Four road laws in Japan you’ve probably broken

By Aaron Baggett

Ever ridden your bicycle while holding an umbrella to shield yourself from Japan’s pelting rain during typhoon season? Well, congratulations on breaking the law, because that’s actually illegal.

Japan has several rules of the road that may seem counterintuitive to foreigners and plenty of police officers around to enforce them. You’re likely to be stopped for questioning by the local koban (neighborhood police box) because the police just have nothing else going on.

While most of us probably consider ourselves as law-abiding citizens, when it comes to getting to where we’re going, we tend to throw caution to the wind and overlook the rules. Especially when we didn’t know they were rules in the first place.

1. Police are cracking down on using cell phones while driving

In December 2019, the laws to prevent cell phone use while driving became stricter than ever. Motorists caught handling their phones to chat, send emails, or even look at directions while driving risk paying an ¥18,000 fine.

Moreover, the Road Traffic Law states that cell phone use that causes “danger in traffic” will be regarded as a criminal offense, which could lead to a ¥300,000 fine or even a prison sentence.

To possess a driver’s license in Japan, you opt into a point system. Unfortunately, this isn’t Mario Kart, and having a high score means big trouble. It only takes six points to have your license suspended anywhere from one to six months.

Guess how many points using your phone will earn you under the revised Road Traffic Law? Six. It’s one and done.

The new revisions come after outcry over Japan’s mounting vehicular accidents and fatalities caused by smartphones. The Asahi Shimbun reported in December 2019 that there were 2,790 accidents and 42 fatalities linked to drivers distracted by smartphones in 2018. By the end of 2019, there were more than 2,237 mobile-related accidents and 30 deaths.

Overall, police identified some 840,000 cases of illegal mobile device use among drivers last year.

2. Riding your bicycle on the sidewalk is illegal

Click here to read more.

© GaijinPot

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

According to the Road Traffic Law, you can only ride your bicycle on the sidewalk if you’re under 13, over 70, or disabled.

Not really true because there's a huge loophole. If the road or traffic conditions warrant riding on the sidewalk for safety reasons, you may do so at any age as long as you reduce your speed and do not obstruct pedestrians, unless a police officer explicitly tells you not to. Most urban roads in Japan are likely to fall under this exception.

Article 63-4(1) Notwithstanding Article 17, paragraph (1), a standard bicycle may be ridden on a sidewalk in the following cases; provided, however, that this does not apply if an officer instructs a person riding a standard bicycle not to ride on the sidewalk, having found it necessary to do so in order ensure the safety of pedestrians:

(i) if standard bicycles are permitted by road signs or markings to be ridden on the sidewalk;

(ii) if the person riding the standard bicycle is an elementary schooler, child not yet of school age, or any other person that Cabinet Order prescribes for whom riding a standard bicycle on a roadway is considered to be dangerous;

(iii) if, beyond as set forth in the preceding two items, roadway or traffic conditions are found to provide compelling circumstances for the person riding the standard bicycle to ride on the sidewalk so as to ensure safe progress.

(2) In a case as referred to in the preceding paragraph, a person riding a standard bicycle must ride at reduced speed when on the part of the sidewalk between the center and the roadway (or the part of the sidewalk that road signs or markings designate as that on which standard bicycles are required to be ridden (hereinafter referred to in this paragraph as the "part of the sidewalk for use by standard bicycles"), if any), and must come to a stop if the bicycle's progress would prevent pedestrians from proceeding; provided, however, that, if there are no pedestrians proceeding down or about to enter the part of the sidewalk for use by standard bicycles, the person riding a standard bicycle may travel down that part of the sidewalk at a safe speed and in a safe manner, in keeping with sidewalk conditions.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

It's also illegal to use headphones while driving or riding a bicycle. Not that anybody would know because of the large amount of drivers and riders using them.

Also, how about it being mandatory for kids under 13 years old to wear bicycle helmets? You wouldn't know that either because very few kids wear them.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Bicycle and so called rood rules for them... all seem to be made to be broken and/or ignored by the police unless you happen to be RWG... Riding Whilest Gaigin...

mamma-chari with 3 children, being riden at high speed down a narrow one way street in the opposite direction to the heavy traffic, with 3 children on board and mother using phone in one hand... police don’t blink.

Father who looks western (non Japanese) gets on his single seated mamma-chari in front of the daycare where he has dropped his child off for years... gets stopped and questioned.

Things that make you go hmmm....

8 ( +11 / -3 )

If you want to write this article as though us clueless foreigners are breaking these simple laws, try enforcing them on Japanese, too. Especially the riding bikes on sidewalks.

14 ( +14 / -0 )

Riding on the sidewalk is illegal?

I guess nobody knows that in Japan.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

This is what they focus on?

2 days ago I saw a father with his daughter (about 3 years old) on his lap while he was driving.

I saw a family of 4 get into their car and the mother put on her seatbelt, but held her newborn baby on her lap and the kids weren't wearing their seatbelts.

The parents at my son's kindergarten appear to not believe in child seats or booster seats. they have the kids hanging over the back of the passenger seat, moving freely between the seats while the car is in motion.

*People smoking in their cars with the windows up with kids in the cars.

But riding your bike on the sidewalk? How dare you ride your bike on the sidewalk, you criminal? smh

12 ( +12 / -0 )

"Riding on the sidewalk is illegal?"

It's illegal in Britain too; the fine is 500 quid.

500 frigging Nelsons!!!

I know because both my girl and I have recently been on the receiving end of it.

So is to cycle anywhere in public parks (excepting designated lanes).

Nobody gives a damn; it's not only in Japan.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

As riding on the sidewalk is illegal (for most people) it's a great, low-risk way to cash in on some insurance money! Step in front of a cyclist and win! It's mandatory to have bicycle insurance now and you're not going to sustain any serious damage, but you can easily cash in.

Seriously tho, I'm honestly surprised this is not a thing.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

As for cyclist on the road, I intentionally pull over to block cyclists going the wrong way and force them out into traffic or onto the sidewalk.

-9 ( +0 / -9 )

I never ride on the sidewalk but I have lost count of how many times I have been told by the J-cops NOT to ride on the road and stay on the sidewalk. How can the ones enforcing the laws not know what the laws are? Oh wait, same system that holds a person hostage until they confess thereby doing all their hard work for them and keeping that 99% conviction rate up. Broken as can be.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

"and you're not going to sustain any serious damage"

Don't tell that to my cousin.

He almost became permanently crippled after being run over by a bicycle.

On seeing him I thought he had been done by a truck.

Try stepping in front of a speeding bike at your own peril.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

"and you're not going to sustain any serious damage"

Don't tell that to my cousin.

He almost became permanently crippled after being run over by a bicycle.

On seeing him I thought he had been done by a truck.

Try stepping in front of a speeding bike at your own peril.

Choose a slow moving bicycle. Duh.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

"Cyclists kill or maim two pedestrians every week, according to statistics

ALARMING accident statistics have shown a record number of pedestrians are being killed or seriously injured in crashes with cyclists."

Learn a bit before mouthing off. Doh.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Cyclists kill or maim two pedestrians every week

Automobiles kill or maim two pedestrians every hour, and there's almost no chance of the driver being maimed in return, as there is with cyclists.

For some reason, we accept these kinds of things when they're caused by automobile drivers, as if it were a force of nature.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

While most of us probably consider ourselves as law-abiding citizens, when it comes to getting to where we’re going, we tend to throw caution to the wind and overlook the rules.

Speak for yourself, matey.

While the general Japanese population flouts these rules all the time, I, for one, don't.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Well, guilty as charged for like, all of them...

0 ( +0 / -0 )


Never though I would EVER agree with you but there it is.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


Bike riders on the sidewalk who expect me to give way to them but I don't and just ignore them. I make exceptions for small children.

Always carry a stick to put in the spokes of a bike tyre...just in case you want to enforce the law. Exceptions for small children? Nah, bonus points.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Wish emojis work on this website. They help convey emotions so I dont sound like a psycho.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How about waiting until the pedestrian or cyclist is completely off the crossing ON A GREEN WALK SIGN before cutting in front of them?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As for RIding your bicycle upon the sidewalks/pavements:

1) The Police Ride their bicycles upon the sidewalks,

2) The Road based Cycle lanes lead onto the sidewalks!!!

And for wearing headphones whilst cycling... unless you're blasting your eardrums to pieces, this is a pointless Law, and provably so.

The biggest danger to Cyclists, Pedestrians, and Car users, are people who walk around with their focus upon their Mobile phones! That needs to be the main focus for movement regulations, followed by Car users who are either watching TV (whilst driving .. only in Japan?) or fiddling around on their mobile phones rather than watching ahead of them. If Situational Distraction Laws were consistent - then any vehicle would not be allowed to play loud music, cars would not have CD-Players, let alone TVs, and Cyclists would be prohibited from using headphones... or even VR devices.

As for the Keitei junkies who don't watch where they're going.... Recently during a morning rush hour work exodus from a subway train, I had a situation where I had one of these idiots, whilst clearly focused upon their keitei, run towards the train I had just disembarked from, and blindly ignoring what's in front of them, simply expecting us to yield to his rush.. I'd have done so, were it not for the person next to me, with the young child in a baby strap against their chest - so I had to momentarily hold my ground and twist, as others were moving forward behind me too, and simply let this Keitei reading twat bounce off embarrassingly and miss his train. Didn't look back, as I knew the person with the Kid was untouched, though I did hear the plastic Keitei drop and skid across the floor, as too the idiot with a dull thud.... hopefully lesson learnt.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites