If you have visited Japan before, you would know of its many complicated subway and train lines. To get around in Japan, cycling is one of the best choices. But of course, there are important rules that you should know before cycling in Japan.
First of all, you should keep to the left side on roadways. While on sidewalks, you should yield to pedestrians and ride slowly. If there is no bicycle lane, you will have to ride along with the flow of vehicle traffic.
You should have headlights and rear lights on during the evening. And as common sense, you must obey the traffic lights, stop signs; and slow down before entering a wider road from a narrow road.
Riding on the sidewalk
In Japan, it is possible for you to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk if there is a road sign or other signpost indicating to do so. If there is no signpost, only children under 13 years old are allowed to ride on the sidewalk. However, you can ride on the sidewalk when there are unavoidable circumstances due to traffic conditions.
Wearing a helmet
Children under 13 years old should wear helmets when riding a bicycle. If you have children under this age, it is better to instruct them to wear helmets.
- Drunk bicycle riding is prohibited.
- Riding double on a bicycle is also prohibited in Japan. In Nagano (長野), however, tandem bicycles are allowed.
- In some areas, it is also prohibited to ride a bicycle while carrying an umbrella during rainy seasons.
- Talking on the phone or listening to music while riding a bicycle is prohibited.
- If there is no sign indicating “riding side by side is permitted,” you can’t do so.
- Don’t bring your bicycle on the train! You should park it at the train stations; unless you have a folding bicycle, you can bring it. Just make sure that you do not take the train during rush hours with your bicycle.
Here are some corresponding penalties when you disobey these rules in Japan:
- You can get a maximum penalty of 50,000 yen (around 450 USD) and/or three months in prison if you ride a bicycle with broken brakes, or if you ride dangerously.
- For drunk riders, you can get a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a 1,000,000 yen (around 9,000 USD) fine.
- If you ride a bicycle while carrying an umbrella, you can face a fine of up to 50,000 yen. You can also get the same penalty if you ride while listening to music or talking on the phone.
- You can face a 20,000 yen (around 180 USD) fine if you ride a bicycle with a passenger (with the exception of a child below the age of 6).
- If you do not use headlights and rear lights at night, you can get a fine of up to 50,000 yen.
- Riding bicycles side by side can make you face a 20,000 yen fine.
- You can get a 50,000 yen fine for disobeying traffic lights.
- Although it is known that Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, it is better to lock up your bicycle. The Japanese usually use the little locks that are built into the wheels of their bicycles.
- I also recommend you to ring your bell to let pedestrians know you are coming.
- Don’t forget to slow down your speed as well.
- If you meet any accidents, you will have to call 119 for an ambulance, and 110 for the police.
You can find many bicycle parking lots in Japan. Please park your bicycles at those places. Some of those parking lots are free, but there are also pay parking lots. Please note that you can get fined if you park your bicycle in a non-parking area in big cities.
Please don’t forget to register your bicycle in your name at the prefectural police department! Two years ago, I was suspected for bike thievery because I failed to register my bicycle properly, so the police took it and returned it to its previous owner.
If you buy a new bicycle at some local stores in Japan, the salesperson will register it at the prefectural police department on your behalf for an additional 500 yen fee. All you would have to do is fill out the form with your name, phone number, home address, and details about your bicycle, such as its serial number and maker. The salesperson will then put a registration label on your bicycle once it is registered.
When you buy a new bicycle online, you will have to visit your local police department (known as “koban [交番]” in Japanese) with your bicycle. Then, you should fill out the form and pay the registration fee. If you buy a second-hand bicycle, you also have to register it unless you want to be suspected for bike thievery.
As I said before, cycling is one of the better ways to get around in Japan knowing the complexity of its train lines. Although it is a better way, there are a lot of things that you should do in advance, such as registering your bicycle at the police department, knowing the cycling rules in Japan, and of course, obeying them. I can say that these rules are so different compared to my country’s. The Japanese proverb, “Gou ni itte wa gou ni shitagae (郷に入っては郷に従え)” has a meaning of, “Entering the village, obey the village,” which means whether or not you are a local, you should obey all of the rules in Japan even though it is different from yours.