“If you experiment with the jinrikisha on a level road, you will find that it is only the first pull that is hard; once started the little carriage seems to run by itself. The gait of the man, and his height, determine the comfort of the ride. A tall coolie holds the shafts too high, and tilts one at an uncomfortable angle; a very short man makes the best runner, and, with big toe curling upward, will trot along as regularly as a horse. As one looks down upon the bobbing creature below a hat and two feet seem to constitute the whole motor.”
– Jinrikisha Days in Japan, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, 1891.
From the wiki: “Starting in 1870, the Tokyo government issued permission for Izumi Yosuke, Takayama Kosuke, and Suzuki Tokujiro to build and sell rickshaws. [Jinrikisha translates literally from the Japanese to ‘human power vehicle’.] By 1872, they became the main mode of transportation in Japan, with about 40,000 rickshaws in service.
“The rickshaw’s popularity in Japan declined by the 1930s with the advent of automated forms of transportation, like automobiles and trains. After the World War II, when gasoline and automobiles were scarce, they made a temporary come-back. The rickshaw tradition has stayed alive in Kyoto and Tokyo’s geisha districts only for tourists as well as in other tourist places
“Rickshaws were first exported from Japan to Hong Kong in 1880 and remained there a popular form of transport for many years, peaking at more than 3,000 in the 1920s. Shanghai’s rickshaw industry began in 1874 with 1,000 rickshaws imported from Japan. By 1914 there were 9,718 vehicles; 100,000 men pulled rickshaws by the early 1940s.”