Using a bike in Japan is convenient, but getting one a lot more tedious than it sounds — after you buy it, you need to register it. You may think: “Oh. I’ll just go to the bike store and get a bike. How hard can it be?” But the process is a bit more complicated than that. Of course, it’s not so hard that you’ll be pulling your hair out over it. There are just a couple of steps you have to take. This guide will be going over what you should be doing if you’d like to get a bike for yourself.

In general, when getting a bicycle in Japan, you will have to register your bike in a process known as 自転車 防犯登録 (jitensha bouhan touroku). Depending on how you got the bicycle, the way you go about registering it is going to be a little different. There are 2 different ways you could get a bicycle: 

  1. Purchase it new
  2. Purchase it used

Buying a New Bike in Japan

If you were to purchase a bicycle new from a store, the process is much more simple. You will simply need to bring along an extra 500 JPY as well as any valid ID. Upon purchase, you will have to fill out a form with your general information (address, phone number, registration number of bicycle). They will then pass on the information to the police and give you a registration sticker for your bicycle. This is the most straightforward process and the least amount of trouble.

You’ll have to put the registration sticker on your bike. If you buy the bicycle new online, you will need to fill out the form yourself, then bring the form and the receipt to the police who will register the bike.

Getting a Used Bike in Japan

You might opt to purchase a secondhand bike in Japan instead because it’s cheaper. Sometimes, a few bike owners will even give them for free to get rid of the bike.

When having purchased a bicycle that was previously owned, the process is similar, just with some extra steps. Since it’s technically registered with the previous owner’s name, you will need to switch ownership. Again, you’ll need to fill out the registration form, then take that to the police to register your bicycle. You will also need another form, one that you and the previous owner will have to fill out to confirm a transfer of ownership. 

Here is a list of what you need to bring:

  • Bicycle to register
  • Government ID (residents card)
  • 500 yen
  • Previous owner’s registration form or filled out transfer certificate form

You can get both forms from here. Just note that the website is entirely in Japanese.

Why Do I Have to Register My Bike in Japan?

Now that you know all the steps, you may be wondering why all of this is necessary. Remember, everything just listed is compulsory. You have to follow the steps outlined, as the police may confiscate your bicycle if they find no registration sticker on it. 

The reason the process is like this is to reduce bicycle theft. While Japan is famous for its low crime, an exception to the rule is bicycle theft. Thousands of bicycles get stolen every year, which has prompted these rules to take effect. While it is still a somewhat rare occurrence, it’s common enough that you should get a bike lock, and park your bike in a bike parking lot.

The Other Option for Getting a Bike in Japan

If you’re just temporarily staying in Japan, yet you still want/need a bike, there’s another option available to you. You could rent one. Rental bicycles in Japan are a cheap and convenient way to get around if you don’t want to walk. What’s best about them is that there are a lot of them, so you can rely on them to get around. They’re usually located at train stations, and also at a lot of tourist locations. Depending on where you stay, your hotel may have rental bicycles on offer. Some even offer them free.

 At max, you’re typically going to be able to rent them for the entire day at about 1,000 JPY, though you could just rent them per hour. Nowadays there are even some rentals that rent out electric bikes! For an increased cost, of course, but the option is nice to have. If you’re looking for a cheap way to get around in some of the smaller towns, this is perfect. 

Bicycle Rules and Laws in Japan

Japan has a lot of bicyclists, so naturally, they have a lot of guidelines and laws to follow. Here are some of the most important ones you should know about. The rest you can find here. A lot of them aren’t very strictly enforced, so you can bend the rules just a bit if needed, but try not to break the law.

Keep Left When Cycling

Always keep to the left when cycling. This includes while on a sidewalk and while on the road. There are sometimes designated bike lanes on the road to follow, but if not then keep left. Generally, you want to stay on the left lane because it follows the direction of traffic.

While this is an official rule (based on the Road Traffic Law), you may still see people who ride their bikes in the opposite direction. Still, a lot of cyclists tend to get into a road accident because of this, so it’s just better to keep left and avoid injuring yourself.

Don’t Park Your Bike Illegally

Common sense. Don’t just leave your bike anywhere, because it can get impounded. This wastes a lot of your time and money to retrieve it, so just find a parking lot and you’ll be fine.

Don’t Ride Without a Light

Usually, bikes in Japan come with their own night light. Some of them might be powered with battery and will turn on automatically when it gets dark. Regardless, make sure that your bike’s front lights are on when you ride them at night. If it’s broken or doesn’t come with the bike, get them immediately. Make sure they work properly. You should also have a reflector in the back and a bell. While some other laws are pretty lax, this is one that is regularly enforced.

You can get stopped at night by police if they see you without a front light. The bell is not as important, but it’s good to have one.

Don’t Drink and Ride

Don’t drink and drive and don’t drink and ride. Simple as that. This is a law that is heavily enforced. If discovered drinking and riding, you may get a fine of up to 1 million yen or imprisonment for up to 5 years. It’s not worth the risk. Just call a taxi or walk home with your bike.

Of course, this isn’t just limited to alcohol consumption. Don’t drink and eat and ride because it’s dangerous. Holding something while you’re steering the bike may cause you to loose balance.

No Headphones While Riding a Bike in Japan

Dn’t use any electronics while riding, such as listening to music with your headphones or playing with your phone. The general rule of thumb is to keep both hands on your bike.

Don’t Hold an Umbrella

When it rains, a lot of cyclists are tempted to dash through the downpour while holding an umbrella to prevent getting themselves wet, but this is dangerous, especially when it gets windy. Riding with one hand — while the other is holding an umbrella — when the weather gets bad can easily mess up with your balance.

Don’t Double Ride or Ride Side by Side

When you’re with your friends, you might be tempted to ride side-by-side with them to talk. Pro tip: don’t. This takes up space on the road and may block cars or pedestrians. Avoid being a public nuisance and ride in a neat line.

The same goes for hitching someone. Say you were riding a bike and met your friend who was walking. While offering a ride on a motorcycle or car is legal, bicycles are different. It’s not designed to accommodate two or three people (with the exception of mamachari, a bike used by Japanese moms with one or two child seats).

Specific Bike Signs in Japan

There are certain bicycle-specific signs you should know. Unless stated otherwise, you should not be cycling on sidewalks, especially not on busy ones. You will know if you can ride your bike on one if they have this sign

If there is no bicycle on the sign, then that pathway is pedestrians only. If you’re on a bike while entering one of these pathways, dismount it and walk alongside it.

In most cases, you should not ride your bike in an under or overpass or on the freeway. You will know if you cannot ride as it will be indicated by this sign

This just means bicycles are forbidden from entering this area.

While not bike-specific, this is one that you must adhere to on a bike just as you would a car.

This is Japan’s stop sign, 止まれ (tomare) meaning stop. Treat this just as you would if you were driving a car.

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