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Confused by Japan’s cycling laws? You aren’t the only one

By James Hadfield

Nothing gets your day off to a good start like an altercation with a traffic cop. I was cycling along my usual route to work recently, and stopped to make a right turn at a crossroads, only to find myself caught in the sights of an over-zealous (or possibly just bored) police officer. With stern whistle toots and increasingly vexed shouts of “Dame!” he sought to convey that I should actually be using the pedestrian crossing if I wanted to attempt such a risky maneuver.

Now, I’m not riding a mama-chari. I’ve overtaken ambulances on my trusty steed, and I wasn’t about to be told to act like an octogenarian toddling off on the way to the grocery store. Still, even as I bellowed back that the guy didn’t know what the hell he was talking about and rode swiftly forth, the inevitable doubt began to set in. Surely, surely a cop would be right about something like this?

“Oh, the police don’t really understand themselves,” says Shinichi Maniwa when I recount the story to him. “The beat cops don’t have that detailed an understanding of the traffic laws.”

In his capacity as an adviser at the Japan Cycling Association’s Cycling Information Center, Maniwa spends much of his time elucidating the vagaries of the country’s road rules. And, as you might have guessed, these get a bit confusing when it comes to bikes.

“In general, the Road Traffic Law considers bicycles to be light vehicles,” he says. “But to motorists, cyclists are like pedestrians in the street—they can’t help seeing them as a nuisance.”

The situation was complicated by a 1970 revision of the law that allowed bicycles to ride on the sidewalk. The change came in response to a sharp rise in car use, along with pressure from an increasingly influential auto industry that wanted to keep traffic moving as smoothly as possible on the roads. This in turn helped spawn one of the most ubiquitous features of Japanese society: the mama-chari.

“It’s an interesting beast, isn’t it?” says Maniwa. “There aren’t many bicycles which go that slowly. If you ride a bike with drop handlebars on the sidewalk, it’s dangerous. So they kept the rider upright, lowered the center of gravity, and you got something that could travel alongside pedestrians. After that, bikes acquired the aura of something that belonged on the sidewalk.”

Yet the law doesn’t go so far as to state that they always belong there. In fact, bicycles are only allowed on the sidewalk in designated areas—something that even the cops themselves tend to get wrong.

“The truth be known, I actually enjoy the randomly enforced bicycle laws,” confesses long-term Japan resident Byron Kidd, an Australian software engineer who chronicles his cycling exploits in the Tokyo by Bike blog. “As long as you exercise some common sense and ride safely, the Japanese cycling laws are more like cycling guidelines, and that works in a cyclist’s favor more often than not.”

Despite living in “one of the most bicycle dependent cities on the planet,” Kidd thinks that most of Tokyo’s bike-riding denizens are fairly clueless about even the basics. You know, things like which side of the street to ride on. “A large portion of the population either have no driver’s license or are ‘paper drivers,’ [so] there is less awareness of the road rules,” he says.

“As the road rules are so inconsistently enforced, there is a lot of confusion as to what is a ‘law’ and what is simply generally accepted good cycling practice… What works for you on the road today won’t necessarily work for you tomorrow.”

That’s sage advice. When I did some research of my own, I discovered that the officious cop who’d soured my morning ride had actually been right—he was just choosing to enforce a (rather silly) rule which most of his peers might have let slide. But not to worry: I took the same route this morning, and he wasn’t there any more.

For more information see www.j-cycling.org and www.tokyobybike.com.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Cyclists are way too cavalier on the sidewalk: weaving and speeding. And your not safe on the street either. Last year I was walking, turned right to cross with the green at the crosswalk and was blindsided by a young woman paying no attention to the traffic light whatsoever. She whacked me pretty good.

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If Im honest I dont really get the point of this article. Just get bicycle lanes in major towns and cities if they dont want cyclists on the roads or pavements,

But I will say I personally find Mama charies to be a whole lot better to ride than little bmxs and that. They are without a doubt slower, but a whole lot sturdier and safer.

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When riding my bicycle I always make sure my light is on at night, no running red lights etc.

The only close time I almost got into trouble with the law was one night it was raining and I needed to see what my position was so I pulled out my phone GPS right as I was passing a traffic cop directing traffic, he yelled at me だめですよ! I put my phone away and continued along. Though it was my fault because I did know better.

I am someone who rides my bicycle often through Tokyo, mainly because I'm a cheap person, but I need the excersize. I've gone from Shinjuku to Akihabara and Ginza (criss crossing the Yamanote line) too many times to count now. Generally as the writer has noted, if you use common sense you are usually ok. The biggest pain has always been riding right around the major station areas like Shinjuku, where in the morning with the pedestrian traffic it is hard to blow through, I hit a guy coming out of a subway station once, he just ran infront of me out of nowhere, though he continued running on his way (that was the only accident I ever had). Another time my pedal fell off (lol) right in front of a crosswalk, because my mind was occupied about "wtf my pedal just fell off" I didn't notice it had just turned red, and I blew right threw with some cars beeping their horns at me. Any case, I generally try to be on the cautious side. Though those are just some incidents I remember through my usual daily non-occurrence bicycle rides through Tokyo. I almost exclusively ride on the sidewalks. As for random police checks, I've never been selected for one, but I've been parked right next to, or pulled up to some poor saps (Japanese) folks who have been checked. Bicycle registration, and receipts are kept in my wallet.

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I am on the road when the sidewalks are crazy and on the sidewalks when they aren't - the pedestrians walk around without looking and get upset when you use your bell. The cars, buses and taxi drivers will come far too close to my liking and I have been nearly hit many, many time. Japan, like usual, needs to sort it out.

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Ive never been called up for a bike check either, and Ive always wondered why because I think I have been breaking rules ever since I got here! I did get one guy flag me down on my bike once and I thought he might need help with something or maybe there was something wrong with my bike but he asked for my phone number!!!

I love my mama-chari - it really is the only practical way to get kids around the area. It is like a light vehicle, especially as it is electric, but I would never dream of taking my kids on the road in it with the way people drive here.

Even though we have a big warning sign on the street outside the daycare, twice in the last year kids have been knocked down by speeding cyclists. One had very bad cuts and bruises, the other broke a leg. What amazes me is both times the cyclists pedalled off and escaped! How could anyone hit and run a child and not even stop to see if they had killed them? I dont know how they can live with themselves. Luckily we caught the first guy, but the police said there was nothing they could do and it was a private matter!!! How can that be right??! He could have killed her and didnt even stop. If bikes are legally like vehicles, then the "drivers" should be treated as such.

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But Kira, that's the issue - are they vehicles under the Japanese law?

I know I have hot a few people on my bike but it was NEVER my fault - once or twice people walking out of buildings as I was passing by and a few other times when people have stopped directly in front of me to use their keitai. I have also come very close to hitting small kids and dogs who are running around while owners/parents aren't paying attention. Certainly not agreeing with the guys driving off but I don't think it is fair that cyclists seem to get the blame for accidents when it often isn't their fault.

Never been hit by a bike myself - but perhaps that is because I watch where I am going. ;)

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Personally, I don't like the mama-chari and think it is badly designed. Too thin tires, too wobbly at slow speeds, etc compared to my mountain bike. Never mind that many of the bicycle have NO maintenance done tio them, just listten to that stretched chain clank, worn drum-brakes, etc.

PLus they are not that cheap and you can get a decent mountain bike for the same money.

Besides many people ignoring road-laws(that includes people that got a car and drivers licence), many people told me road-laws ONLY apply to cars, etc.

Rather than the confusing laws I found the ability or shall we say inability to handle their steeds to be a bigger problem, as well as the total disregard for other road-users.

One think that annoys me is ladies jumping of their bikes when they stop or are forced to go slow and than doing their "keri-keri-keri-noru" thingy.

As for the road-rules I consider myself as part of the road-traffic and ride accordingly, same as in other countries.

Bicycle roads are also not the answer, we got quiet a few here in my area but pedestrains happily use them(mothers pushing prams, etc), granted we have the same problem overseas too.

Some Districts now have started requiring a bicycle licence and I hope more will do so soon and not just a rule test but also a practical riding test.

rant over.

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That should say "hit" rather than "hot"!

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tmarie:"Certainly not agreeing with the guys driving off but I don't think it is fair that cyclists seem to get the blame for accidents when it often isn't their fault."

I will agree with you on most of what you wrote, BUT the same can be said for accidents involving bicycles and cars, in Japan no mater what the car is at fault if it is car vs bicycle.

I have been lucky but my neighbor was not, last year he was just driving home near his house (and this is shitamachi with small narrow roads so we have to drive slow) when some Obasan didn't stop and ran right into the side of his car (this was at a very small intersection and she had the stop) amazingly he was considered at fault.

Now all cars have insurance but at the same time if their is an injury then the police at the request of the injured party can file negligence charges.

I used to have liability insurance for my bicycle and my children that cost 5,000 yen a year from the ward office but now I have been told that you must now go to the Tokyo office in Shinjuku.

If some one knows more about this it would be great.

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I have had quiet a few close calls but so far have not hit nor been hit by anyone. Cyclists turning into the road right in front of me, changing direction suddenly without looking, etc.

Granted I have also years(decades) of motorbike riding experience so my steed handling skills and awareness levels are slightly different.

Slow speed riding/cycling is difficult, won a few slow-riding comps on my 750.

I got liability insurance via my bicycle shop it also comes with free maintence schedule, discounts. Cost me 2.800Yen for 2 years got it for my son and myself. Large national chain that makes their own bicycles.

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Bicycles are classed as light vehicles, so the policeman was correct to shout 'dame'. He didn't mean 'use the pedestrian crossing' but that he should do a two-point right-hand turn as 50cc scooters also have to do.

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Personally I find cyclists a pain in the teeth, and it's precisely because of the lack of clear rules. Some cyclists will give a hand signal before they turn, while others won't and will just pull out in front of your car secure in the knowledge that regardless of how stupid they've just been the car driver will take the blame if there's an accident. As a result a lot of the motorists in my area (myself included) give cyclists a very wide berth, but that still doesn't stop them from doing stupid things like talking on their cellphones, while holding an umbrella, while cycling in the middle of a one lane country road.

If bicycles are indeed regarded as light vehicles then the cops need to stop yelling and start handing out tickets for this sort of dangerous and inconsistent behaviour, just like they'd ticket a driver who didn't indicate or drove dangerously.

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Side"walks" are just that. People should not have to look over their shoulder when walking on a sidewalk. If it is a designated bicycle lane, then walkers should stay out. In the traffic laws, pedestrians have the right of way and if a sidewalk is congested, the cyclist needs to get off the bike and walk until the area clears. They do NOT need to yeild to a bell. A bell is a nuisance and should be used only to avoid a sudden danger or a collision. It is NOT there to tell walkers to get out of the way.

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When I did some research of my own, I discovered that the officious cop who’d soured my morning ride had actually been right—he was just choosing to enforce a (rather silly) rule which most of his peers might have let slide. But not to worry: I took the same route this morning, and he wasn’t there any more.

Why bother trying to find out about the laws, if you are just going to ignore them if they aren't to your liking?

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I hit a teenage kid on a dark one way street near my apartment, he came out of no where as I was turning the corner.. he noticed too late as he was riding in the middle of the road and he tried to swerve to avoid me but too late.. SMACK, he rolled off the right side of my Land Rover and his bike got caught under my truck.. i thought i killed him as I felt the huge trembling underneath as I rode over his bicycle. I could see he was motionlessly laying on the road in my rear view mirror. Thank GOD he was alive as I pulled him off to the side of the road and the people in the neighborhood had the cops and ambulance within 5-10 minutes... I was grilled by the police, however he had no light and was going the opposite direction on a one way street, but don't think it applies to bicycles. Long story short, my insurance ended up paying for his medical bills and bought him a new bike for JPY10,000 but lost alot of points on my driving record.

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I've hit so many a person during my cycling career in Japan that I stopped counting - hilarious is that they usually apologized for it, although I was obviously too fast for that sidewalk :)). Fortunately nobody got hurt in the process, and now I'm a very good driver which brings me to:

Don't cycle on the narrow roads if you can, people!! - use the sidewalk whenever possible and even when not possible... you can't imagine how one feels as a driver overtaking bicycles with less than 50 mm (that up to 2 inch) to spare!! - usually I slow so much I'm travelling at the bicycle's speed - far too dangerous...

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Yeah, many people cycle in the middle of the road or even on the opposing side.

Where I live we have few actual sidewalks as such, many times I turn a corner only to come face to face with another cyclist(on the wrong side trying to cut the corner as close as possible.

Told a cyclist once who cried "but I didn't hear your cycle" neither would you have heard a Hybrid car driving under electric power.

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Ugh, bicycles. I live off of a major street and as I approach that street I am sure to peer left and right so I don't get creamed by a bicycle. If I want to "change lanes" while walking on the sidewalk, I also check over my shoulder. I've had too many close calls.

The bells annoy me. Sometimes they are an alert, and that's good, but sometimes they're more of a "GET OUT OF MY WAY!" That's not so good. You don't need to go so fast on the sidewalk. And you also don't need to check your keitai. If you were going "normal" speed instead of weaving along while checking your phone, you'd get to your destination faster and have plenty of time to read your email!

Anyway, Japan needs to clear up all this bicycle business. I'm sick of being nearly killed.

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Its simply this.....while we are driving, cyclists are a pain in the butt. While we are walking, cyclists are a pain in the butt. But while we are cycling, both pedestrians and cars are a pain in the butt.

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In my home country, there is a "cycling proficiency" course for young kids to give them basic road safety for when riding a bicycle. I dont believe theres any such thing here (correct me if I am wrong).

I could bang on here about similar near misses I have had with wayward pedestrians and cyclists coming out of side streets without so much as a cursory glance to check if its safe, but the crux of the matter is two things - 1) lack of safety training (though why adults cannot figure out for themselves that some of the situations that they put themselves in are extremely dangerous is beyond me...) 2)inconsistent and woefully inadequate enforcement of traffic rules by police. You can stand outside a Koban and watch many a person go by driving whilst using their mobile phone for christs sake - people here have no fear of getting a ticket. Just the other day I had to bang on a cabbie`s window and tell him to get off of his phone just yards from a Koban, and Cabbies are supposed to have an advanced driving licence (not that you would ever guess it by how they "drive")

Having said this, whilst I disagree that "the driver is accountable no matter what" rule (which leads to many a cyclist thinking they have carte blanche - though I`m not so sure that they actually think), with all the driving whilst using said phone, lack of indicator use (or using it too late) watching TV on the satnav whilst driving, etc, drivers do not pay due care and attention anyway in my view.

On a sidenote, can someone please tell me, if watching TV on whilst driving is illegal, why are drivers even permitted to install them???

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tmarie, actually cyclists have no right to ring their bell on the sidewalk. They can only ride on the sidewalk if the road is full of cars parked along the side and there is no way a cyclist could ride there safely.

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Screw the cop, he was wrong, keep on trucking I say... I've yelled at traffic cops for pulling me over for something that they were incorrect about, they didn't even say sorry and looked for some other reason they pulled me over... I just leave.

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My son had a basic road-safety lesson at school by a cop, but it is barely sufficient.

Like kaminaripyajo back home there are courses for cyclists(optional licence) that school-ki9ds get taken to. One part is theory, etc 2nd part is riding around a "mini" town while some kids are on cycles, others walk(pedestirans) and the last group is in g-karts(cars).

Of course supervised by cops who will blow whistles when they see things wrong.

But more than the courses. Kids will copy what their parents/elders do and I see many a parent driving badly while the kid cycles behind copying his/her every move, etc.

Granted in my home-country NO child under 12 is allowed to cycle on a road unless accompanied by an adult.

Just my view.

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Love the cyclists that just run red lights. A few weeks ago lights changed, all traffic stopped pedestrians started crossing, cyclist trying to make the light slammed his brakes when he realized he couldnt go without hitting pedestrians, flew over his handlebars and landed in the street. No way am I biking in this country. Foot, train or taxi for me.

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I have my fare share of the above told stories. From close encounters to being knocked off by another bicycle running the wrong direction.

I have fixed a small pocked video camera (Vado HD) on my bike --like more and more people do in London-- to have evidence in case of an accident. I have meanwhile 5 hours of lunatic driving, but luckily I never needed it as evidence after an accident.

For situations where I get overtaken and immediately after the car stops to turn left --hence instead of taking the one second to stay behind me the driver ignores me and blocks me in-- I do hit it with the bare hand on the roof. It leaves no damage, but gives a bang that people do not forget.

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Kyoken - I ride both a bicycle and motorbike and would love to get one of the cameras you mention. Can you give me any details? Thanks

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In my mid-sized city I bike everywhere unless the weather is crap. As long as you follow the rules of logic and take care, there should be no reason to be causing anyone irritation just by daring to ride a bike. Personally I think it's great that bikes are in widespread use. If you're going somewhere that would take too much time to walk, why not ride instead of hopping in the car, wasting petrol and a good chance to get some exercise. Going out on a limb, but it might be a contributing factor to the overall healthiness of people here compared to all the fatties back home.

Some cyclists are pains for sure, but definitely pale in comparison to taxi drivers, clueless obasans, the Kei truck driving living-dead, and drivers with kids clambering all over the seats.

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Kyoken - I ride both a bicycle and motorbike and would love to get one of the cameras you mention. Can you give me any details? Thanks

The Creative "Vado HD" I use is the second generation with 8 GB which is good for 2 hours battery life and quite resilient against shock and rain.

There are a number of similar HD Pocket Video Camcorders from Kodak, Sony, etc. and some of them are arguably technologically superior. One can also use a cheap photo camera that can film HD videos though the mechanical zoom might be troubled by the constant shocks from uneven road.

I built a camera holder for my handlebar from a cheap video stand and a bicycle torchlight holder, allowing to fix and remove the camera in a second.

Here some info on the vado: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Vado

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Additionally you might want to have a look around in Akihabara. There are now special bicycle and bike cameras complete with handlebar or helmet holder. They can be found in almost all shops that sell "spy cameras" along the main and side roads.

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The lack of knowledge about bike laws in this country, and the fact that probably 99% of police don't know them, is ridiculous. I became very familiar with the bicycle laws before entering Japan as I was under the impression that they were strictly upheld, and the penalties for infringements could be severe. Boy was I wrong! About the only thing I've EVER been stopped for was to see if my bike was stolen.

Some basic laws people don't seem to know or care about:

Bicycles are ONLY allowed on certain, designated sidewalks (as the article states). These are usually clearly identified by blue, circular traffic signs featuring an adult holding the hand of a child, and a bicycle in the background, or otherwise by painted notifications on the sidewalks themselves. ALL other sidewalks are prohibited.

You are not allowed to ride with shopping bags (or anything else) hanging from your handle bars, you must use both hands at all times while riding, and cannot have umbrellas or what not attached to stands, as many a-mama charli does. The reason is balance -- even when you hold both handles and have an umbrella connected using the mama-charli device, a sudden gust of wind can throw you off balance and cause you to wipe out. Needless to say using cell phones and what not is forbidden by law.

As with cars, although there is no 'bike tax' (yet), they must be checked and tuned up regularly, particularly the brakes. But tell me how many times a day you hear the annoying screech of someones lack of brakes as they go downhill (with parasol or something in hand to boot!).

Lights and reflectors must be used in dark areas and at night. And no, not the trendy strobe lights that serve no real purpose except perhaps to daze drivers and throw them off, I'm talking regular lights.

No more than one person on a bike at a time, save for a mother/father riding with an infant/toddler. This has been thrown into limbo thanks to moms complaining that not being allowed to have two or three babies on the already heavy and off kilter bike is 'inconvenient', but needless to say two junior highschool students is a no-no.

Traffic, including bicycles, is supposed to move on the LEFT hand side of the road.

There are other laws, but it would take all day to write them out, and some are pretty vague and questionable. Still, it blows my mind that common sense is so utterly lacking when it comes to knowing and enforcing bicycle laws, and it bothers me that the automotive industry and PTA moms have more sway than actual safety. They canNOT make bicycle lanes in most residential areas because the roads are already barely wide enough for two cars and have no space for even sidewalks in a lot of places if they don't already exist. Near my house there is a university, and on the road leading to that university there is a space of no more than half a meter wide for hundreds and hundreds of students to walk, marked only by a white line with motorcycles, buses, and even massive flatbed trucks ride over so that said students somethings come close to having to press against the rock face the narrow road was carved out of. Sidewalks? No way! So you have hundreds of pedestrians, cyclists, and automobiles of all sizes vying for space, with priority of course going to the automobiles. It's a good thing there's a hosptital right by the roadway.

Finally, has anyone checked the yearly stats for deaths involving bicycles in Japan? I did last year when a similar article cropped up (I think it was about the no more than one kid on the bike rule, which the moms defeated), and I think there are somewhere beyond 2000 serious injuries/year, with a number of them resulting in deaths. They need to make some concrete laws and get people off the sidewalks as much as possible. It may be a 'nuisance' for cars, but tough.

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I got yelled at via loudspeaker for riding on the wrong side of the road once. It's never happened again, but it's also never happened to the Japanese residents of my town, so...

Anyways, what really surprises me is that in a discussion about bicycle road rules and bicycle safety, no one has mentioned helmets. I don't wear a helmet here but it makes me very nervous. I'm super careful on my bike, and although I've been in a few scrapes, it was nothing serious. What drives me crazy, though, is the moms with one or two kids attached to their bikes. The adults can chose whether or not to wear a helmet, but if a serious accident happens, those kids are going to die.

Anyways, I agree with most of the people here. The bicycle rules/system needs to be fixed, it's dangerous and kind of stupid as it stands. Some of the rules make no sense at all and end up doing more harm than good.

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Both me and my son got Bell Solar helmets and we also wear gloves.

Said that most of the children helmets available at your average shop are rather pointless.

But agree more people should wear helmets, I have seen an increase in helmet usage for kids after the recent legal changes.

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Before you guys believe all the road rules you read here, you should know that the rules differ from prefecture to prefecture. For example, in my prefecture it's OK to ride with earphones on but it's not OK in Tokyo.

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I ride my pumped up old lady bike with an extra pipe in the seat shaft to give me height. I go down one way streets. I maneuver between cars, because for some reason, dirt bags like to pull all the way over to the left curb to make a right hand turn and visa versa, so I pass on the driver's side. I go through red lights, I skim my head on railroad crossing bamboo (fake) pipes. I ride faster than any cop on a bike, faster than an ambulance (so I take my own bike to the hospital when having an asthma attack), drink beer and text message all at the same time. Only have had to accidents in 26 years. Stupid hit and run on crappy driver knocked me down and KO on a red light of his...I was in the right, and a guy talking on his cell phone in a van, proceeded to veer right and pounded me in the back with his mirror. Broke the mirror. Good luck and wear a helmet.

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two accidents

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@tmarie - I agree with you it shouldnt always be the cyclists fault, the same way I dont think it is fair that it is ALWAYS the cars fault either. Case in point my friend whose car was hit by a kid on a bike while he was stationary - the kids brakes weren`t working. The police tried to arrest him!

But sorry - I do think if there is a risk of someone jumping out from a doorway - go slow. Or stopping suddenly to use their keitai in front of you - dont be so close to them. If the pavement is crowded with people/kids/dogs - dont ride at all.

And in the particular cases I gave outside the daycare - there is a huge socking great sign saying "daycare. Cyclists please take care and watch your speed" - and yet both times it wasn`t the kids runnning around - the cyclists were way too fast and out of control. And they knew it - hence speeding off (although we caught one of them). The one kid that broke his leg was during a walk - the kids were lined up holding on to a rope with handles and the cyclist was just out of control coming round the corner and ploughed into them.

I completely agree with you that in some cases it is not the cyclists/drivers fault. But generally here I see a shocking lack of thought and attention by both cyclists and drivers. I am a cyclist, and a driver, and a pedestrian - and I have been bashed by a bike before! Touch wood I have never hit anyone with my bike, but I can see how easily it could happen.

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One time I was driving up the hill on a small street, I saw a bicycle coming down the hill (full speed!! 2 high school boys on a bike), since it was a small street, I couldn't do anything other than just to stop. As I expected, the boys did not slow down nor stop, and hit my side mirror "BANG!!". There was barely enough space between my car and the side wall on the street, yet the boys did not think to stop (rolling my eyes).

The boys stopped (surprise! I was almost certain that they would ride away!!) and looked at me (very angry).. One of the boys said "daijobu desuka?"... I said NO!! I was so close to get their names and phone numbers but I didn't.. maybe I should have, but I gave them a good yell and let them go. Geez, that was scary to see the full speed of bicycle coming straight to my car while I was inside.

Also, there are way too many people who cross the street at night without thinking that drivers might not see them!! Aren't they scared? Do they think drivers/cars always stop? Sometimes I honestly CANNOT see them when it's dark and it scares me as hell.

And my advice to people here..even when there's a stop sign, do not expect those bikers to stop because often enough they do not stop. I often stop at the corners that I am not supposed to stop just because I am afraid bikers could come out with full speed without even looking and EVEN IF it isn't my fault in case I hit them, the trauma would haunt me for the rest of my life, so all I can do is to be extra careful and not expect others (mostly bikers) to be careful.

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I have often been given this reason for the lack of car/bike/pedestrian commonsense in Japan (by Japanese of course) when I tell them that back home children are taught not to walk or ride behind cars that may or are backing up here is what they say: "in your country most people drive but here most older people don't and don't actually know the dangers a car poses"

Now this is the biggest BS I have ever heard because all 4 of my grand parents could not drive a car and 3 out of them couldn't even ride a bicycle, my father never owned a car or a bicycle until I was 5 ( we learned to ride a bicycle together) But since I was old enough to walk I was taught about the dangers of car by all of them!

My philosophy is you need a license to drive a car, sell alcohol, have a restaurant, hell you even need a license to collect garbage or own a recycle business, But any idiot car have kids and ride a bicycle!

I put having kids in here because many of the bad habits of cyclist here are due to bad parenting!

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tmarie, actually cyclists have no right to ring their bell on the sidewalk. They can only ride on the sidewalk if the road is full of cars parked along the side and there is no way a cyclist could ride there safely.

This is exactly the problem - no one knows the rules. Can you find me a link that states I should a) not ring my bell while on the sidewalk and b) only ride on the sidewalk when there are too many cars and c) define what "road is full of cars" means?

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I second that-does anyone have a link to the real information? I knew about the bell thing through hearsay, but I didn`t know anything else!

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I ride about 1200km a month here in Japan (the astute will see the relevance of my username)

If you ride properly in Japan, and at the same speed as cars (through the cities), you will have no problems.

By properly, I mean, not down the side of the road, but in the middle, going the right way, at the same speed as the traffic, wearing super bright clothes, giving the correct hand signals, and demanding the right of way, while at the same time assuming a defensive stance (don't bolt across an amber-light crossing; you will eventually get hammered).

Also, feel free to spit at / shout at / slap anybody riding the wrong way up the road; they are putting you at serious risk - having to swerve out to avoid someone riding the wrong way, could get your rear wheel hit by a truck attempting an overtake, and that will be game over.

Take care out there, but know that if you ride properly and like a bad-man, you will be OK.

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Bicyclists here are annoying. I got hit two months ago from an idiot 20 year old japanese girl. Her handle bars gotten tangled with my nylon briefcase. My briefcase broken in half. I yelled at her because she was going to fast. She almost killed herself because her bicycle almost flipped over. The sidewalk was so narrow I really don't know what she was thinking ?

I always drive on the left hand side of the road just like the automobile traffic does. But Japanese people don't know this.

In the country like saitama tochigi and other boondocks locations. Stupid high school ( Happy boys and girl ) kids ride in formation of 3 or 4.

Taxi drivers scary me !!! They totally disregard all traffic rules.

The most dangerous area for me is the elevated crosswalks with a long incline. I seen riders gain speed and almost mame themselves going down the elevated crosswalk hill.

Alot of bicyclist taxi drivers idiot drivers are wreckless. Im a big guy so I talk to them in japanese " move over clowns "

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I've been riding bicycles, motorcycles, and driving cars here for 25 years, and by far the most dangerous is bicycle riding: on any given day I have at least a half dozen close calls with inattentive bicyclists who seem to not have the foggiest notion about which side of the road they should be on, what their light is for, what stop signs mean, what a red light means, etc, etc. I could have been on the slab ten times over if not for maintaining the extreme vigilance necessary to stay alive on the road here. Don't go out on the roads today you'll be in for a big surprise. Be afraid, be very afraid.

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I gave up riding bicycles here. Just too scary! Interesting point made by kazan about no mention of helmets. It is 'supposed to be' law that all children under 13y/o have to wear helmets, but I'd see less than 5% of the kids wearing helmets. When this is combines with those mama-chari things and a toddler sitting on the front it is just a recipe for another preventable child death. I have two kids and my neMrs wanted to buy a mama-chari, but I would not let her. I compromised with a single child seat on the back, but there was no way I was gonna let her put one of my kids in the rocket launcher on the front. I might also add, helmets have been compulsory for ALL bicycle riders in Australia for getting on 20 years and, of course, my kids were wearing bicycle helmets long before it became law (a guideline) here.

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Bicycle riding isn't rocket science. It's a vehicle just like a car is and is subject to the same rules as a car (plus some additional ones). You can't speed, can't ignore traffic signs/signals, and you have to ride WITH traffic. That last one is so obvious I can't believe people don't get it. A bike and a car travelling in opposite directions @ 20kph will have a 40kph collision, while it's only a 20kph collision if they're travelling in the same direction.

And while a helmet is only going to protect up to a certain point, your ears will appreciate not getting scraped off if you just take a tumble. Wear a helmet, folks.

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I hear you can be fined 50,000 yen for riding a bicycle whilst holding an open umbrella with one hand, which is actually pretty dangerous, especially if it's windy or you have to stop suddenly.

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That is correct 50.000 for holding an umbrella and 30.000 for holding a ketai(IIRC).

I came up with a good way to solve goverment income and unemployment. Hire unemployed people as semi-cops to fine traffic-offenders and pay them in a percentage of the tickets issued.

In my neighbourhood I could get rich and would need a few ticket-pads per day. :P

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If you can't handle riding bikes in Japan, you need to stop riding.

Simple as.

It ain't that bad, ffs.

Ride any public skatepark in the UK, US, OZ, NZ, CDN etc, and you will be in far more peril.

All about being a decent bike rider, which I guess most of you standard moaning crew are not.

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Solution - don't drive or cycle in Japan. When crossing the roads, make sure cars and bikes stop first regardless of whether the the lights are red or not. If there are no lights at the zebra crossing, definitely wait till they stop because more often than not drivers won't stop (which begs the questions, wtf are crossings for?)

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I don't even ride a bike in Japan. It's dangerous enough being a pedestrian. I haven't been hit yet (knock wood) but I've had a lot of close calls with people staring at cell phones and wobbling while carrying umbrellas.

I'm also constantly amazed at how people will ride as fast as they possibly can and then suddenly brake really hard as they approach people ... who have been walking consistently at the same pace and in the same section of the sidewalk for a good while. I just don't get it. It's not like you couldn't see these people for the last block and a half, but once they're a few meters away it's like they suddenly can see these formerly invisible pedestrians.

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I'm not at DuraAce's level -- I only ride about 650 km per month -- but I agree with the points about riding with traffic and maintaining a good speed. I've found that as long as you're going more than about two-thirds of the speed limit, you can ride in a regular lane and won't be hit by anything.

The problem with the "mamachari" bikes is that it's hard to use them the right way on roads. They're big, slow, and heavy, and are hard to ride at the speed that you need to be at in order to ride with traffic on the roads and not the sidewalks.

I agree with Whiskeysour; the biggest danger on the roads is not cyclists or pedestrians, but taxis. Taxi drivers seem to think that a red light means not "stop" but rather "you have three more seconds to get through" and that lane markers indicate where everyone other than a taxi has to align themselves. I know they're professional drivers and presumably have good insurance in case they hit someone, but the close shaves I've gotten from them are frightening. They ignore speed limits with abandon, too.

The second biggest danger is of course the imbecile pedestrians whose faces are pointed downward at their phones while they gravitate toward the exact center of whatever thing path they're on, preventing any cyclist (or jogger, for that matter) from overtaking them.

(You know those cell phones that have pedometers in them to track how far you've walked? If they can sense that you're walking, they should also have the ability to turn off the screen and reject input if they sense that the person carrying them is walking!)

The only rule I migth flout is that sometimes, particularly at night when there are no pedestrians around, I'll race through a yellow light to get to the other side rather than line up at the crosswalk and wait for the next green. More than once I've had cars, also lined up waiting for the light, completely fail to notice me as they try to make a left turn coming from behind me and to my right. We're lined up at the same intersection and they somehow don't notice that maybe there's a person at the crosswalk wanting to get across!

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Me, me, me...all about me. Sheesh.

@DuraAce: well said. Bravo.

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what do you expect from a place where people don't LOOK where they're going, ever??? Hey just because you have them usually small it's no reason not to use your EYES @_@

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Sarge & Zenny11

Yes, you can be fined, but when do you ever hear of this happening? On a related note, I personally find the fine for using a keitai whilst driving to be insuffcient deterrent. If you can afford a car, the fine is no great shakes. Needs to be Wa---ay more severe, and crucially, enforced.

Pukey2 - I live in Fukuoka, which is apparently famous for bad drivers. Drivers here don`t stop at crossings unless you are actually crossing, which as you hint at, begs an interesting question about why there are crossings. Near where I was living before, there were 2 crossings within 50 metres of each other, both with the blue triangular signs, and signage painted on the road. I would often watch in bemusement as pedestrians waited until all cars had gone to cross: the drivers would even carry on when it was pouring with rain. When I was taking my driving test earlier this year, I put it to one of the examiners (a cop) that it says in the driving rules book that in that situation, pedestrians have priority. He said it was true... So again, we have this problem of the police simply not enforcing rules, or re-educating drivers.

The driving licence centre is under the remit of the police. Its 5 years since I first came to Fukuoka, and the drivers remain bad; I think its about time I wrote to the chief of the driving centre and urge him to get his house in order, or resign ;-)

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Kyoken - Thanks for all the info. Appreciate it.

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I ride both a race replica and a mid-engined scooter and gave up riding a bicycle during my first year in Japan due to it being the genuinely more dangerous pursuit out of the three.

Bicycle riding is simply too haphazard here. And yet my Japanese colleagues regularly drone 'abunai, abunai' whenever they see my motorbike...before drunkenly wheeling off on their laughable 'mama-charis' without a light, helmet, or brain. Ridiculous really.

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At the end of the day, walking, riding, driving... in Japan in a nightmare. No one pays attention to the people, cars, bikes around them, no one walks on one side of the street (up the right for example) and the large vehicle is fault law is horrible. Add in kids, dogs, earphones, mobiles... Gah!! No wonder the accident rates are high in Japan compared to so many other places.

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No wonder the accident rates are high in Japan compared to so many other places.

Which major country has lower traffic accident rates than Japan? I always hear foreigners complain about the lousy driving in Japan so a few months ago I compared the car accident rates with my home country (America). The rates were lower in Japan. That didn't surprise me at all.

Just today I checked out the bicycle accident rates and in 2008 Japan only had one more bicycle fatality than America. Japan probably has at least 10+ times more regular cyclists than America. I would feel safer riding my bicycle in Japan without a helmet than in America with full body armor.

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I have issues with stats in Japan because they aren't honest - right up there with the police and their conviction rate. How many aren't reported and people paid off? How many are reported but never forwarded with stats. I have seen a heck of a lot more accidents - car, bikes, bicycles... in Japan than in other countries I have lived in. The stats may not agreeing with this but I can only go on what I personally have seen.

I always wonder how many cyclist deaths could have been prevented in Japan if people were a little more educated about helmets. That also goes for car seats for children and seat belts for adults.

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Good point about gaijin complaining about the lousy driving (cars, bicycles, whatever) in Japan. How many times do you hear them say something like "I'm surprised there aren't more accidents". Well, if they had their two brain cells functioning, they'd realize that millions of cars/bicycles drivers/riders all across Japan cannot be lucky 24 hours a day, 365 days in a year.

The explantion is simple. When you reside in a place that you despise, everything little negative thing they witness gets inflated 100 times worse than it really is.

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According the law of the road light vehicles turning right should do the following: at green signal be on left and cross, then wait for the other direction to become green and cross again keeping on the left.

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@ poppler - check above

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Update; I just smashed it 25km home from work, on my CAAD9. Not a single incedent.

Reason; I kept up with traffic, I assertively forced my position on the road, without being erratic, accelerated faster than (most) cars can until I was up to speed (45kmph in fairly fast moving traffic), turned round and nodded to the car behind me when pulling up at lights, and generally rode my bike as if it was a motorcycle.

Not a single problem.

The issue people have with bicycles in Japan, aside from the occasional turning right issue, is that they are riding cheap heaps of junk that have a top speed of about15kmph.

If people got proper bikes, and used them properly, as a self powered motorcycle alternative, instead of riding up the wrong side of the road, and putting in no effort, things would be a lot different.

If I was a car driver here, I too would be annoyed with the mama-chari brigade. I would also be in awe of the road bike riders who obey the rules, acknowledge my car, don't slow me down, and don't get in my f-ing way.

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I am with Durace.

Only average 800km/month though and doing 45km/h on a mountain-bike... But I also flow with the traffic when needed.

And before people chime in mountain bike = no good for kiddies, etc. I had my son on the back daily taking him to creche(old bike).

And nothing can be worse than the weaving mama-chari, do they carry a child or a raggedy ann doll in the back? Seen pumpkin patch dolls that got chauffeured better.

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Cyclists are above the law here. They drive their vehicles anywhere, left side, right side, never signal, drive without lights at night, sneak up on pedestrians, ignoring traffic lights and any other rule. It is out of the hands of the authorities, they just ignore the problem.

While we can occasionally see teams of traffic police engaging in a favorite activity: snaring speeding motorists, which brings in heavy fines, I have NEVER in all these 40 years in Japan seen a squad or even a single police officer enforcing the rules on cyclists.

The number of (fatal) accidents among cyclists is not that high because motorists are wary of them, knowing that the former do the dumbest things and are also aware that in case of an accident the motorist usually gets blamed.

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caffeinebuzz at 11:33 AM JST - 7th July In my mid-sized city I bike everywhere unless the weather is crap. As long as you follow the rules of logic and take care, there should be no reason to be causing anyone irritation just by daring to ride a bike. Personally I think it's great that bikes are in widespread use. If you're going somewhere that would take too much time to walk, why not ride instead of hopping in the car, wasting petrol and a good chance to get some exercise. Going out on a limb, but it might be a contributing factor to the overall healthiness of people here compared to all the fatties back home. Some cyclists are pains for sure, but definitely pale in comparison to taxi drivers, clueless obasans, the Kei truck driving living-dead, and drivers with kids clambering all over the seats.

Caffeine is the voice of reason here in a sea of B.$.

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Zenny11; You are doing 45kmph on a mountain bike on the road?

The laws of physics are telling me that you are speaking rubbish.

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Why bother trying to find out about the laws, if you are just going to ignore them if they aren't to your liking?

You have a point. But then, Japanese cyclists regularly ignore laws of which they're well aware, the easiest example being the masses of bicycles left in areas clearly marked as no parking.

I rarely use the train these days, as I cycle anywhere within 45mins ride. I'm sure it can't be legal for cyclists to ride on the wrong side of main roads, haring along against the traffic, but I have to avoid several on every journey.

Some sort of safety culture seems to be taking root though. 5 years ago it was extremely rare to see anyone wearing a cycling helmet, but they're getting quite popular now. What still gives me the shivers is seeing a mum and 2 kids on a mamachari hurtling round bends on the wrong side of the road and narrowly avoiding disaster every few metres.

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I'm sure it can't be legal for cyclists to ride on the wrong side of main roads, haring along against the traffic, but I have to avoid several on every journey.

Used to ride a bicycle. I love bicycles. But I had your experience a few times too often and when confronting the 'others' (usually young women) they would counter there was no clear rule. I gave up and go anywhere in my large polluting foreign made sedan. You see where there is no political will (zero progress in half a century) citizens do what they think is best for them. Meaning: governments ignore the problem; citizens ignore the 'rules'.

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I get your point but have you seen how much a bicycle costs in Japan? Jesus, it's $200 for a decent chari. Mountain bike? Over $1000. Street bike, the same. Is it just me or do all quality products run about 5 times higher in price here than they do overseas?

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You are shopping in the wrong places. I can get a 26inch, Double suspension Mountain bike with 18 speed Shimano Revoltech system for under $200.

That is out of the box and in a variety of frame-sizes. Granted don't expecy any fancy names printed on the frame but mine runs smooth. Pic is posted over at the JT forum + info, I started the thread.

Road-bikes and branded mountain-bikes start around 40.000 at same shop.


P.S.: Seiyu has an alumi mama-chari as low as 8.000.

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You are not going to get anything decent for that kind of money, and to say that a bike is expensive in Japan is incredibly vague. Which bike, which model, and how much difference are you talking, in comparison to elsewhere?

If you are smart, you will shop online. Places like wiggle, and chain reaction are mega cheap at the moment, with the exchange rate the way it is. They deliver free of charge too.

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My main means of transportation here is my car and I drive a lot in Yokohama & Tokyo. There might be fewer accidents here than the States like somebody mentioned but that's probably because everybody here is on a constant state of alert. When the weekend drivers come out it's down right scary.

That being said, cyclist are almost never a problem from a driver's perspective. The ones cycling on the main streets really seem to have a sense of the road and how not to get in the way, nothing like gen-charis.

Walking on the sidewalks can be scary though, get them off the sidewalks.

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If you are smart, you will shop online. Places like wiggle, and chain reaction are mega cheap at the moment, with the exchange rate the way it is. They deliver free of charge too.

Tell me more. Do they ship from overseas, or are they domestic?

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Google them. I guess if I put links in here, the mods will remove them.


Chain Reaction Cycles

I prefer Wiggle, as they send the stuff for free if you spend over 50GBP. Wiggle is based in England and ships to Japan no problem.

It's funny, I bought a Shimano Dura Ace rear mech from them a few weeks back, and it was cheaper than buying it in Japan, where it is actually made. So, the process of making it, shipping it to England, then shipping it back was still cheaper than me going down to my local bike shop here and buying it!

Moderator: Back on topic please.

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There are bike laws here? Hadn't noticed! Common sense, defensive anticipation, and enjoying the ride gets me through, and I ride every day and most evenings, both respectable, wobbly mama-shari and zippy road bike for longer forays.

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Japan can definitely be a challenging place for bicyclists. Episode 35 of the "Japanofiles Podcast" deals with the topic of bicycles and accidents.

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im been recently stopped by a police here in japan while riding my bike and when they inspected it the bike is not registered to my name which is impossible coz i bought it myself years back.but during the investigation i suddenly remembered that months ago i went to astore and t then park my bike thr and then when i go back i noticed that the lock of my chari was broken i just thought to myself that some punk kids just trying to mess with my bike but now i realize maybe at that point some one may have switch or stolen my bike coz it was the exact same style of my bike and was park in the same parking space wr i left my bike.now my big problem is next week thr going to invite me again at the police station and interogate me again what im afraid is maybe they will charge me that i stole the bike which i really did not coz i thought that was my bike, and then they will try to put me in jail which is not good, it was very very bad timing coz just 3 months ago ive served already 2 months in jail coz i went in to trouble a streetfight after that they gave me a 3yrs probation and judge said at my hearing that if i do any kind of trouble with the law even little things that i will end up serving at the minumum of 3 yrs in prison thats why when i got out of jail the 1st time i promised that i will not get myself into trouble again thats why i barely go out and hangout out with my friends and just stayed at home with my my wife and 2 daughters got anew job and evrything is working well for my family but now im in with this another mess in my life again what hurts the most i really did not do nothing i really did not stole the bike i really thought that bike was mine ive been using it for years now im very so unlucky my wife and i r really freaking out right now and dont know what to do im facing to go to prison for a minumum of 3yrs for a crime i did not commit all my familys future especially my 2 little kids are at risk so please i really need an advise right now especially from somone who knows the laws here in japan we dont have enough money to ask advise from lawyers here coz its very expensive what do you think i should do???pls help me...

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Sounds like you are in big smelly mess of your own making.

1.) When you buy a bicycle you will be asked to register with the police at a fee of 500Yen and get a yellow sticker attached to it. 2.) There are tons of identical mama-chari out there and theft/lock replacement is common. 3.) Your previous conviction already blacklisted you.

Something don't add up here.

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In addition you are also given a copy of the registration form.

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Road law is not that difficult for Bicycles as they are classed the same as 50cc scooters and need to follow the same rules.

i.e. NO riding on pavements unless indicated, etc.

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I've been stopped by the cops for making a right turn on the right turn signal on my bike. They insisted I should wait for the next light to go straight across the intersection, then wait for the next light after that to turn right.

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it"s me, tnks for the comment i just recently found the registration copy of my bike, but what im really worried about if they invite me again at police station maybe next week im wondering if in that moment thr not gnna let me go and bring me straight to jail

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ZICHI>yes i admit its a im abit stupid but at that time im very eager to go home coz i have plans on that day.my biggest mistake is when i saw the lock of my bike is broken i should have report it to the police right thr and then maybe if i did that i would have known that the bike was not mine and it was just a look a like of my bike.sorry im just a person man but thank you for the advice.

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Bane of the road for cyclists? JHS/HS students on bikes... dear god. They believe they are accident-proof, and necessitate near omnipotence to avoid them at times.

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