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Bicycling in Japan

Japan With Kids - Forums: Traveling to/from and in Japan: Bicycling in Japan
By Debbie on Tuesday, August 3, 1999 - 3:00 pm:

Okay--this may be silly but I have just gotten a bike and wondered if anyone knew the "rules of the road" for riding a bike in Japan. Are the hand signals the same? What side of the road shall I ride on? I am afraid I will get my son and I killed by colliding with someone or something. Thanks.

By Emi on Monday, November 8, 1999 - 6:04 pm:

Well, it's is probably safer to just think that there are no rules of the road for bikers. They are pretty much treated the same as pedestrians. Be really careful at every intersection - other bicycles will not stop for red lights! I found this out the hard way by colliding with someone who "ran" the red light.

I find that most bicyclists (and walkers for that matter) in Japan tend to move to the left. So try to shy to the left when faced with oncoming people. Go slowly, no sudden changes in direction - others will pass you on both sides at very close range! Oh, and watch the bicyclists that are window-shopping VERY carefully. They will stop or turn very quickly with no warning at all!

When I did have that collision, I had my 2 year old son on the back of the bike and his head hit the pavement twice. Needed to go to the emergency room and have head x-rays. We are so lucky that he is fine. I had to watch him closely for 3 days to make sure there wasn't internal bleeding... Nothing like that to make you run right out and buy a helmet! I feel terrible for not using one the the first place. I'm American and have been told all my life to wear a helmet (something I never did despite the advice). The doctor that checked my son out said that the back of a bicycle is no place for a baby. I agree that it is very dangerous, but what choice do I have? The hoikuen (preschool/daycare) my son goes to is 1 mile from our house!

I'm sorry this message sounds so negative and frightening. I'd just like you to know my experience so it can prevent you from having the same one. We love the bike. My son loves to ride on it and we can go to many more places together in our area. It is wonderful and I wish I had gotten my bike right after moving here instead of waiting for 5 years!

We bought our helmet at Toys R Us. Anyone know other places to buy helmets? I was also thinking of changing the child's bike seat I have. The one I am using is on the back of the bike and can convert to a basket easily. But it is only as high as my son's waist. I was thinking a US style one with a high back and roll bar might be safer. Anyone seen this kind for sale in Tokyo?

By Masa on Friday, November 19, 1999 - 7:56 am:

NHK news on TV - 18 November 1999

Accidents by bicycle on walking zone are increasing. Number of walkers killed by bicycle is rapidly increasing, especially shopping area

By hqm on Thursday, February 3, 2000 - 10:44 pm:

I just bought what looks like a better than average bike seat made by a company called "Rhode Gear", called the "Rhode Taxi".
picture here.

I got it at the "Big Oak" Nature Store which is near the Tamagawa Takashimaya dept store (across the street in the building with the parking lot, behind the dept. store).

The price was 14000 yen vs about $100 in the US.

But it looks good because it is very high and goes above the head height, and has a three point harness and padded bar.

By Peggy Wills on Tuesday, March 14, 2000 - 9:07 pm:

The Daiei Store in Himonya also carries the road gear child's seat as well as helmuts. I bought that child seat 4 years ago and it has worked out great. Because of the high back it's especially good for times when the little ones are sleepy.

By Cornelia on Thursday, March 16, 2000 - 6:34 am:

There is a feature article in the Japan With Kids archives on this subject (for further reading if you are so inclined! :-)

By Cornelia on Friday, March 31, 2000 - 6:36 am:

Traffic Accident Mutual Aid Scheme (Kotsu Saigai Kyosai Seido)
This insurance scheme is not a replacement for driver's insurance.
Foreigners who have completed alien registration may enroll in the Traffic Accident Mutual Aid Scheme operated by most wards and cities. The scheme may vary slightly from city to city but here is an example of the benefits:

"Musashino City, Tokyo:
1,200,000 yen paid for a death and a variable amount of at least 10,000 yen for injuries resulting from a traffic accident in Japan. This insurance also covers you if you are hit while walking or riding a bicycle. Also, if an insured person dies from a traffic accident their children will receive an annual sum of 60,000 yen each, until they complete junior high school. The premium for one year is 500 yen for adults and 400 yen children below junior high school age."

By Jeffrey David on Wednesday, May 10, 2000 - 6:09 am:

For additional safety and respect of Japanese vehicle operators a good place to start is with a red flashing light attached to the seat post or back of the bicycle. Japanese drivers are held at higher percentage of fault if they hit a bike with lights. (I can't substantiate this with a law but I have seen it happen more than once.)

As far as competition with pedestrians, if you don't want to hit a Ped, then get off of the sidewalk. Bikes have no business on the sidewalk. When crossing streets, use the crosswalks only if walking your bike, otherwise, get on the extreme left and act like a car. I have logged almost 15,000km per year for the last 6 years, both here and in Central America. Oh yea, and always, always, wear a helmet.

By AnLee Cox on Tuesday, May 30, 2000 - 3:11 pm:

Anyone have any suggestions on how to carry 2 children on a bike? Is a bike trailer (trailer is like a jogger-stroller that's towed) too bulky for Tokyo streets?

By shancock on Tuesday, May 30, 2000 - 11:39 pm:

I would say a bike trailer would be more hassle than convenience in Tokyo. Not only navigating the usually narrow sidewalks, but often there are no sidewalks at all. You are competing for space with careless taxis going too fast.

It is common to see Japanese moms with a kid front & back, but it seems dangerous to me. I doubt very much if that meets U.S. saftey standards.


By Cornelia on Wednesday, May 31, 2000 - 5:38 pm:

I kind of use the Japanese system of one kid in front and one in back. I don't have two kids, but I got the seat in the back installed when my daughter started complaining that I didn't have one (comparing our bike to those of the other daycare moms). The extra seat actually doubles as an extra basket. Since I go very slowly, I use the sidewalks when travelling with kid.

But when I am alone I take more risks and head onto the street. It's so much easier and faster. I also make regular trips to the bike shop for air, break inspections, and quick once overs with the lube can. (The bike shop at Shin-Otsuka station on the Marunouchi line is run by two brothers that don't look at all alike. One of them is very friendly and speaks English. He used to do some back-packing around the world. 03-3941-3578)

By Craig Roberts on Thursday, June 1, 2000 - 10:03 am:

I had an English class with some police a while back. Bicycles are expected to obey the same rules that cars do. They are supposed to always ride on the left, go the right way on one way streets, etc... The hand signals are the same, but in mirror image (ie made with the right hand instead of the left. It is against the law in Japan to ride a bicycle with an umbrella, regardless of if you are holding it or it is attached.
Also, I would really like to see people stop riding their bicycles through covered shopping streets that are supposed to only be for pedestrians. There are no specific laws in most areas, but it is dangerous, especially to small children.
I usually ride in the street, and I have avoided many accidents by obeying the rule of thumb: if I don't make eye contact with a driver or a person or another bicyclist, I am very careful and often stop rather than crossing paths, merging, entering an intersection, etc... I did get hit once by a guy in a delivery van who I made eye contact with. I think he couldn't see that well and didn't realize how fast I was going, but in general, if you and the other person communicate with eye contact, it is really difficult to hit each other unless one of you is already going too fast or running a red light, etc...

Craig Roberts

By Craig Roberts on Thursday, June 1, 2000 - 10:09 am:

I also want to second Jeffery's message about lights. There is really no excuse for not having a light in the front and the back, and having things like a backpack and shoes with reflectors on them are not only helpful for drivers, they are really cheap life insurance. I can't tell you how many times I have seen people nearly hit by busses on dark roads because all they had was that small red reflector on the back. That is not enough. A flashing red light is the most noticible. Cat Eye sells a good, bright one that you can detatch, and that runs a long time on two AA batteries for less than 5000 yen. I got one in the US for about $25, but they are a little more in Japan, depending on the store. Bike shops are usually cheaper than department stores.

By Ian McGraw on Tuesday, June 20, 2000 - 4:19 pm:

I dont live Tokyo but in Kochi city, Shikoku where I have resided for almost two years. Recently a student of mine was involved in a bicycle accident. She was ofcourse not wearing a helmet and the impact has left her brain dead. Given the number of cyclists in Japan, the chaotic nature of cycle trafic and Japanese concerns with safety, it seems unaceptable there are no helmet laws in act in Japan (or even helmet promotion). At least I am not aware of any. I would like to hear from anyone who knows of any action being taken in any part of Japan to promote bicycle helmet use.
please email

By Gerlinde Plate on Tuesday, July 25, 2000 - 11:09 pm:

I also wanted to cycle with two kids (10 month and 2,5 years) therefore we got a bicycle trailer. As long as the baby canīt sit she is in the car seat in the trailer, while the older one is on my bike (we brought a decent seat with us from Germany). Later they both can sit in the trailer. We manage fine and feel the kids are safer than on the bike. I would not feel safe with two kids on my bike. The only problems I have are the hills. The trailer is a danish one, dolphin, we think it is very good.

By Christina Ahmadjian on Thursday, November 16, 2000 - 2:33 pm:

I just came back from bike safety day at my daughter's elementary school in Tokyo. Lots of talk about the importance of stopping at red lights--but nothing about bike helmets. In fact, people seemed puzzled when I brought up the topic. Are there any groups in Japan promoting helmet use? I'd like to get my daughter's classmates and their families thinking about helmets. Any suggestions on where to start?

By Ke Anlun on Saturday, January 13, 2001 - 7:21 pm:

I bicycle to work most days. Bikes are great for expanding your range in Tokyo without the hassles of driving a car. If you have a bike, go straight to the store and get good flashing lights for both the back (red) and front (yellow). They are cheap and batteries last forever in flashing mode. The high-backed Rhode Gear seats are nice for kids. Tokyu Hands and the Daiei sports shop in Himonya have them. They still make the bike unstable so you have to be very careful. Assume cars will run red lights, other bikes and pedestrians will act unpredictably and you will be prepared for most eventualities.

By Karen on Monday, January 13, 2003 - 6:25 pm:

Does anyone know where I can get a good bike helmet for a toddler for a decent price in Tokyo? Does anyone have one that they'd like to sell?
Thanks, Karen

By Natasha on Tuesday, January 14, 2003 - 10:04 am:

I brought the smallest helmet I could find in the USA back to Japan on one of my quick business trips, and even with foam "adjusters" the darn thing was too big for my daughter until she was about 3 years old. Some kids have tiny heads. You need to take a soft cm measuring tape (sometimes available in sewing section of Y100 shop) or get his head measured at the doctor's next time you go there for a vaccination, and let us know the size!

It also appears that since the consensus in North America seems to be that kids under age 2 do not belong on bikes, maybe therefore small enough helmets are just not produced.

Japanese moms tend to go pretty slowly and carefully on their bikes so maybe that's why they don't think it is as important to have everyone wearing helmets. I wasn't too worried about my "defensive driving" but much more worried about the other "nuts" such as delivery trucks coasting out of side streets across my path, and those mini-motorbikes used for delivering everything from newspapers to lunches. Well, ultimately came August and helmets just were too awful to put on anyway.

By Karen on Wednesday, January 15, 2003 - 12:48 pm:

Good advice Natasha. I just measured his head and it's 52 cm around. Yes, he has a big head!
So, does anyone have an extra toddler helmet they can part with or tell me where I could buy one where it's not a fortune?
Thanks! Karen

By Tina Peterson on Saturday, September 27, 2003 - 1:01 pm:

Oh my gosh! This is so great! I was just searching the web frantically trying to figure out where in the heck in Yokohama Kamiooka is. Got it all figured out after about half hour, then checked my email, tried your site recomendation, and had the route in 2 seconds.

Now the only thing is, how do I figure out how to just bike it? It is 6.7 km away, is going to take me 22 minutes by train, one transfer and 360 yen! I'd rather just bike! But the maps are so incredibly confusing!


Note from Admin: This message was transferred from the conversation at Trains

By Cornelia on Saturday, September 27, 2003 - 4:41 pm:

Biking takes practice, especially if you find maps confusing. Just add on some time for "getting lost" temporarily. I ride my bike in a radius of about 4 k from my house pretty much daily, and also do slightly longer trips (to Akihabara or Takadanobaba) when needed. Over time I've gotten to know the roads (but I've been here for about 11 years now). It just takes some time. Also here in downtown Tokyo there are several high landmarks to use as points of reference.
May you ride in safety !

By Tina Peterson on Saturday, September 27, 2003 - 5:11 pm:

Thanks, Cornelia!

So far I bike from Ishikawacho to Yokohama Station, or the other direction to Isogo. I need to just get out and explore. If I know where I am going I am fine. I need to get an english map of Yokohama in a legible size, or something, I guess. I am glad I don't live in Tokyo, I know I would be way to chicken to bike in most areas there!

PS. I recently had bike trouble in that my 15 year old Schwinn mens road bike lost a pedal. I took it Tokyo Hands, and was extremely delighted with the service they gave me. Being 5'10", replacing it with a Japanese bike wasn't much of an option,and I am a road biker and most Japanese bikes within reasonable cost seem to be Mama Cherries (like Maria's in the sound of music) or road bikes, or weird kid sized things. So if anyone needs bike work, try Tokyo Hands. They are incredible!

By Nancy on Saturday, September 27, 2003 - 10:06 pm:

Hi Tina,
There are a number of avid cyclists living in Yokohama.
You can obtain an English map of the Naka-ku ward in Yokohama from the ward office. I know there is an English map for the Nishi-ku ward, also from the ward office. These are very detailed. The English map of Yokohama that is not as detailed is available from the Tourist office (outside Sakuragicho Stn). As for bike repair, there is an excellent cycle shop on Honmoku Dori near the Yamate Police station called Taniuchi. The owner speaks English and is very honest. Many "tall" foreigners have purchased bikes from him and are very happy.

By Martin Pfohl on Saturday, March 13, 2004 - 6:10 am:

Minnasan konnichwa!
I was wondering if anyone had thier bike shipped over from the states or brought it in flight.
Can the box a new bike comes in be used for shipping? Will it be allowed as luggage on a flight?
Any suggestions and a ballpark on the cost anyone?
Thanks in advance everyone!

By Admin on Sunday, March 14, 2004 - 10:14 am:

The following email was mistakenly sent to the site administrator:
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 2004 17:04:49 EST

It depends on the dimensions and weight of the box. We took as a piece of luggage a box that was filled with a large sized wagon. It cost us an extra $90. You will have to pay the same cost if it is an extra piece of luggage. You should probably call the airline you are going to travel with to see what their policy is.

Katrina C

note from admin: Ditto the comment on asking the airline. The policies on boarding pets varies widely among airlines. Surfboards are acceptable baggage with some airlines to some destinations, etc.

By Admin on Monday, March 15, 2004 - 6:55 am:

Costs of bicycles here in Japan.
You can buy single speed bikes and bikes that fold in half for around and slightly under Y10,000. Multiple speed bikes, racing bikes, mountain bikes, start around Y17,000 and up. Single speed kids' bikes can also vary a lot from about Y8000 to Y17,000.

There's a link to a currency converter on the front page of this web site, left column.

Name brand bikes, bikes that have rechargeable battery powered assistance, can cost Y77,000 and up.

Second hand bikes are available too, sometimes free but usually starting around Y5000.

Bicycle shops are widely available (at least in Tokyo) and usually offer some repairs. (I'm just offering this info as a way to decide whether it is better to bring a bike or purchase one here.)

By Martin Pfohl on Sunday, March 21, 2004 - 4:08 am:

As per my recent question, I contacted Northwest Air and was told that as long as my bike is of standard size and fits in a standard box I can bring it as one of 2 carry on pieces of luggage at no extra cost. Of course, the handles have to be turned aside and one or both pedals removed to fit the box. Anything which may poke out should also be capped or covered. A good place to get a free box is to ask around at anyplace which is selling new bikes perhaps.
Different airlines may have other rules but they are probably very similar.
Well, have a nice day everyone!

By Martin Pfohl on Friday, April 30, 2004 - 5:26 am:

Does anyone know about mountain biking 'etiquette' in Japan? Is is acceptable to ride on haikingu koosu or is there specific trails for bikes?
Are there good places to go riding around Odawara Shi?
Anyone's comments are appreciated very much!

By Steve K on Friday, April 30, 2004 - 11:02 am:

Hi Martin,

There's a lot of information about mountain biking on the Outdoors Japan Web site. But it doesn't have any article on mountain biking etiquette per se. The OJ Community Message Board has some related threads.


By Diane Daly on Thursday, November 4, 2004 - 1:40 am:

Which is a better place to live--Kochi City or Nakamura? I like to use a bicycle for transportation for myself and my 2-year-old.

By Amy Uehara on Thursday, November 4, 2004 - 6:36 am:

Hi, Diane,
Have you ever been to either city? Are you going to be sent there as a family? They are different types of cities.
One has the airport and is larger, equals, convenience- Kochi,
and the the other is a larger town in a rural area.
My husband's family is from the Nakamura area but further down the peninsula.
I highly recommend visiting the area before deciding to move to either place to live. I know that my in-laws drive the 3-4 hours to Kochi for a day of shopping and movies, etc. The roads are better than they used to be. Nakamura has a beautiful river, the Shimantogawa. It seemed pretty flat and I thought the area looked like a good place to raise a horse for rides along the beach.
Basic info can be found here:
I personally like the people of Kochi. There is not much digging to be done to find out what's on their mind, I find.
They get right to the point.
Good luck! I am interested to see how it works out.
I belonged to a group of foreign women in Shikoku. They were pretty isolated but seemed to be close as a result.

By Jonathan Adam Gill on Sunday, March 6, 2005 - 11:59 pm:

I have a Burley solo trailer for my 9 month old I have looked through the laws that I could find on bicycle trailers and have seen ones for cargo for sale in japan but not for carrying passengers. I am pretty sure that carrying a child in one will not be a legal issue. Does anyone know If this is right or have any of you had experience with the police with a trailer? I live in the suburbs of Tokyo and the trailer was a better choice for me compared to a child seat.

By Nancy on Saturday, March 12, 2005 - 10:36 pm:

Jonathan, I stumbled across this photo which may answer your question. dog carrier
Here is the link.

By Jonathan Adam Gill on Sunday, April 3, 2005 - 8:25 pm:

Nancy, Thanks for the photo. Seems pretty self explanitory. :)
But... doesn't the dog have to be on a leash?

By Nancy on Monday, April 4, 2005 - 10:50 am:

Jonathan, where we live, dogs must be on a leash, but I am not sure about the laws elsewhere. It's possible the bicycle driver did leash his dog to stop it from jumping out, and it's just not obvious in the photo. I know I would leash my dogs if I put them in a bike trailer. Otherwise as soon as they saw or got a whiff of something interesting they would be off and running.

By Cornelia on Monday, April 4, 2005 - 11:47 am:

I don't think the leash requirement holds when riding in a private vehicle. J

By Cornelia on Thursday, June 23, 2005 - 7:12 pm:

The quality of life in Tokyo is further declining. I got warning tickets on all of our bicycles today on my new quiet residential Kita-ku street as follows:

"Warning: dated 17.6.23 (2005 June 23)
If you do not remove the bicycle from this place, the bicycle will
be removed by Kita-ku, according to Kita-ku rule about bicycles
(jidensha no hoji boshi jorei 13jo dai 2 kou), on the 1st of July."

I lived 13 years on a major street in Bunkyo-ku without once receiving such a notice outside my home. I only got them once in a while when I parked near the train station. I suppose this is intended to encourage me to buy a car thus switching from ecologically-sound transportation to economy-supporting but health-damaging transportation.

Is there a way to write a letter of protest to the ward office? Maybe get others on my street to sign a petition or something?

By Yuko Kubota on Thursday, June 23, 2005 - 9:04 pm:


I always love your sense of humor, but I think that the authorities are encouraging you to either park properly or to WALK.

Frankly, Tokyo and it's suburbs are not bicycle-friendly. This is due to the unfortunate fact that the roads as well as the sidewalks are so narrow and illegal bicycle parking blocks pedestrians as well as wheelchairs. Maybe not one bike, but if you see one bike, you want to park yours next to it.

So you know you can't really protest to the ward office unless you had parked your bike on a proper bike parking lot. And if Bunkyo-ku had been friendly, they either had more space, or they were just being lazy on the job and were refusing to contribute to pedestrians.

Most locals park at supermarkets and banks and do some shopping or banking on their way home in return. Otherwise, walking is best for your health.

Anyway, you're very lucky because you haven't got your bike stolen five times, or came back from work exausted to find your bike tolled away to a distant and lonely landfill site, like I did.

But of course, you can always write to your ward office requesting more parking space for bicycles (although IMHO, it's a lot easier to park at the market).

By Cornelia on Friday, May 26, 2006 - 11:56 pm:

Well, I'm up to 7 times stolen as of today. The last theft was in early March (yes, just two months ago). That bike was returned after 6 weeks (I love those o-mari sans!) Today someone stole the new one that I had bought to replace the one stolen. I was suddenly inspired to replace the tire valve in the old (returned) one and pump up that tire, so that I wouldn't have to walk to the koban to report the theft. With my luck I won't get this one back, because it is the better one. The one that was stolen while I was away on summer holidays was never found either and it was a good one too.

Just in time anyway, to have one less bike out in front of my house, since they are doing another parking crackdown again, about a month earlier than last year. Same tickets as last year, just two days ago. I'm beginning to see it as an annual ritual.

The reason that there is so much congestion, is that the city planners allow these huge density residential high rises to be built where before there was only a rat's nest of two and three story dwellings...without increasing the sidewalk width or train platform length to accommodate the impact. But on the other hand, the actual traffic on my sidewalk is not that bad. It's much lower than it was where I used to live!

I'd like to see the watermelons and clothing racks get tickets for taking up sidewalk space! Seriously, have you ever noticed how you can't walk down some sidewalks because half the shops' inventories are taking up all that precious pedestrian space?

Walking is of course an option. And I do walk a lot! In fact, that's what keeps my weight down really. But since I do bike probably on average about 20km a day, I actually use the bike as a mode of transportation in lieu of train or bus. The primary reason is of course that the buses and trains don't necessarily go where I want to go, and I haven't got money for taxis. Having one's own wheels is really just another word for "freedom". (Except when it is raining cats and dogs.) And it's so nice to get off that (hobble, hobble) sidewalk and move with the big boys (the cars)!

You know, I think cosmic karma is trying to tell me something. Today's theft happened right outside my house. Maybe I should start locking the door.

By Scott Hancock on Saturday, May 27, 2006 - 7:04 am:

If you are really not locking your door, you are in very surprising denial, yo! I don't know what to make of that comment...!

Although it's been a while since the last one (knock on wood), we have been burgled 3 times in 19 years. Once was while we were home sleeping at night, and that place was within sight of a koban 100m away.

Let me take the occasion of your ironic (?) closing to let everyone know the time of leaving one's door unlocked is long gone. One of the more benign habits is to just pop into the genkan to snatch purses left there.

I learned at my bike shop that the reason for the popularity of the fold-up bikes is your kind of bad luck. They are easier to bring inside one's home. Maybe this is obvious to everyone else.

By Cornelia on Monday, May 29, 2006 - 7:54 am:

YES, I did not lock my bike. I needed to run into the house for a visit to the toilet, and on my way out to lock it up got sidetracked by mothering duties, forgot all about it. Am annoyed at myself for that. By the way, in my case, 7 times stolen (bike) is over a period of 13.5 years, and also that I often neglect to lock up the bike when I am in a big hurry. Locking the bike is really important. I've also had my bike carted off for illegal parking twice (over 13.5 years and with the lock on), but retrieved it both times. Recently the retrieval fine went up from Y3000 to Y5000, so my incentive to retrieve a "towed" bike is reduced somewhat since I generally get my bikes for about Y5000 to Y6000 second hand, sometimes less.

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