Cycling in Japan – What you might want to know

Japan has some pretty strict cycling laws which and are strictly monitored like the road rules. Because Japan considers bicycles to be similar to cars, all road rules apply to bicyclists, and there are a few more rules unique to bicycles. Some of these road rules are very weird, what would be considered legal in one country and a daily occurrence, is considered highly illegal in Japan. Please note that these are not the complete list of road rules, but instead are rules that most foreigners might not know about when travelling to Japan.

Some of the rules

    • Starting off, All bicycles must be registered at the local prefectural police department. All bicycles are required by law to have a registration like cars. This is done so bicycles can be easily returned to their owner if lost or stolen. If you are riding on a bicycle with no registry or a registry not belonging to you, then there is a chance that you may get arrested on suspicion of thievery. Now rental bicycles won’t be a problem as they would have it registered and granted access for you to use during the rental period.
    • Bicycles can be used on footpaths, as well as the road. If there are signs indicating that you can’t cycle on the pathways, then you must go on the road. Regardless of where you are riding, you must abide by the rules of the road – stop at red lights, drive on the left side of the road etc. Ignoring the road rules could land you a fine of 50,000JPY.
    • Next, is a bit of a weird one. Riding bicycles side by side is prohibited, and can face a fine of around 20,000JPY. This is because riding side by side puts both drivers at risk of crashing and may put the cyclists at further risk of injury if knocked or forced into traffic.
    • For our anime fans, you might be disappointed to find out that riding with two people on a bicycle is illegal despite what you often see in those romance and slice of life anime series’.  The only case where two people are allowed on a bicycle is if it’s a child under the age of 6 years old and are securely fastened in a separate seat from the rider. Tandem bicycles are prohibited across the country, excluding Nagano prefecture where it’s legal.
    • Another safety rule is that bicycles must have functional brakes and must be ridden safely. That’s both hands on the handlebars, no wheelies, and no going excessive speeds on the footpaths. You must be fully in control of the bicycle, and it must be in working order. Breaking this law is very serious and could end you up in jail for up to 3 months, as well as a fine up to 50,000JPY.
    • Probably one of the most seriously offences is riding whilst under the influence of Alcohol. As bicycling is considered to be like driving in Japan, the drink driving rules apply closely to riding bicycles. If you are caught with alcohol in your system while, you might be unfortunate enough to land 5 years in prison, with fines up to 1,000,000JPY.
    • Listening to music or talking on the phone are also both prohibited, as it can be considered as dangerous driving, or something that can distract you from the road. This also comes with a hefty fine at around 20,000JPY.
    • Helmets aren’t mandatory in Japan. While wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle is recommended, you won’t face any penalties for not doing such. Note, this only applies to people older than 13 years old. Those 13 years old and under are required by law to wear a helmet at all times while operating a bicycle.
    • Lastly, no parking your bicycles where there is a ‘no parking sign’. These will usually be marked clearly with cones or street signs indicating that parking bicycles isn’t allowed. Parking a bicycle in a no parking zone could have your bicycle impounded and collected by police, which could see you face a fine to have it released.

Bicycle Security

While Japan does have a remarkably low crime rate, we strongly suggest that you do lock your bicycle up, especially if it’s a rental. Crimes still do happen, and among the crimes that are reported are bicycle theft. If you lock your bike up in an approved bicycle parking area, then you at least have some form of protection from theft.

Japan usually uses little bike locks that go in the backwheel and prevent it from moving, rather than fixing the bicycle to a solid object like a post or a tree, this means you can park and lock your bike anywhere that doesn’t have a no parking sign.

Where to park your bike

Finding a place to park your bike can be challenging depending on the region and setting. A general rule of thumb is, if there are lots of other bikes parked there, then it’s probably safe to park there – unless there are signs saying no parking obviously. Most train major train stations will have a bicycle parking lot nearby, of which some of these are free, while others you might have to pay a small fee to store your bike for the day. 

There are also designated bike storage areas in parks and other public places

Unless indicated elsewhere, most stores will allow you to park your bicycle outside during your visit to the shop as well, just as long as you don’t shop elsewhere and aren’t taking up valuable space out front the shop, you should be fine.

Are you planning a trip to Japan soon? Then you really should consider purchasing a JR Rail Pass, especially if you are planning on hitting all the major tourist cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Sapporo. 

The JR Rail Pass makes getting around the country easy, and can save you several hundreds in travel expenses. All you need to do is just show your pass at the ticket gate, and you have access to any and all JR rail lines across the country, and not just the standard commuter trains, but luxury trains, and even the world famous Shinkansen (Bullet Train). A JR Rail Pass is an essential item for any visitor to Japan. Buy your pass today by clicking here now!

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