Rider’s Lens: Tetsuro Ohno and His Uncle Rinne Illustrations
In our latest installment of Rider’s Lens, we introduce Japanese artist Tetsuro Ohno and his “Uncle Rinne” character, through which he hopes to share the many facets of cycling culture with an audience around the world. Find Tetsuro’s story of discovering a passion for riding and a gallery of his distinctive illustrations here…
Words and illustrations by Tetsuro Ohno (@uncle_rinne)
I’m Tetsuro Ohno, an artist and designer based in Tokyo, Japan. I was born and raised in Sendai, in the Tohoku region of Japan. Sendai is a big city with a million people, but you can easily access surfing or skiing within 30 minutes. The city, ocean, and mountains are so concentrated that you can see the ski slopes from the surfing spots. I have been cycling along the coast and in the mountains since I was a child and have done a lot of camping and skiing there too.
After becoming a product designer in Tokyo, I became an illustrator about 20 years ago. Initially, I drew fashion illustrations and worked on many advertisements and CD covers. In February of last year, I started working on a new project, Rinne, and it quickly gained Instagram followers from all over the world.
I’ve always loved bicycles, but it wasn’t until my son developed a serious interest in road and track racing that they had a big impact on me. In Japan, there is very little understanding of cycling sports. I wanted to do something that could help change this—if only a little. Also, in Japan, people who ride road bikes, gravel bikes, touring bikes, MTB, street pistols, track events, and other genres sometimes look down on each other. I enjoy and love all kinds of bicycles and wanted to share this appreciation through my art.
I started this project to promote bicycle culture within Japan, but after sharing my illustrations on Instagram, they have been embraced by people all over the world. It’s great to see this global appreciation. I’ve already sent my art to nearly 20 countries in Europe, North America, Central America, South America, Asia, and Oceania. I’m experiencing a great sense of fulfillment in painting for these people. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, there are many countries we still can’t send the pictures to.
We’ve also begun various collaborations with people around the world. These include a mural I painted for a beer brewery restaurant in the U.S., a jersey I designed with an Englishman who started a cycle jersey brand (@pushbeyond.cc) in Japan, and a collaborative t-shirt with a top Japanese cyclist.
The first time I went cycling was when I was 10 years old. I was immediately fascinated by bicycles, as they allowed me to explore and go on great solo adventures or with my friends. I used to sleep in tents for days at a time and carry my bike up the mountains. Since then, I’ve managed to experience many things, including soccer, mountain climbing, skiing, camping, motorsports, fishing, DJing, and other musical activities. All of these experiences have been applied to my paintings. These days, though, I’m most fascinated by bicycles again. I’m very happy to draw them, and I hope to contribute to the spread and growth of cycling culture.
Last December, I held an exhibition with bikepacking concierge Shingo Sato (@whatineed_shingo) in Daikanyama, Tokyo. I displayed my art, gravel bikes, bikepacking bags, and accessories. For those unfamiliar, Daikanyama is a hip and fashionable area of Tokyo. It was a great experience to have my cycling-themed art seen by people who love bicycles as well as people who don’t.
It is my ambition to collaborate with people from all over the world and continue the growth of cycling culture internationally as well as in Japan. My dream is to have my son participate in road races overseas and at the same time travel the world doing solo exhibitions. It feels ambitious, but one can make their dreams come true.
I’ve been spending more and more time on the bike myself. Right now, it’s mostly road bikes, but last year I rode the velodrome for the first time. I also want to ride gravel in the mountains like I did when I was a kid, and I want to travel by bicycle. Currently, I am loading my bicycle into a camper and going to places far away from Tokyo before riding it. At night, I sometimes paint in the car while traveling.
The name “Rinne” comes from the word “Rinne-tensei” in Buddhism and Japanese Zen. “Rinne-tensei” is generally taken to mean “Reincarnation”, but it can also be thought of in a different way. “Rinne” is not something that is repeated over and over again, but something that seems to be repeated but is changing rapidly. I thought that this would coincide with the idea of a bicycle, where the wheels turn in a circle, moving forward and going to different places. A bicycle can take you anywhere you want to go by just turning the pedals. It’s just “rinne!”
Rinne doing zazen often appears in my illustrations. It is often mistaken for yoga or meditation, but zazen in Japanese Buddhism, Zen, is a little different. I can’t talk about it in depth because it would take a very long time to explain, but in Japan, it is a familiar scene that can be seen in children’s cartoons. But that doesn’t mean that all Japanese people do it every day.
Lastly, a note about the header image above. My hometown of Sendai was severely damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake 11 years ago. The roads and towns along the sea where I used to cycle as a kid were all washed away. The cycling center was destroyed, too. Last year, 10 years after the earthquake, the cycling center and the bike paths were finally restored. On March 11, it will be exactly 11 years since the disaster. Japan will never forget the words of encouragement we received from all over the world at the time of the disaster. Now that the world is again in a state of uncertainty, we’re reminded of the fear we felt then and the gratitude we felt afterward.
Make sure to dig into these related articles for more info...
Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.