Cycling rules in Japan is so different from the rest of the world. This is mainly because you are supposed to ride on the left side.
The Japanese road traffic laws follow the British laws and therefore the traffic laws in UK and Japan are very similar. If you know the British Road Traffic Law, it shouldn’t be difficult to keep the Japanese traffic laws.
If you don’t, learn the cycling rules in Japan and follow the local rules to avoid any unwanted troubles.
Ride on the left side of the road
You might or might not know, but like in UK, you are supposed to ride (and drive) to the left side of the road in Japan. The steering wheel of Japanese cars are attached to the right seat and not to the left because of this. It might be confusing at the beginning, but don’t ever ride or drive to the right side of the road.
Even some Japanese don’t know this, but bicycles should follow the same rules as cards. Never, ever ride a bicycle on the right side of the road. I have encountered so many riders who rode on the right and they almost crashed against me. Imagine how dangerous it could be especially when it’s dark… And those riders don’t even turn on the light at night!
Don’t ride on the sidewalk, always ride on the street
In Japan, bicycles are supposed to always travel on the street and not on the sidewalk. Sidewalks are only for pedestrians, and any vehicles including bicycles are supposed to travel on the street regardless of the type of the bicycle. If you have to go to the sidewalk for some reason, dismount from your bike and push it.
You will see many bicycles traveling on the sidewalk, but don’t follow what they do because that’s not allowed. You should ride on the street.
Keep enough distance from pedestrians
Nobody really follows this rule and some bike riders hit against people (I got hit multiple times too), but it is prohibited to ride a bike near pedestrians. If you have to ride on the sidewalk for some reason, keep enough distance from pedestrians.
Even though nobody follows this rule and the police don’t crack down on any riders, there is a fine for traveling within two feet or so from pedestrians.
Your bicycle has to have a bell and a light
It’s mandatory to attach a light and a bell to your bike in Japan. Check that the light and the bell on your bike works fine before you set off for your journey.
However, even though having a bell is a must, don’t ring it too often because bicycle rings should only be used in emergency. So many riders in Japan unfortunately ring the bell when they want pedestrians to give way, but riders are prohibited to ring the bell by law unless it’s really necessary. Besides, bikes are always faster than pedestrians and it’s dangerous if you rush in towards pedestrians while violently ringing the bell.
I have a bike too, but I only ring the bell on it when it’s really dangerous, like when a pedestrian pops out or another rider traveling the wrong direction almost crashes against me.
One-handed ride is prohibited
There are so many people that ride a bike with one hand, but it’s not allowed in Japan. When it’s raining, don’t use an umbrella and wear a raincoat instead. It’s a lot safer anyway.
Maximum speed allowed is 30kph (19mph) at all times
In Japan, the maximum speed allowed for bicycles is always 30kph (around 19mph). For those who have no idea how fast or slow it is, the average speed of utility bikes is around 15-20kph (9-13mph), hybrid bikes around 20-25kph (13-16mph), and road bikes around 25-30kph (16-19mph).
Unless you are a serious biker and rent a road bike, you don’t need to worry about surpassing the maximum speed.
Drunk ride is prohibited
This is another self explanatory rule, but you must not ride when drunk. Not even a glass of beer. The definition of being drunk depends on the blood alcohol level, and in the US usually a few drinks are fine, but in Japan just a glass of beer will likely get your blood alcohol level above the limit.
The Japanese police hardly crack down on drunk bike riders (they only crack down on drunk car drivers), but drunk ride can be as dangerous as drunk drive. Imagine the impact a moving bike could cause on a pedestrian. It could be hundreds or even thousands of pounds.
Turn on the light when dark
This is self explanatory, but bicycle riders are obliged to turn on the light when riding in dark. For this, the police DO crack down on violators. I don’t know why they only crack down on certain violations and not others, but I suspect it’s because of the incentive fee. If you don’t want to pay the fine when during an enjoyable trip in Japan, make sure to turn on the light at night.
If you rent a bike, make sure to check if the light is not broken before setting off. Bicycle owners are obliged to keep the light functional at all times and violating this will gets you a fine.
Don’t listen to music while riding
As well as you must not ride when drunk, you must not listen to music while riding, and as soon as the police finds your ears plugged with earphones, they will stop you. This is because you can easily run into a street and get hit by a car or hit pedestrians if you can’t hear, so don’t put on earphones or headphones while riding a bike.
If you wear a hearing aid, try to explain to the police that it’s not earphones and you need it. Unfortunately, many cops mix up hearing aids with earphones and tell you to pull them out.
Some rules might be different from where you are from, but most rules are quite reasonable I think. Unfortunately, many Japanese don’t follow the rules nor the police properly crack down on violating riders, but keeping the rules will keep yourself safe. And safe rides will make your trip in Japan even more memorable and brilliant.
Learn more about Japanese etiquette:
- Driving rules in Japan
- Bicycle rules in Japan
- Unwritten Japanese private lodging rules and etiquette
- Japanese table etiquette
- Western don’ts that are widely accepted in Japan