Tokyo Cycling Rules Tourists Need To Know
In most major cities around the world bicycles are a major mode of transportation, and Tokyo is a great example of this! I speak from experience, having spent six months living in Japan’s capital city dodging bicyclists. I remember the first time I saw a Tokyo mom balance her school-aged child in a seat on the back of her bike, a toddler in the front seat, and a baby strapped in a carrier on her chest.
Bikes truly rule Tokyo, where owning a car can be costly. Unlike my hometown Orlando, Tokyo is filled with bike commuters who use their bikes to get to work, to the train station, and to run errands.
Japan is a place of law and order, and so there are plenty of rules and regulations when it comes to owning and riding your bike in Japan. When it comes to where you can ride your bike, there are designated bike lanes marked on the sides of streets and sidewalks.
Even though these bike lanes exist, they are not very consistent. So, if you are riding your bike in a bike lane, then you cross the street, you might notice that your lane disappeared. Tokyo is still working on making its streets more bike friendly. If you see a bike lane, use it. If not, make sure to use your bell to warn pedestrians that your coming, lest you want to cause an accident!
Tokyo is serious when it comes to bike parking laws. You will notice that a large amount of bicycle parking is underground. Train stations, schools, business and apartment complexes usually all have their own large bike parking complexes that will astound you if you’re coming from a place without a large biking culture. Both my school and main train station had their own underground bike parking. In some places, there is even a machine that will literally park your bike underground for you (we love you, futuristic Japan).
While there are plenty of places to park your bicycle, there are also plenty of places not to park it. If you do not park in a designated parking zone, then you may be given a ticket or potentially have your bike thrown in bike jail. Yes, bike jail. Well, it is more like a place where your car would get taken if it was towed, but “bike jail” is way more fun to say.
As a Westerner, there are things you need to look out for when it comes to riding your bike around Tokyo. If you look foreign, you are more likely to get stopped by police because, despite the changing attitudes towards foreigners, racism still exists.
Cyclists who get stopped by police must provide their bike registration, and if you get caught without it, you could be arrested for theft. Your registration is your proof of ownership. So, even if you borrow a friend’s bike or buy one used, make sure you change the registration.
There are plenty of other rules related to biking in Tokyo, with some more enforced than others. Using your phone or holding an umbrella while biking could get you in trouble, but both are a common sight. Riding your bike without a headlight at night or giving someone else a ride could get you a serious fine.
Riding your bike drunk could get you jail time (and I am not talking about bike jail!). Bringing your bicycle on the train is a definite no-no in Tokyo. Even though this isn’t a law, no one ever does it, and if you do, you will get some serious looks.