Courtesy calls: bicycle etiquette | Time Out Tokyo
Illustration: Miso Okada

How to cycle like a Tokyoite

Master these cycling rules and etiquette before conquering the Tokyo streets on your favourite bicycle

Written by
Kirsty Bouwers

Getting around on a bicycle is the preferred mode of transport for many a Tokyoite, but there are some things to keep in mind to make sure everyone’s a happy cyclist – and you don’t get fined. Here’s how to master your mamachari.


The majority of the population seems to believe the contrary, but the road is actually where you’re supposed to be when riding a bicycle. Cycling on the pavement is supposed to be an exception under traffic law, and if you do, you’re not supposed to exceed the 10km/h speed limit, and – as pedestrians have right of way at all times – no ringing your bell at them either. Those mummies with their e-bikes seem to disagree, but hey, it can never hurt to set an example. Stick to the roads and you’ll never be annoyed by all those slow-walking people fanning out across the pavement again. Just watch out for those taxi doors which open automatically.


File this one under ‘how is this not common sense’. Many of our commutes have included some intrepid fellows (otherwise known as maniacs) cycling against the flow of traffic, even on roads with very heavy, fast-moving traffic. If you value your life in any way, please don’t. You may think that seeing traffic coming towards you is safer, but believe us, it’s not, as you’ll be putting your fellow road users at risk. Plus, it’s illegal. Save us another near-death experience and just go with the flow.


There’s an almighty list of things you cannot do while cycling, but most of them come down to one thing: keep both of your hands on the handlebars. That means no umbrellas (unless you have one of those wonderful hats), no walking your dog (that leash is going to get tangled anyway), no phones and certainly no ice cream. They taste better when you eat them while stationary anyway.


One of the few things that is guaranteed to make a police officer bark through their car megaphone, pedalling around with someone riding on the back of your bike is illegal. No backies and no side-saddle-style trips for you, friend, unless you have a proper seating arrangement, such as a children’s seat (with a child, rather than your drunken adult friend, in it).


For a city with so many bikes, Tokyo lacks one thing: spaces to freely and legally park your wheels. Unbeknownst to many visitors, the immediate areas around most train stations are off-limits unless you have a parking permit, and traffic police have a field day tagging bicycles that are parked in the ‘wrong’ place for too long.

If you don’t remove it in time (anywhere between two hours and a few days depending on the tag), they’ll do it for you, ie bring it to a depot and fine you ¥2,000 to ¥5,000 to retrieve your precious two-wheeler. To be safe, don’t leave your bike unattended for more than a few hours, or find proper (paid) parking – some of them are free for the first couple of hours.


Another surprise for first-time mamachari buyers, bicycles in Japan actually have to be registered. They’ll make you fill out a slip with your full name and address when purchasing one, and although it may seem like an innocuous thing, do keep it safe – and with you. Police sometimes conduct ‘random’ bike checks (the start of the school year is a particular favourite time), and you’ll be asked to prove your bike is yours by showing the slip. If you can’t, they’ll likely assume it’s stolen. Just keep the slip in your wallet to avoid a lengthy trip to the koban (police station).

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