work on complicated issues related to livelihood. Enjoyed the writeup. Thanks!

  3. Nice lesson. As I always say, you always learn something from the blogosphere. I actually only got aware of rickshaw very recently after seeing the movie “Take This Waltz”.

    1. I seem to have learnt a whole lot here Rommel 🙂 Hand pulled Rickshaws in New York and London! Would never have hazarded a guess!

  4. Very interesting article. The pictures of Japan are lovely. Not sure how comfortable they will be, though.

    I am currently reading ‘Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland, A. D. 1803’ by Dorothy Wordsworth. This was a six-week, 663-mile journey through the Scottish Highlands in August and September 1803 which she made with her brother William Wordsworth.

    They travelled in an Irish jaunting car which is like a rickshaw, except drawn by a horse. (This caused a bit of a stir as it was rumoured that Ireland was going to invade Scotland).

    Most countries will have had a variation on a car, whether human powered or horse-drawn

    1. Thank you Jane.
      I was only talking of the origin of the actual word, not the origin of the vehicle itself. And the presence of human powered ‘carts’ if you will 🙂 You will be surprised by how many English words have Eastern origins!!

      1. Most languages have words taken from other languages because the other language has a better word for describing it.

        Bungalow, pyjama, guru, cot and bandana are all common words used by English speakers which are Hindi or Urdu in origin.

        I wonder how many people using these words know their origin?

  5. You also find them in some parts of Ethiopia and Myanmar… and they have even become fashionable in London now (tourists love them!) 🙂

  6. And we have them now as a growing business in NY! 😉 o figure… 😆
    Thank you for checking in during the Hurricane… your kind wishes were appreciated!

  7. Wow! And I thought the hundreds of cycle rickshaws in Chandini Chowk and North Campus, were leading a harsh life… Hand pulling the rickshaws must be harder… They’ve dressed up well too… Considering they are a tourist attraction, I wonder if they get paid well…

    Love the colours in the photographs 🙂 The second photo is really charming!

    1. Thanks Kasturika. Have no idea how much they are paid, but those rides are very expensive apparently, so assuming it can’t be too bad.

  8. I didn’t know they had been banned in India? I don’t remember getting one though, although we may have used a bicycle one. I don’t think I ever saw a fat rickshaw person.

    1. Yes, If I am not mistaken Kolkata was the last state to ban it in 2007. I don’t see any pedicabs here in Chennai either! Not sure if there are any in the old Delhi area.

  9. Interesting 😉 Although I love Rickshaw rides especially when the weather is good. Reminds me of Chandigarh.

    Very nice shots 🙂

    1. Thank you Nandini. Haven’t gotten on a cycle rickshaw in God knows how long! Haven’t seen one around here in ages for that matter!

  10. Naomi’s comment about rickshaws in NYC is very true …$15+ gets you an hour ride in Central Park.

    1. I had no idea Shaantz! And now my daughter tells me they rode on one in Disneyland although that was part of some theme park.

  11. They still have a similar version in Atlantic City !

    1. Amazing! And third world countries are screaming for it to be banned! I guess it is OK for a well fed human to pull one 🙂

      1. I have never done it- I feel a kind of pity for them and I like to walk- Life is choice though and opportunity! I guess I should not feel sorry for them ..

        1. I know. Even here, banning robs the poor of an opportunity for employment. But some of them are so weak and undernourished it seems wrong as well. Who knows what is right or wrong! Kolkata was the last state to ban them in 2007 I think. We don’t have any here.

  12. I am always interested in the origin of words. Nice post.

  13. And here people are screaming their lungs out when they see the hand-pulled Rickshaw in Kolkata. No more picture? BTW, this is one of my favourite subjects along with Auto Rickshaws:)

    1. Exactly! Doesn’t quite make sense does it?
      I do have more images, but they aren’t as good as these 🙂 Maybe I should go shoot some ‘packed like sardine cans’ auto rickshaws! 🙂 Can’t understand why no one is calling for the banning of overloading them like that!

  14. Lovely photos, Madhu. My mom told me that she used to go to school in a rickshaw and sometimes in a sedan chair, when they lived in Hong Kong during the war. She said that they used to run with her bobbing around in the chair, and it was quite scary. I can just imagine it. I would be petrified. 🙂

  15. I knew they weren’t Indian but though that people powered ones were virtually extinct! A big part of me disapproves but sadly the rest of me quite likes the idea of the hunks!

    1. Quite the dilemma isn’t it Gilly? 😀
      Makes me feel better that I was not the only one to think they were extinct! From the comments it seems like they are quite popular around the world!

  16. Maybe the first rickshaw was a Toyota, because there’s old one at the Toyota Museum in Aichi, Japan… ‘big big smile’

    Lovely shot the one with the young girl or lady and the kids – loves it… 🙂

  17. yes, R = Rickshaw – I’ve never used one (but a real donkey in Greece, very funny) – I never could ask a human being to pull me through the streets …

  18. Honestly I belive that is more correct to see a cart drawn by human beings… I’m an “activist” for the protection and care of animals, so… I apologise!
    Sometime, the simple fact of horseback riding give me some remorse of conscience! Have a lovely sunday :-)claudine

    1. That is my favourite too and was easy to shoot since they were stationary. Yeah, looks like I was way off 🙂

  19. I saw some Rickshaws in Beijing also, but there were 3 of us and we aren’t small, so we didn’t ride in one.

    1. I only saw pedicabs in China Carol! We took a ride on one around the Hutongs. So I assumed the hand pulled ones were discontinued there as well 🙂

    1. Strangely I only saw the pedicabs in China! I was sorely tempted to hop onto one when there was a long walk involved, but was too embarassed to ask when the others were fine walking 🙂

  20. Very funny post, Madhu, and informative as well. In New York, I took my Aunt Loena on a rickshaw ride home from the theater one night, when the cabs were all taken by the time she could shuffle out to the curb. It was a first for both of us, and a really wild ride. Our driver was cutting off limos, and taking shortcuts through back alleys, but he sure knew what he was doing and we lived to tell the tale!

    1. There are rickshaws in New York??? And hand pulled ones? I really need to travel more 😀

    1. Yes, and I think it did come to India from China. I never saw a hand pulled one in China though, they were all pedicabs.

    1. Me too, I actually started out choosing these images for a mother and child post. It turned out completely different 🙂 I do believe my blog has a mind of its own!

  21. The humks that pull the rickshaw are the Japanese version of the gondoleers of Venice? That last photo is a lovely composition with the lines curved and straight on the right.

    1. Seems like it Angeline! Read a report that there was a TV show to choose the best looking Jirikisha guy 😀

  22. I would never have thought it was a loanword from Japanese! Language history is also one of the most fascinating subjects of history – at least for me.

    1. Surprising isn’t it? That is because we know so little about Japan! Etymology fascinates me too Bama. I always check the root word and origin of any new addition to my vocabulary. But Rickshaw was Rickshaw in my native tongue as well! 🙂

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