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What You Really Need To Know About Bicycles In Japan

Author: Anna Hamakoji, Issue: October 2005, Topics: Bicycles

In Japan you can find bicycles everywhere. Often you see them thrown away even though they are still perfectly all right to use. Many foreigners take this opportunity to avail themselves of a bicycle for free. Since it is just laying there beside the road and nobody seems to care about it, they take it home and do some repairs and "voila", your own bicycle. What could be wrong with that?

Well, actually a lot.

You can be ARRESTED for riding on a bicycle that is not properly registered in your name. All new bicycles must undergo crime-prevention registration after they are bought. Even if you receive a used bicycle from a friend or acquaintance you must re-register the bicycle. If you just leave the bicycle registered under the name of the previous owner you may be suspected of stealing it. So you cannot just pick up any bicycle and use it as your own. Be sure to buy one from either a store or a person and don't forget to register the bicycle in your name. This is called Bicycle (Crime-prevention) Registration and there is a registration fee of 500 yen. (Most bicycle shops handle crime-prevention registration.)

And speaking of laws, did you know you can be ARRESTED for violating other bicycle laws as well? According to the Daily Yomiuri (9/18/04), riders who carry another person on a bike can be fined up to Y20,000. Cyclists who are caught talking on cell phones or carrying umbrellas while cycling could receive a maximum prison sentence of three months or be fined up to Y50,000. Anyone who causes an accident resulting in death may be charged with negligence and manslaughter under the penal code. It is illegal to park a bike in front of a crowded train station. Illegally parked bicycles may be removed, and those that are will be disposed of after two months if not reclaimed. There are usually free or inexpensive bicycle parking lots available near the station, so make good use of them.

You will very quickly notice that the people around you do not follow these rules, however, these are the rules that the police will follow in case of an accident when they make their investigation/report in order to establish who is at fault. So it is better to be aware and careful when riding your bike.

Bicycle riders must obey traffic laws since bikes are considered vehicles. Bicycles should always be ridden on the left side of the road except when there is construction etc., blocking the way. Bicycles are allowed to use the side strip. If this however should pose an obstacle to pedestrian movements, or if there are double white lines between the strip and the vehicular lanes, it becomes illegal to ride a bicycle there.

Pedestrian and bicycle paths

Bikes can be ridden on sidewalks when indicated by the "Bicycles and Pedestrians" sign but pedestrians technically have the right of way.

When crossing the road (where most bicycle accidents happen)

It is illegal to ride a bicycle through a pedestrian crossing even if that crossing connects two pedestrian walkways, both of which permit bicyclists.

Pedestrian Crossing Zone

By law, one can not ride a bicycle on a pedestrian crossing even if that crossing connects two pedestrians walks both of which permits bicycle riding. You must get off your bicycle and push it across.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Crossing Zone

You can either walk or ride your bicycle across.

Bicycle Crossing Zone

Crossing only for bicycles.

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