Happiness is an empty pavement


Bikes, bicycles, "pedal-powered chariots of emancipation" or however you choose to describe them are, for folks living in Japan, a stable fixture on roads, paths and pretty much anywhere you can imagine.

On a trip to Osaka, I once saw a man cycling through Namba Station, somehow navigating his way through a sea of people, coming out unscathed, unrepentant and genuinely unaware that he had done anything wrong.

Bike laws in Japan are there, however their enforcement is pretty lax in comparison with other countries; a recent stint in Australia exposed me to how nefarious bike laws can be. If you don’t wear a helmet and are caught by the police, you’ll face a fine of $60. Go through a red light and again you face the reality of receiving an infringement notice. Play around with the law too much and you risk criminal proceedings.

The forum is abound with arguments from both sides, advocates who are in favor tightening helmet rules and antagonists, who argue "if you’re hit by a car, whether you wear a helmet or not, it’s a zero-sum game." A molded plastic head-guard isn’t going to do much landing smack bang on asphalt. Personally I champion the use of a helmet, because some protection is better than none at all, even if it is just a placebo, I feel more comfortable wearing a helmet.

In Japan, if you’re streetwise and play it cool, you can avoid any trouble, even though you blatantly break the laws that are there (and they are actually pretty hefty). The biggest offenders are:

-- Those who belligerently cycle on the path. Officially, the rules go; children under 12 are able to do this. However, unless children of Japan look older than their years, I mean A LOT older, then this rule is what hardwood flooring is to an Irish Jig.

-- Next is the use of an umbrella or a mobile phone while riding a bike. This little infringement is supposed to cost you up to a 50,000 yen fine, but again it’s more uncommon to see a cyclist NOT holding an umbrella aloft when it’s raining.

There are plenty of other cycling faux pas that are outside of the auspices of the law which are a daily occurrence in Japan; cycling down the wrong side of the road, going through red lights, unrelenting cyclists who ring their bells at hapless and unsuspecting pedestrians like it was going out of fashion and the "chicken showdown" between cyclist and pedestrian on the pavement -- who will move first?

Relationships between the police and cyclists extend to merely checking whether the bike belongs to the rider, rather than penalizing for any infringement of the law. Until rules, which have been set out in law, are enforced, cyclists will happily cycle on their merry way, regardless of who stands in their path.

My time in Japan hasn’t been fruitful in building my relationship up with this hallowed chariot. I am forever checking my left and right before making any sort of adjustment in walking on the pavement. I peer suspiciously around corners in preparation for a ruthless cyclist who pugnaciously takes the corner without care nor thought of who might be approaching on the other side. Even when I visit my native UK, these traits are so ingrained in me now that I must look like I am in sheer terror to other pedestrians whenever I take a jaunt out of the house.

© Japan Today

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it’s more uncommon to see a cyclist NOT holding an umbrella aloft when it’s raining.

Nice one. This made my brain hurt with stretching, but I got there in the end.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Bicycle riders in Japan are darn right "scary"... not only to pedestrians but also to car drivers... I sometimes wonder if they're all colour-blind as they zip through red lights ? As for those "tinkling" their bells to get pedestrians out of their way, I often wish I had a big stick with me... (I know all bicycle riders are now going to thumb me down - they did the last time I made the same kind of remark) I wish, however, they would remember that it's the pedestrians' right of way, NOT the cyclists' !

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I hate when someone chooses to ride their bicycle of busy sidewalks and thinks by ringing their bell, the crowd should part for them. I have lost my patience before and yelled out "if you have to ring the bell constantly, you should get off your bike and walk it". However, those people seem to be a special breed that show no shame.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

So all the people who has been to japan must have seen those japanese who runs to the station to catch their trains as if god will strike them if they happen to lose it. But to my understanding some japanese tend to use others bicycle just to reach the station when they are really in a hurry and when they arrive at the station they just leave it on a place where there's no people or when no one's watching them as if they don't need it anymore. I believe they are those people who does these kinds of acts and also there are these so called YANKEES who enters a bike stand and take enough of the bicycles just to reach their destination. And also it really bothers me when a policemen asks me if the bicycle i am riding is really mine, don't need to mention why (because i am a gaikokujin). Especially in tokyo it was like a part of my routine just to encounter a policemen and explain him that the bicycle i am riding is really mine. Some things that they really need to cinsider.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Fighting viking and Sakurala: It's against the law to ring your bell (or honk your car horn) unless it is an emergency and your being in a cyclist's way is not an emergency. I suggest that you simply keep walking and ignore the bell. That's what I do and I don't care who it angers. I walk to one side, not down the middle, and if that's not good enough for the cyclists who shouldn't be on the pavement in the first place, then they can just piss off.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Go through a red light and again you face the reality of receiving an infringement notice. Play around with the law too much and you risk criminal proceedings.

Good and good. Cyclists should not be exempt, and I speak as a cyclist.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

this rule is what hardwood flooring is to an Irish Jig

Are you saying Irish jig floors are unenforced??

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Seems the author is the only one who looks left and right before venturing onto the pavement. Yes, some cyclists are a nuisance, but there is a far greater menace on the sidewalks: meandering legions of old bags with surgical masks and garden hats, toting parasols and paper department store shopping bags, who wander both aimlessly and relentlessly, simultaneously getting in everyone's way and barreling through everything in their path.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

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