Yes, Japan has an excellent transport system. But, one of the best ways to get around is by bike. Because it’s such a popular way to get around and because it’s Japan, there are a lot of bicycle rules in Japan regulating how to get a bicycle. Not as straightforward as popping down your local shop…
Buying your bicycle
You’ve got three options for buying a bicycle in Japan. You can buy one at a store, online or second hand. It can vary in price from 6,000 yen to 60,000 yen. People tend to look after their bikes well in Japan so the second-hand options can be a good, reasonably priced choice. The money you’ll save on transport from having a bike will soon make up for the cost too, so it’s always a sound investment.
Registration is just as important. Bicycle rules in Japan mean you are required by law to register your new bike at the prefectural police department in your name. You’ll have a chance to do this at the store if you buy it new and it’ll cost around 500 yen. If you buy it online you’ll need to head down to your local police station (交番 koban) with proof of purchase and they’ll take you through the process.
If you’ve bought it second hand, you’ll need to transfer the ownership. This isn’t as complex as it sounds and if you head down to your local store with a completed transfer form and the previous owner with their registration paper, the store will help you through the process for around 500 yen.
Jitenshahoken 自転車保険, or bicycle insurance, is a requirement for all bike owners in Tokyo and other large cities in Japan. You can check with your local ward or municipality office to see if it’s compulsory.
Even if it isn’t compulsory where you’re living, we highly recommend getting insurance anyway for your peace of mind. Not only will it help protect in case you suffer any injuries while bike riding, but it will also help with third party liability. A lot of time in Japan, the larger vehicle in an accident takes on more of the liability and risk. Therefore, if you hit a person while riding your bike, you can be held responsible for damages.
You can buy bike insurance online or even at your local convenience store or from a phone carrier. You can also ask for recommendations from your school, friends or bike shops. If you don’t have the language skills, we recommend signing up for insurance with someone who can speak Japanese. This is so you fully understand what your policy covers.
Rules, lots of bicycle rules in Japan
So you’ve bought your bike and you’ve got it registered. You’re ready to head out and explore the city. But wait! There are a few bicycle rules in Japan that you need to learn and follow.
We have included some of the top rules below. However, we always recommend you do your own research to fully understand Japanese road rules.
There’s this website dedicated to cycling and road rules that gives a good overview and covers the important road signs too.
1. You must cycle on the left-hand side of the road as with driving a car.
2. Riding dangerously, failing to stop at a stop light, or riding with broken brakes carries a maximum penalty of a 500,000 yen fine and/or three months in prison. As you see, the fines are high and it’s really not worth the risk.
3. Biking under the influence of alcohol is forbidden and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and 1,000,000 yen fine. You’ll probably see some Japanese people doing this, but we recommend not following their example!
4. Cycling on sidewalks is forbidden, except where indicated by shared sidewalk signs.
5. Riding while carrying an umbrella, listening to an iPod, or talking on the phone are prohibited; violators can face a fine of up to 500,000 yen. This is one you’ll definitely see many people doing, particularly in the rainy season. But it’s much better to get a poncho.
6. All bikes are required to have a bell and a headlamp. This is not only a rule but common sense.
7. Riding with a passenger is also illegal apart from if they’re below the age of six. If you decide to do this, the child must be in a designated child seat. The fine for double rides is up to 500,00 yen.
8. Last but not least and we’ve mentioned this before. Bicycles must be registered in the owner’s name at the prefectural police department.
It may seem like a lot but once you’ve got your bike and sorted the paperwork you’ll be on your way enjoying the streets of Japan.
For more information about life in Japan keep following our Go! Go! Nihon blog.