Road Traffic Law

The Law

  • Bicycles, as do all other road vehicles, travel on the left-hand side of a carriageway [or road] (Shadou, 車道) in Japan.
  • It is not allowed to ride bicycles on the sidewalk [or footpath] (Hodou, 歩道). But some sidewalks are assigned by the National Police Agency to also allow bicycles. A sign will indicate cyclists can mix with pedestrians.
  • If there is the sign on the right, you can ride on both sidewalk and carriage way. (*1)
  • On shared sidewalks, do not harass pedestrians. Do not ring your bell with impatience. Always give way to pedestrians.(*2)
  • Bicycles must be equipped with a light in front, a reflector in rear, and a bell. (*3)
  • All bicycles must be registered with the prefectural police department. This registration is required to make it easier to find stolen bicycles. It is not a tax or insurance. (*4)
  • Insurance is not compulsory. You do not necessarily need to take out insurance to ride a bike. Also a helmet is optional.
  • Tandem bikes are not legal except in Nagano prefecture. (*5)
  • This sign means "DO NOT ENTER by bicycle".In most cases, it is seen at an underpass, an overpass, or freeway.
  • This sigh is a stop sign. Be sure to stop short of that sign and look right and left. If there is no traffic you can proceed.

The Law in Reality

  • *1 Many cyclists ride on sidewalks regardless of it being so assigned or not. The police will overlook cyclists on sidewalks. That law is really dysfunctional.
  • *2 It is difficult to say that sidewalks are safer than the carriage way (or road). Look out for commuter cyclists who have a notorious reputation for their reckless behaviour. And never hit pedestrians. The highest claimable amount in the past ran into tens of millions yen.
  • *3 The police do enforce having a front light. Personally I do not worry about a bell and have never been stopped by police for not having one.
  • *4 Registering a bicycle is also a dysfunctional rule. First, there is no penalty if you do not register your bicycle. Foreigners on a tourist visa cannot register anyway. It is only for residents of Japan. A stolen bicycle is unlikely to be found in a traveller’s possession whether it was registered or not. In conclusion, never mind. Forget it.
  • *5 How many times do I have to say "dysfunctional"? In reality, if riding a tandem bicycle, a policeman will not stop you. That law was originally to prohibit the dangerous practise of carrying someone else on an ordinary bicycle. Maybe the government officials at the time were unaware of tandem bicycles. Curiously the rule remains.


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Reader's page > Bill's What are Japanese Roads Like?


Tunnels have been enemy of Japanese cycle tourist for a long time. Older tunnels don't have sufficient space for a wide sidewalk and it's carriageway [or traffic lane] is often too narrow, so cyclists prefer steep detours rather than flat tunnels. Tunnels made more recently have wide sidewalks you can cycle on.

Anyway, make sure you can be seen. Have good powerful front lights and decent reflectors for tunnels.

Cycling Roads

There are narrow cycling roads, often along rivers, but many of them are confusing making it easy to get lost. Sometimes dirt surfaces suddenly appear. These trails are better suited for cyclists who live in Japan, using them for their daily training.

As for safety, be aware of there are different risks than on general roads. Pedestrians and ordinary bikers freely go where you would not expect them. Where general roads cut across cycling roads, car drivers tend to be careless. Cycling roads are a kind of lawless area. Please do not assume you are safe on a cycling track..

Many accidents on one-way roads

Almost all of Japanese one-way roads allow cyclists to legally ride along them the wrong way. But this causes confusion and accidents. Drivers tend to be careless when cyclists approach the wrong way or when they open their car doors.

Many of my friends have been involved in accidents when they rode the wrong way. If you do so, assume that drivers will not see you and ride slower.

Other regulations

Before you park and leave your bicycle keep in mind two things.

  • Lock and key. Using a long wire lock to tie two wheels to a convenient pole is a good way.
  • Keep your valuables with you, safe and secure.

These two bits of advice will help avoid disappointment.

Carry your bike

Upon arrival at Narita or Kansai International Airport, which is the best way to get to your destination? In Japan, you are not allowed to bring your bike on public transport without taking it to pieces and storing it in a bike bag. es.

You have to do "Rinko", This means your bike must be put in some kind of bike bag before you bring your bike in a coach or train. You have to take off at least both wheels and place a frame between them to arrange your bike in this bag. This special bike bag costs around 5,000-8,000 yen in bike shops in Japan.

transport page for more information.

uploaded:01, 09, 2009