When riding a bicycle in a big Japanese city like Tokyo, you need to register your bicycle. Yes, that’s right, you have to treat it like a car in order to be in accordance with the law. But no need to panic, the registration process is a piece of cake.
What you need in order to register a bicycle is a form of identification (e.g. alien registration or health insurance cards) and the bicycle registration forms. The process costs 500 yen, so you will need to prepare that, too.
Bicycle registration can be arranged in any bicycle shop. It also seems, that any shop that sells bicycles is obliged to offer the registration, even though they are only selling used bicycles. If you are not sure where the nearest place is, you can always enquire at your local police box (koban).
In case you received your bicycle from a friend or relative and they have not used it for a long time, or may not have registered the bicycle before or may have lost the registration papers, there is still a way to register your bicycle. First you need to download and fill out this form (jitensha joto shomeisho 自転車譲渡証明書), which states, that the previous owner of the bike is giving you the ownership of the bicycle. If you do not speak or read Japanese, you may need help to fill it out. In that case, you will need to take the form to a bicycle store and proceed with the registration as explained above.
One may wonder if bicycle theft is the reason behind the need to register bicycles here. The crime rate in Japan is fairly low and the actual reason behind bicycle registration is probably due to illegal parking, as opposed to bikes being stolen. Hochi Jitensha (放置自転車) is the term for leaving a bicycle in an area that is not designated as a parking location and, therefore, becoming an inconvenience.