The extensive train and subway system in Japan is great, but also complicated. Cycling is a great way to commute to avoid the crowds. 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, but you need to yield to pedestrians and be careful.
Wearing a helmet
Children under 13 years old must always 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, then 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 witness 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. Some big shops have free bicycle parking for a limited time, and some convenience stores allow parking your bicycle in front of them shortly while you shop there. Please note that you can get fined if you park your bicycle in a non-parking area in big cities. Your bicycle will also be impounded and taken away.
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.
When not out commuting or shopping, cycling is also a great leisure activity you can do in and around Tokyo. Here are 5 popular cycling courses.
1. Tamagawa River Cycling Road
A popular 60km long cycling route with great riverside views. It is great for cyclists of all levels as it is long, uninterrupted and rather easy. It starts around Haneda airport, following the river all the way to Ota ward, passing near Fuchu and Tachikawa.
2. Arakawa River Cycling Road
Another scenic riverside cycling course, but this one is 90km long and not suited for first time cyclists. The whole course follows the Arakawa river, from Kasai Rinkai Park in Tokyo to Musashi Hill Forest Park in Saitama. But river and nature is not the only thing you will see – this course takes you through old Edo as it passes near Asakusa and it offers views of Tokyo Skytree.
3. Edogawa River Cycling Road
A 60km riverside course following Edogawa river with cycling paths on both river banks. The easy and paved paths take you all the way to Tokyo bay and are perfect for beginners. With many shops and cafes on the way, it is a great cycling course for taking breaks and rewarding yourself with snacks.
4. Imperial Palace
Did you know that most of the Imperial Palace grounds are open to everyone? The grounds are where the former Edo castle used to be and are now turned into a big park where people jog, have a picnic and cycle. The cycling lap is around 5km and is great for that mix of the urban and nature views.
On Sundays, there is an event called “Palace Cycling” which offers free bicycles for rent!
5. Showa Memorial Park
This huge park in west Tokyo offers fun for the whole family, such as swimming pools, boating in a pond, cycling etc. Their 14km cycling course is very good for families, and anyone can come by train and just rent a bicycle from the park. The park has beautiful flowers and trees that cover all the seasons, so whenever you go great flowerscapes are almost guaranteed.
Cycling is one of the better ways to get around in Japan knowing the complexity of its train lines. However, 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. 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 local rules.