by

While Japan isn’t quite like Portland, OR, where there needs to be double-decker bike etiquette, Japan has what I’d consider to be fairly unique rules when it comes to riding a bicycle. I’m not sure about how things are in Europe, but any American who decides to jump onto a bicycle in Japan for the first time is going to be in for quite a surprise. Things are done differently, there. So, grab your PBR Asahi Super Dry, put on those training wheels, and get ready for a leisurely bicycle ride of learning! Ding ding!

1. Ride On The Sidewalks

Photo by iMorpheus

… that is, unless you’re not supposed to. Same with roads. You should ride on them unless you’re not supposed to. What?

It’s time to learn rule one of riding a bicycle in Japan: “There are going to be many laws around bicycles in Japan, but they’re hardly ever enforced, so you know, do whatever, and follow a bit of common sense if you can.” You’ll see this idea coming up again and again throughout this post. The fact of the matter is, Japanese bicycle laws are fast and loose. If you use common sense and are careful, you should be okay. If you don’t, well, you may end up in prison with all the other poor bicyclists.

Anyways, riding on the sidewalk… The official rule is that children under 12 can ride on the sidewalks. Also, in the event that it’s “too dangerous” to ride on the road, anyone can ride on the sidewalk. Who follows this rule? Well, almost nobody. According to a government survey, 40 percent of the public is not aware that bicycles are meant to be ridden on roadways.1

So, 40% of people don’t know that law exists. The other 60%? They pretty much don’t follow this rule. Most people ride their bicycles on the sidewalk and the police turn a blind eye. In fact, in the big city, I’d say riding on the sidewalk makes a lot more sense in Japan. From experience, I would say that most cars aren’t looking for bikes, and when cars aren’t looking for bikes… well… bad things happen to people who aren’t enclosed in a giant cube of metal.

2. Locking Your Bike

Photo by iMorpheus

If you’re used to living someplace that’s full of thieves (anywhere but Japan, basically), you’re probably used to locking up your bikes with massive chains built specifically to hold rancors in place. While crime in Japan is on the rise, many people still don’t lock their bikes up. For the most part this is just fine. Most people, however, lock their bikes using these little locks that are built into the wheel. All they do is make it so someone can’t roll the rear tire. It doesn’t prevent anyone from picking up a bike and walking away if they wanted (though like I said, rarely happens).

Usually no matter where you go there’s going to be someplace for your bike. If it’s super rural, just put it off to the side where it’s not in the way. If you’re in the city, you’ll find dedicated bicycle parking almost everywhere. Most likely, though, you’ll be riding your bike to a train station where you’ll park it either in the free parking outside or the paid (but very cheap) bike parking under cover. I paid something like $20 a month when I used this kind of bicycle parking, though maybe it’s risen in price since then. All I did was use my little ring lock and my bike was never stolen. EZPZ.

Because bicycles are so common in Japan, there is a ton of parking. That being said, you won’t always find an open space! That’s when you should be really careful not to knock down a whole row of bicycles. You know once you do the gang of yakuza thugs eating in the ramen shop next door will run out with shocked faces wondering why you’d do that to their bicycles. おい!

3. Ding Ding Ding!

There’s two sides to this story. First, if you’re on a bicycle, use your bell to let people know you’re coming. Just be sure to slow down and don’t run anyone over if they don’t move. A quick ding-a-ling will get people to move out of the way almost automatically. People in Japan are entirely used to bikes riding through on the sidewalk, and because they don’t want to get run over they’ll move (even when you’re not on a bike).

Second, if you’re not on a bicycle and you hear a ding-ding-ding, you should get out of the way by moving to the side. As a general rule, moving to the left tends to be good. If you’re pretty far to the right already, though, and there’s no room to move left, the right is a valid option. Basically, just do your best to get out of the way, a bicycle is coming through! With a few people every year dying and a good number more getting injured from bicycle-pedestrian accidents, you don’t want to add to that count.

4. Stay Off The Train

Photo by GanMed64

Don’t bring your bike on the train. That’s why there’s so much parking at train stations, after all. There is an exception to this rule, though: if you have a folding bike and it has a bag, you can bring it on the train. This basically turns it into luggage, which you can bring onto the train (unless it’s rush hour, then no big bags period).

Basically, don’t bring your bike on the train. It’s a no-no, and people will very politely ignore you while hating you a lot.

5. No Helmet Law

Photo by thedalogs

Well, okay, there’s a helmet law for children under 13, but you don’t see many children riding around with helmets on regardless. This is one of those “we’ll turn a blind eye” sorts of things I was talking about earlier. With adults, you’ll almost never see someone wearing a helmet. Firstly, it’s not a law. Second, nobody does it so why should I? Well, I could tell you why… but you probably know too.

So, if you’re riding a bicycle in Japan most likely you’ll do it without a helmet on. No wonder most people ride on the sidewalk! Stay safe!

6. Getting Your Bike Stolen

If you do get your bike stolen, you’ll want to make sure that it’s registered with the police. It doesn’t cost much to do this, and if you buy a bicycle new the place you bought it at can most likely do this for you. If you buy a bike used you should re-register it with the police.

This way, if your bike does get stolen (it probably won’t) it will be easy to report to the police. Then, if they find it again you’ll be notified. Just a good little tidbit of knowledge to have if you’re buying a bike in Japan.

7. Breaking Bicycle Law

Photo by mith17

Beyond no-helmets, sidewalks, and so on, there are many bicycle laws in Japan that don’t really get enforced too much. Even when they do, it’s usually just a verbal warning because hey, there’s probably better things to do, and maybe it’s raining or something. Most of these laws are in place for when you do mess up and get into an accident, though. If you’re safe and you don’t crash into anyone or anything, I doubt any of these will be a problem. That being said, these laws are put in place to help prevent you from getting into an accident, so maybe it’s best just to heed them?

  • If you give a ride to someone else on your bike, that can be a 20,000 yen fine.
  • You can get up to 3 months in prison or a 50,000 yen fine for using an umbrella or cell phone while riding (you see both of these all the time, especially umbrellas when it’s raining).
  • You cannot ride your bike on pedestrian crosswalks, even if it’s to get from one bike path to another bike path.
  • You should walk your bike if you’re going through a pedestrian crosswalk.
  • Riding a bicycle under the influence (of alcohol) can get you five years in prison plus a 1 million yen fine. That being said, you see tipsy bicyclists quite often. Once again, police turn a blind eye to this for the most part.
  • Riding at night without a headlamp can get you a 50,000 yen fine.
  • Riding while listening to your iPod (or Walkman? har har har) can also get you a 50,000 yen fine.
  • When you do get into an accident, usually the fault is automatically placed on the bigger vehicle. So, if a car hits a bike, sorry car, but you’re screwed!

But, maybe it’s good to follow these laws? In 2010, 658 people died in Japan due to accidents involving bicycles. This is similar to America’s bicycle fatality rate of 618 in 2010, though I have a feeling more people regularly ride bikes in Japan than in America, even with the population difference. Still, these laws are put in place to help everyone stay safe, though if nobody follows them then nothing will change. That being said, I think it will take a lot of bare heads running into things for something like this to change (or maybe some famous person having a bad bike accident).

Have you ridden a bicycle in Japan? How was your experience? I love riding on the sidewalk, personally (can’t trust them car people), but I know that when I’m walking around I don’t like them. It’s certainly a very different bicycle culture, though. What do you think?

For some interesting statistics on Japan and its bicycles, check out this Facts and Details page.

[hr]

1 Facts And Details: BICYCLES, PEDESTRIANS AND MOTORCYCLES IN JAPAN: LAWS, ACCIDENTS, KIDS AND ELECTRIC BIKES

Of Bicycle Laws in Japan and other Mythical Beasts

Japanese Cycling Etiquette

  • http://mobobe.com 13xforever

    asdf, I suppose :D

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    asdfasdf

  • http://mobobe.com 13xforever

    Ah, but most of the reader’s won’t get it, now that you’ve improved on content :D

  • http://mobobe.com 13xforever

    Also, small wording issue “with massive chains built specifically built”.

    Overall, it’s not all that different from where I live. Except for more developed infrastructure with parkings and everything.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Incidentally, “ride on roads unless you’re not supposed to” doesn’t apply to cars. Apparently, the road closed sign is implying “so find another road,” and not “so drive on the sidewalk.” They don’t like it when you do that.

  • Emi

    Action Squad Detective Force.

    So…bikes…we have cycle paths here. (I like to refer to them as psycho-paths.) In the UK we are not allowed to cycle on the footpath/sidewalk nor are we allowed to ride our bikes through populated areas such as town centers. I’ve seen plenty of foreign students fined for this, but not for running someone down for walking within the designated cycle lane. What annoys me is those who don’t adhere to traffic lights. Too many accidents are caused by cyclists believing that they can jump a red light because they aren’t in a car. I don’t know if primary school still have cycle tests, but I passed mine when I was 10. =) I had a badge and a certificate and everything…. well, not genuine licence. More like the ones we had when we took our first swimming test.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tanner.m.colvin Tanner M Colvin

    There was only one time when I got in trouble(or lack thereof) riding a bike, and that was when I was on the sidewalk. This middle-aged salaryman started flipping out at me for not “Obey Japanese law!” Right when he started giving me a lecture on how sidewalks are for walking, a bunch of people showed up riding their bikes on the sidewalk! Let’s say the guy got a pretty nasty verbal beatdown by those people. xD

    Strangely, I only found out about the iPod law today when I read this article. I listened to music all the time and I so did the people around me.

  • Mescale

    I don’t think I could ride on a pavement, I’d have to stop so frequently it wouldn’t be worth it.

  • DAVIDPD

    How common are fold up bikes in Japan? In China and Singapore most people who bike commuted to work used those because they were light and could be made small enough to not be in the way on buses and trains.

  • names are hard

    Oh wow I had no idea people outside Sweden where I live didn’t ride on the sidewalks. Seems terribly dangerous to me.

  • http://www.twitter.com/christaran Chris Taran

    Bikes should always be on the sidewalk in every country (unless there is a specific bike lane on the road). Bikes on streets are the most dangerous things in the world!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    They’re becoming more common, but the bike you’ll usually see in Japan is just a simple thing, usually gray, with a basket and a little rack on the back.

  • henry V

    srsly, this is one brainless “article”… its no different anywhere else, why do you so desperately try to make it look like sth VERY japanese? it seems you’re out of topics to talk about… i for one, shall unsubscribe to your blog, thank you for your previous, way better posts though

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    In my home city, there’s been a big push to actually encourage more people to bike on the street. There are painted bike lanes on the streets:

    http://i.imgur.com/KOHP9.jpg

    And there’s even a few bicycle traffic lights:

    http://i.imgur.com/04Opb.jpg

  • Alec

    in the Netherlands where I live you can NEVER ride on the sidewalks, you’ll get fined for sure. Even if there isn’t a cycling lane you should just use the road, usually this goes all right if you pay attention to traffic around you. The tourists thinking the cycling lanes are regular side walks are the most dangerous thing though :p

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.odwyer Bill O’Dwyer

    I crossed a pedestrian crossing on a bike whilst the light was red (it had only just turned) and a police man spotted me. He told me to stop, and I was a little bit drunk so I thought “what the hell!” and carried on going… The ensuing bike chase lasted nearly 30 minutes! Apparently I knew the back streets of that little bit of Tokyo better than the cop :P

  • Goldie

    I grew up in the northern Satsuma (Kagoshima) countryside. Some of the best times were spent riding down-hill on empty roads surrounded by farmland with two or three people per bike. Super scary (since we weren’t wearing helmets), but super fun! I am still surprised that none of us got hurt or died.

  • http://www.tadaimatte.com/ Ashley Haley

    Huh – never knew about the iPod bit!

  • NodaShusho

    Koichi’s Drunk Aruki Mamba…Bike style.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Henry The Fifth! You were always my favorite king.

    It was great having you! I don’t know what bicycling is like outside of USA/Canada/Japan. Where are you from, out of curiosity?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    lol, this is kind of amazing.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Thanks! Time to fire everyone responsible, dun dun dunnnnn.

    *fixed*

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    lol, if I was a middle-aged salaryman I’d maybe be grumpy about just about everything too, though.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I love country biking in Japan. So freeeeee

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Ashley, knowing is half the battle though!

    http://www.socwall.com/images/wallpapers/19713-1366×768.jpg

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I dunno, I like my bikes on the road… but, I do live in a very bike friendly city, where there’s lanes and nice people everywhere watching out for your existence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AbigailCamarillo Cam Abi

    I died laughing when people moved on the escalator! Also the lady at the grocery store!

  • http://www.twitter.com/christaran Chris Taran

    Yeah, I most certainly do not live in a bike friendly part of the world! Our roads are either relatively narrow and not at all designed for more than a car in each side of the street. And since most people around here hardly ever walk on the sidewalks, there is no real danger of a crowd of people colliding with a bike (or vice versa). I live in a VERY driving heavy area (northeast PA).

  • NineCoconuts

    Henry: If anything, the author of this article was quite restrained in his description of just how different the biking situation is in Japan. Of course, I suppose it could be wasted on those who don’t get around on a bicycle very much.

  • Insomnium

    It might not be just in the Netherlands, but Cyclists are real scumbags on the road. Every car-or-bigger-vehicle-driver hates them :p.

    “— Riding while listening to your iPod (or Walkman? har har har) can also get you a 50,000 yen fine.”

    I’m screwed :x. 50k Yen is 465 Euro’s… Daaaaamn. It can cost you 10-40 euros for not having any lights…. Think I’ll just walk in Japan :p.

  • NineCoconuts

    One thing about biking on the sidewalks near major Japanese streets (or in the ‘burbs of Chiba where I lived, anyway) is that there’s often barely room for one pedestrian to walk, let alone a pedestrian and a cyclist. Where the stores thin out and the pedestrians are few, you’ll be bicycling along on the sidewalk, seeing the sights, listening to cicadas or whatever, when suddenly you’ll find yourself in a grooved, slightly walled-in area that makes all kinds of interesting noises when you bike over it. Can’t say I recommend it. In areas where there’s lots of shopping, however, there’s certainly room…but it’s difficult to bike very fast, for fear of scaring the hell out of people.

    Biking on Japanese roads has its own challenges, though. I’d say one should be prepared to get the occasional friendly honk, especially at night. Some cars even slow to a crawl before passing cyclists, either to show concern for their safety or to passive-aggressively make them feel bad. Either way, I prefer wearing a helmet, but I’m curious as to what Japanese motorists must think when they see that. “Oh, look, it’s a surprisingly large, pasty, pre-adolescent Japanese boy! Bet he’s looking forward to ditching that helmet when he turns 13…”

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.rawley Jeremy Rawley

    Not wearing helmets? Are you guys nuts?

    Where I live (Read: Delaware, U.S.), we get a lot of Eastern European exchange students who ride their bikes up and down the main highway (I’m near a beach resort town), and they don’t wear helmets. Don’t they realize the road is harder than their heads?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Maybe they hit their head too many times and are mentally incapable of realizing this now.

  • Jeffrey

    Here in The Netherlands it is really strange to ride a bike with a helmet on. Nobody does it. Everyone knows how to ride a bicycle without falling :P, It is just like walking. You aren’t wearing a helmet while walking right? And even if you fall.. you must be very unlucky to fall on your head.

  • http://twitter.com/NateTheALT Nate Hill

    Pretty spot on article, I’ve been here for 4 years and have unknowingly broken most of the laws you listed. Rode my bike past a police officer with a beer in my hand once, not a word. What turns my head every time are the bikes with child seats on them. Do they have these in other places? http://www.newlaunches.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Yamaha-electric-bikes-2.jpg

  • http://twitter.com/tokyobybike Byron Kidd

    Great article Koichi. But I’d like to point out that you can take any bicycle on the train as long as it fits neatly in a bicycle bag (or if you get stuck without one, in some garbage bags, as I’ve done in the past.) This usually requires removing the wheels from your bike and strapping them to the frame so your bicycle will fit in a bag. Not something you’d do every day, or for short trips (in which the bicycle is faster anyway) but for weekend rides away from the city it is something we do often. Avoid doing it in peak times though.

    More information about taking your bicycle on the train in Japan can be found here : http://www.tokyobybike.com/2009/06/can-i-take-my-bike-on-train-in-tokyo.html

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Even more dangerous than tigers? That are made of guns? And the guns have snakes for triggers?

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Henry V is from the fourteenth century, which had waaaay better Tofugu articles.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Just like walking? Either you’re riding your bikes far too slow, or people in the Netherlands have somehow found out how to walk at 24 km/h.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Haha, that’s the right topic for me!

    I have been riding a bicycle in Japan for 4 whole years every single day – until I changed jobs and needed a car instead.

    I can’t confirm everything that is written here, but mostly it’s all just as you say.

    Japanese people almost never use their bicycle’s bell .. which is why you never know when a bike is coming from behind.

    How does it work instead? They use their brakes shortly before bumping into you and the brakes make a squealing sound, so you’ll know ….

    Driving in Japan is crazy. I wrote about that in my own blog a while ago – though from the perspective of a car driver. It’s the same with bicycles, though! It can be quite scary! People often don’t move an inch on the pedestrian walk and it was always me who had to dodge other bikers.

    I was always afraid that the police would catch me with my umbrella – especially during rainy season, but they never ever did. I never knew that it was forbidden until my 2nd or 3rd year in Japan.
    Why? Because everybody in Japan does it, so of course I didn’t think it was forbidden!

    You’re also not supposed to ride your bicycle when you’re drunk, but I’m sure that many people don’t follow that rule.

    Also, I never rode my bike on the road!
    One of my co-workers recently got into an accident on his bike and I also remember that I was almost hit by a car a few times.

    Please keep in mind that Japanese people are crazy drivers! In their cars and on their bikes!!!
    So, be careful when riding a bicycle in Japan!! ;)

  • stefafra

    Oh, how much I wish that the bell would have the same magical effect on UK people too…having cycled a lot in Italy (in a flat and full of bicycle area) and the Netherlands I am used to people recognizing a gentle “ping” of the bell and getting out of the way, I slow down, ring a bit, and pass, better than zipping past people.
    Well, here in UK it does not work, I cycle on a “mixed path” across a university and playing fields, it’s full of dog walkers, runners, students (with headphones…). The only ones that react the right way to the bell are foreign students. The rest jumps about a bit or totally ignore me, not to mention the silly ones that just make “funny” remark on the bell…
    Weird.
    PS: the little old ladies on a bike in Japan this summer where kind of scary, riding on the pavement, or down super narrow alleys and covered with hats, scarf and visors (to keep the sun and the wrinkles away), some with a sun-umbrella too, I always wondered how much they could see…They do came CLOSE to you, but well, after a while we got used to them.

  • Goldie

    Yeah, we were nuts I guess, but also high school students who do stupid stuff like that. Now, I definitely do when I am riding my bike to/from school to teach since I want to set a good example for the kids, but don’t always otherwise.
    I think there are a lot of precautions that you can take besides wearing a helmet (following traffic laws for one) that also are helpful but not everyone does.

  • Goldie

    Anytime there is empty roads is bliss!

  • http://www.twitter.com/christaran Chris Taran

    Well fine, you’ve got me there! (Also acceptable would be: badgers.)

  • shadowmonk

    the “granny” bikes are a lifesaver when making trips to the スーパー, I wouldn’t have traded that basket for anything.

  • shadowmonk

    I beg to differ on the bells, I was in Osaka for a semester and everyone used the bells. Especially the elderly.

    About being drunk on the bike, me and a friend still can’t remember if we biked up this crazy hill or walked up it because it was after 8 hours of drinking.

    And yes, they are super crazy, but isn’t that one reason why we love them?

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    That’s very interesting! No matter where I went, they never used the bells. I have to admit that I didn’t run into too many bikes in big cities like Osaka, so it might be different and necessary to use them there. :)

    Haha! Indeed.

  • OmbraXIV

    I lived my share bit of time in Japan, not in tokyo but close enough to get there with one of the google-plex metro lines.

    I must say that i really would have enjoyed my riding experiences more if:

    – all the sidewalks weren’t roller coaster-like due to growing plants roots, aging, very poor maintenance ecc.
    -those dam** blind-people-aiding tiles (i have nothing against blind people and i really appreciate the tiles presence on sidewalks..but i quite don’t get why you can find them on bike-paths..)
    -japanese people’s “kamikaze-mode” genes activating in proximity of bicycles and sidewalks.

    let me explain more this last point.

    I swear that 90% of the japanese i met, riding or walking, on sidewalks gave off a very unstable impression, due to the extremely slow cruising speed? due to their intrinsic incapacity of riding a bike? i don’t know, but what i know is that if you move to the left to avoid collision you’ll get the same effect as if you did the opposite, i.e. they aim at you! and they have a pretty good aim if i must say..

    The aiming accuracy increase exponentially if they are ipnotized by their charms dangling from the phone from which they’re trying to unglue their noses.

  • shadowmonk

    while you may say it’s no different anywhere else, for people like me who do not live in a city where bikes are a common means of transport this is a great article and honestly would have benefited me prior to my study abroad experience.

  • Peter

    We call the narrow channels/drains surrounding all petrol stations “gaijin traps”, because cyclists new to the country are often caught in them (and promptly introduced to the pavement).

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    *sigh* those were the days, back when Hashi the 3rd was editing this blog. He wouldn’t have let things get in such disarray. I wouldn’t have had a head by now!

  • hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com

    It took you thirty minutes to shake a flat-foot on a crappy police bicycle? How drunk were you?

  • Vivian Morelli

    Great article Koichi!! When I first got to Japan and lived in Shikoku, my bike was stolen at the station. I went to the police station, could not speak Japanese at all back then so I just drew a picture of my bike, complete with colours. Haha! They never found it, but the policeman assured me that in Japan, people “don’t steal bikes, only ‘borrow’ them”…. Yah right.

    http://vivianlostinseoul.blogspot.jp/

  • mosf0

    Love riding in Japan, I live in Sydney AUS, where I ride to work most days and go for big rides on the weekend. I have a close call at least once a week, have been hit twice this year and get abused frequently and I do obey all the laws here. In Japan the roads are AMAZING, people are so careful, traffic is super easy to ride in and oh did I mention the amazing smooth roads?

    we brought some mamachari in osaka and left them on the side of the road for two weeks, upon our return…..still there! Riding there is really the best =)

  • ruz

    Elite marathon runners going at about 20km/h average don’t wear helmets. I guess they’re elites and know how to fall the right way, if they ever fall.

  • ジョサイア

    You should have linked to the video of the girl that was arrested for texting and riding a bike at the same time :D

  • stefafra

    Cars are dangerous, bikes are not…

  • piderman

    Don’t Japanese trains have specific bicycle sections? Or is this more about streetcars/trams?

  • Ruben

    Europe calling ;)

    It’s quite funny how Americans and some others see Europe as a complete perfect union. Europe is a union to some degree, but the members remain different countries. Trafic is a topic that can vary a lot between the countries, so you can’t really say that riding a bicycle is 100 % safe or unsafe it depends where in Europe you’re riding.

    I can speak for Belgium: the rules seem to be quite similar to the bicycle rules in Japan. Yes we do have punishments for riding on pedestrian crosswalks and so on… it’ll cost you € 50 or more (but no prison).
    Unfortunately you’re more likely to find out your bicycle has been stolen compared to Japan.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    oh man, I think remember that…. good times.

    Best I’ve seen (no video though, sadly) is a dude who was texting on his phone, using an umbrella, and smoking a cigarette all at once… Seemed dangerous. I wonder if he’s still alive… :(

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    OMG IKR!!!?? The roads are so smooth. It’s kind of nuts.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    ha ha haha – indeed!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Yeah, where I lived was bell city too. DING DINGDING

  • Chester

    Not 100%.

    Here in the smaller cities on Shikoku, signs on the sidewalk tell you when and where you can ride your bicycle – and guess what: 90% of the sidewalks have signs that say “bicycles allowed.”

    As a matter of fact, the cops will very rarely stop you and tell you to get off the fucking road because there is a sidewalk, there is a sign that SAYS to ride your bike on the sidewalk, and what the fuck are you doing with your bike on the goddamn road?

    In fact, the exact opposite of what you said is true: bikes are meant to be ridden on the SIDEWALK, but very often people ride their bikes on the ROAD, up to and including the prefectural highways that go between towns.

    As a matter of fact, there is a long highway that runs along the coast of Kochi Prefecture. It goes from Kochi City all the way to Tokushima City, about a five hour drive (at 30mph, yes, that is the speed limit the whole way). Along this highway, the major thoroughfare between cities and towns (not the high-speed, suspended freeway in the mountains, mind you), there is a sidewalk. Almost the entire highway, all five hours of it, has a sidewalk, and this sidewalk is labeled “Bikes allowed.” The whole highway.

    NO ONE ever rides on the sidewalk. People will just pop off on their little fixed-gear bike on the god damned HIGHWAY, where people go 80kph (because fuck the speed limit).

    In fact, while it would be perfectly safe, legal and, well, smart to ride your bike on the sidewalk, many Japanese people in the countryside FLAT OUT REFUSE to ride on the sidewalk and prefer to be suicidal and ride their bicycles ON A HIGHWAY. WITH CARS. AND NO SHOULDER. When I say “on the highway,” i mean literally on the highway – not on the shoulder off the side of the highway, I mean actually in the lane. With traffic. On a highway.

    Motherfucking Japan. Seriously, “How to ride a bicycle in Japan?” Do it the same way you drive a car: recklessly, without any regard for the people around you, and as dangerously as humanly possible. Japanese people are completely incapable of moving through space in a safe, polite fashion. Whatever anyone says to you about Japanese manners and politeness? Remember this: when Japanese people move through space, they deliberately choose the most dangerous path possible, they cut people off, get in each other’s way and use up as much space on the road as possible – drive on the center line, cross into oncoming traffic, walk two or three or four abreast on a busy sidewalk, and their favorite: speed as fast as possible through any narrow obstruction. Not to mention that, unless they are speeding between pedestrians, Japanese people rarely ride bikes in a straight line, preferring to wobble back and forth as they go.

    Seriously. Any article about biking (or driving) in Japan absolutely MUST mention the absolute reckless disregard for human life (their own and the others around them) that Japanese people have. Polite and well-mannered society? Not on their bikes they’re not.

  • Chester

    Driving on the sidewalk is EXTREMELY common where I live (Shikoku).

  • ジョサイア

    You should start making videos again I loved to watch those :D

    If hes not dead Godzilla will get him…poor guy… :(

    My sister can eat text do makeup and ride someones tail bumper at the same time :/

  • http://twitter.com/tokyobybike Byron Kidd

    Trains in Japanese cities make no provision for bicycles. You best bet is to ride the first or last carriages which have more space where you can put your bagged bicycles. Some trains in the countryside let you “roll on, roll off” but only for short periods during tourism campaigns over summer for example.

  • http://twitter.com/tokyobybike Byron Kidd

    The poorly enforced cycling laws here are both a blessing and a curse. I love the freedom they give me to ride when, where and how I choose, but when they’re abused beyond sensible limits by the selfish, inattentive or inexperienced cyclists I wish the police would knock some sense into them!

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    After hearing about how reckless the Japanese are when moving through space, I’ve lost all respect for JAXA.

  • anonymous

    I’ve seen too many people ride their bikes in Japan like they own the road. They fail to think that cars don’t always see them and blow through intersections without looking. I’m surprised the injury or death rate isn’t higher.

    I love the bicycle bell video! I tend to walk a lot faster than the average person around here and I think I’ll try ringing a bell inside and around the train stations.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    dude, but then they’d have to run and do their job or something… too much, too much…

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    > According to a government survey, 40 percent of the public
    > is not aware that bicycles are meant to be ridden on roadways…
    > The other 60%? They pretty much don’t follow this rule.

    That sounds a lot like the Midwestern US to me, except the percentage is probably a little higher here. We do have a small number of extreme bicycle enthusiasts who ride on the road, but everybody else thinks they’re crazy. Similarly, I think some states have bicycle helmet laws on the books, but the only people who ever *actually* wear a bicycle helmet (apart from the occasional elementary-aged child with overprotective parents) are the sort of enthusiasts who also participate in formal, registration-fee-bearing bicycle races. It’s not exactly mainstream.

    Also, most people don’t lock their bikes here, but maybe that’s just because I live in a small town. (We have crime, but the perpetrators usually get caught sooner rather than later. In the case of bicycle theft, if you actually _ride_ the bike you just stole, in public, somebody’s probably going to recognize it.)

    Now, riding the bike to a train station, that’s something that doesn’t happen here. Ever. (The nearest passenger train is in Cleveland — about two hours away by car. I know a guy who rides his bike that far — he does this thing called GOBA — but the whole point of that is to make the whole trip by bike, so obviously no trains are involved.)

    Also, the thing where you ring a little buzzer and people on the sidewalk automatically move out of the way without even LOOKING? Yeah, that one doesn’t happen in America either.

    Oh, and I have NEVER seen an American use an umbrella while on a bike, but that’s probably not so much related to the bike as to the fact that America is not completely obsessed with umbrellas.

  • http://twitter.com/tokyobybike Byron Kidd

    You’re right. They’re too busy giving directions and standing outside their koban leaning on their big sticks to worry about enforcing the law. (Should put a broom head on those sticks so the police can make themselves useful!)

  • Jonathan Harston

    Gerroff the bloody pavement! (waves fist)

  • Horst

    The Dutch are, on average, the tallest people on Earth so I guess they walk faster because they have really long legs.

  • Jesper

    That’s actually not a terribly logical argument. The biggest danger might not be from falling off the bike, but from being hit by a car. I’m particularly uneasy when riding on twisty roads in rural areas, ’cause you never know when a speeding car comes up around the corner behind you and knocks your scull through their windscreen. That’s when helmets really show their value.

    Thought I’d compare the article with Danish and Norwegian laws. I can mention that a bunch of reflectors are required, and lights are required at night. Bike theft is common, so use good locks. Helmets are not required, but are encouraged (they are required in many, perhaps all, organized bike races though). Probably around 30% of Danes use them, and perhaps 10% of Norwegians. In Denmark riding on the side walk is not allowed; you must use the bike path (most major cities are full of those) or the street. In Norway you are allowed to use the sidewalk, and you are even encouraged to do so if the traffic on the street is heavy, but pedestrians must be passed carefully as they have priority. Also in Norway bike riders may use pedestrian crossings, but cars do not have to yield to bike riders on such crossings (though many do which can be confusing). So when traffic is heavy it is best to get off your bike and walk it across. In Denmark a left turn, at least at a light controlled intersection, must be done in two straight lines touching the corners, similar to how you would run in baseball. In Norway a left turn on the road is done exactly as if you were riding a car.

  • DED

    LOL I first visited Tokyo some weeks ago, and I’m laughing reading this. I had no idea of the law, but now I realize I didn’t see a single rider not breaking at least one of the rules. That was so crazy, specially for me, since where I live you may see one or two bikes a year if you’re lucky…

    Umbrellas? Yeah! Mobile phones? Of course! Pedestrian crosses? Full speed! Passengers? Much better with company! “No bycicle parking”? Just hide the sign with hundreds of bikes! A policeman watching from the police station? Bah! And a big ETC. In a pair of days, either you develop a new sense and are able to dodge dozens of full speed bikes at the same time, or just die. I loved it LOL

  • walker-san

    my limited experience of riding in kyoto and osaka taught me what i believe to be the essence of japanese bicycle etiquette, and that is, “anything goes, just be careful, and don’t be a jerk.”

    i hate riding here in sydney, australia. cyclists are hated on the road, and hated on the footpath. whereas in japan, everyone rides at some point, so even the drivers are aware and courteous (that i noticed). scenario: stupid gaijin has jumped the wrong green light at a tangled intersection, and found an oncoming front of traffic in his way. nobody honks, flips or accelerates, but instead everyone slows and politely waves me through to safety. gobsmacked, was i, and once again grateful for the awesomeness of japan. i discovered that it’s possible to bow while riding (which, hopefully, doesn’t attract a fine).

  • Ed

    I made the mistake of cycling through an Osaka shotengai. It didn’t go well.

  • HorrorChan

    Number 4 reminded me of a psych class video from the 70’s or 60’s we had to watch. It wasn’t about trains but the guy who was giving the lecture talked about how he stomped the crap out of some student’s bike with boots for repeatedly bringing it in his classroom. (o_o;)

    We’re not allowed to do number 1 where I live. Kinda sucks sometimes when you’re riding on the road and people are parked on the right side next to their houses and there’s traffic on the left. Scares the crap out of me.

  • Rachael

    Oh god, think I literally broke all of these when I was in Japan! Who knew! #gaijinsmash

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001887233580 Nicole Jones

    I think the japanese should invest in getting license plates for the bikes.

  • EskimoJo

    I’m currently eating a satsuma… There! I have enriched the lives of all readers by sharing this highly related fact. Good show, EskimoJo!

  • EskimoJo

    That’s true! And people walking are certainly not in danger of being hit by cars.

  • EskimoJo

    I have seen here (well, in Nottingham, not in London, but still in a large city) people with bikes with GROUND LEVEL TRAILERS hooked onto the back that the child rides in. I want to tear out my eyes everytime I see them, just so I will never have to witness or read about the tragedy I always imagine happening. *shudders*

    Oh! Found a pic!

  • Hellsvien

    Thanks for this. It was interesting to read.

  • Jaska

    Riding a bike is very miserable in Japan. I have never seen any other country where other riders would be so selfish as Japanese. They don’t repect any law and put other rider at risk all the time. Japanese ride on the wrong side of the road, two side by side, playing with cell phone, holding an umberella and not watching ahead. Seven years and over 30 000 km on bike in Japan have just made me hate Japanese. It is time to go home into a place where bicycle rider follow the law and do not put other people on harms way.

    Good by Japan. I will never come back. You can keep doing this stupid stuff all by ourself.

  • http://twitter.com/emination Emin Köklü

    Wow, impressive that Google Images is finding so many images when searching for “gaijin trap”. haha

  • deg

    planning a trip to japan this year. thought to bring my own bike but probably it is a lot easier to buy a simple bike local. interesting phenomenon,…. biking at the pedestrian area. i was thinking to bike from tokyo to the west coast. or just as far as the bike goes :-)

  • エジプト人

    I am in Japan now and I see these things all the time, but I don’t really know how to ride. If I did, I’d use nothing but a bike :)

  • Valentin

    OMG I’m such a dumbass! I got my bike a week ago, and since then I’ve been riding it on the sidewalk. Now when I think about it, people in my country ride their bikes on the road. Even I did when I was a kid and got my first (and last) bike. Now why did I assume, that I’m supposed to ride my bike on the sidewalk? Maybe because 90% of the people on bikes that I see here are doing it. Good thing I decided to research Japanese traffic laws.

  • Stuart M.

    I live and bike in Japan. Up here in Hokkaido, the distances are bigger and bicycle riding is only for school children, housewives and grandpas. The school children while riding make every effort to text, read their cell phones, listen to IPods and totally abuse their bicycle by never inflating their tires and standing on their pedals instead of changing gears. The grandpas all ride against traffic in the road. I guess it’s kamikaze behavior left over from the war. The housewives? Well, they stay on the sidewalk and generally behave themselves. Riding in the road isn’t much fun when there is a sunken sewer grate every 20 meters or so and you have to swerve out into traffic to avoid them. In general, Japanese loathe bicycle riding and everyone can’t wait to get a car so they can let it idle at the convenience store while they go in to buy an ice cream bar. Am I being cynical? I’ve lived here for ten years. I should know.