How to ride your bike in Japan (the worst possible way)

How to ride your bike in Japan (the worst possible way)

Bicycle rules don’t seem to exist in Japan if you judge by everyone else’s cycling habits. I have never seen anyone use hand signs ever. Speedsters, suddenly crossing the road where no crossing is in sight. Slowly swaying smartphone addicts, who seem to hope that oncoming traffic participants just magically disappear. In Japan, you can find them all.

In homage to all of them, this list shows how to ride your bike in Japan the wrong way.
For the proper rules, and the penalty that you can get for breaking them, read on below.

“King of the streets”

inconsiderate biker

  • 1. Drink and drive
  • 2. Drive over the traffic light
  • 3. Keep driving at a stop
  • 4. Disturb pedestrians
  • 5. Cycle side-by-side
  • 6. Obstruct other traffic (on road, sidewalk, etc.)
  • 7. Let a friend sit on the back of your bike
  • 8. Ride without light
  • 9. Hold an umbrella
  • 10.Block the railroad crossing
  • 11.Ride a defective bicycle (brakes, reflectors etc.)
  • 12.Use your phone
  • 13.Violate traffic rules
  • 14.Carry stuff that’s way too big
  • 15.Cross a pedestrian bridge on your bike
  • 16.Break the speed barrier
  • 17.Wear headphones
  • 18.And more! Creativity is endless.

Since you can see various of these behaviors frequently, one might be tempted to think that these things are legal in Japan. They are not.

Japanese cycling rules

Smiling girl on bike.

Avoid doing any of the above and you are a role-model cyclist in Japan.

Even though Japanese bike rules are not strictly enforced, they very much exist. Breaking them can cost you a hefty fine or even get you jail time.

In most cases, the police will go easy on you. Police frequently stops drunk cyclists and people riding without a light at night, but usually, this ends in a warning before the cyclist can be on their way. If you ever do get into an accident though, be sure that someone will remember these rules and fines that apply. Even if you are sure it was not your fault, chances are if it’s you on a bike against a pedestrian, you got some explaining to do.

Don’t ride drunk

Drunk cycling is not allowed in Japan. For your own safety, to maybe avoid the higher risk of getting into an accident.
Possible penalty: 1,000,000 Yen or up to 5 years of imprisonment.

Ride on the street (unless written otherwise)

If a sign shows a shared sidewalk, or if construction work or parked cars are blocking the road, you can ride on the sidewalk. On the sidewalk ride on the side of the road and make room for pedestrians.
Possible penalty: 50,000 Yen or up to 3 months of imprisonment.

Ride on the left side

When riding on the street, ride on the left side, same as the cars.
Possible penalty: 50,000 Yen or up to 3 months of imprisonment.

Obey traffic lights

Whether it’s a traffic light, train tracks or a stop sign, ignoring an order to stop is just not cool.
Possible penalty: 50,000 Yen or up to 3 months of imprisonment.

Ride with a headlamp at night and stay able to react quickly

Riding without light in the dark, using the phone, holding an umbrella, or wearing headphones, all limits your capability to react to unforeseen situations. To prevent accidents and make sure cyclists focus on the road.
Possible penalty: 50,000 Yen.

Don’t ride in tandem

Riding together, whether sharing a single-rider bike or riding next to each other is illegal. Look out for signs on the road. Sometimes they will mark a pedestrian walk that allows side-by-side riding (only two bikes at a time).
Possible penalty: 20,000 Yen

Most of the above rules are common sense. As for the mysteries as to when or when not to use the sidewalk and other fine print, watch the people around you and do as they … wait don’t to that.

What surprised you about Japanese cycling habits?

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After traveling around for a while, I found my home in Tokyo. Now working in Shinjuku and discovering something new about Japan every day.