When will cycling laws be enforced in Japan?

Last week the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office announced that cyclists who repeatedly ignore red lights and commit other dangerous traffic offences will be fined.

Move on, nothing to see here. The Police in Japan have had the power to issue on the spot fines before today, they just neglect to enforce the law. Nothing new here.

According to Japanese traffic regulations there is already a catch all law that gives police the power to issue cyclists with an on the spot fine of Y50,000 for any form of dangerous cycling including, but not limited to ignoring traffic lights, cycling while holding an umbrella or mobile phone, even for cycling with a bag of groceries looped over the handle bars.  In fact any activity that, in the eyes of the officer, impedes your ability control your bicycle can be punished with a fine.

Unfortunately Japanese police officers rarely enforce these laws and thus they are generally ignored by the cycling public. Police seem all too willing to let cycling offences go unpunished until such time there is an accident or complaint, after which there is a flurry of activity and announcements for what eventually become unimplemented plans to improve cyclists behavior.

In February 2012 police announced they would be cracking down on cycling offences by placing large numbers of police on the streets on the 10th of every month during commuting hours. The first police crackdown on cyclists went ahead with much media coverage, but following months there was no noticeable increase in police on the streets around the times of the announced crackdowns. Wouldn't it be more logical for the police did their job and enforce cycling laws every single day?

Recently we've seen proposals ranging from bicycle number plates to a plan to ban the sale of brakeless bicycles.  In an announcement similar to the one made last week we were told that repeat offenders would be required to attend special bicycle training courses. So what is it? A fine? Attend a course? Both? Most likely the punishment is .. nothing at all, not even a warning from a police officer if he witnesses the illegal act with his very own eyes.

Announcements abound, but actions never seem to follow.  It seems these announcements are intended to remind cyclists to obey the law.

So last weeks announcement boils down to "Police will start enforcing cycling the cycling laws they should have always been enforcing, so look out unruly cyclists". Which in turn translates into "Unless you cause, or are involved in, an accident you need not be concerned about police interfering with your cycling style, no matter how dangerous".

Unless the police enforce cycling laws constantly and consistently, the Japanese public will continue to cycle as they please.


Mountain Biking in the Heart of Tokyo

A shot from my ride this morning before I went off road and got all muddy.  This is the bicycle I use for cycling the urban off road trails of Tokyo.
This photo was taken at Omiya Hachiman Temple just 15 minutes from Shibuya. The temple is surrounded by park lands which also run the length of the Zenpukuji River.  The more unkempt and wild parts of these parks offers some great off road challenges for the urban cyclist in Tokyo.  You won't find miles of trail, but the parks offer enough variety of terrain for a morning of off road fun.



Bicycle Lane in Kawasaki to Become Permanent

A temporary bicycle lane put in place in Kawasaki is set to become a permanent feature.

After a fatal accident involving a cyclist in a four lane underpass below the train lines, officials decided last November to reduce the four lane road to two lanes, and install temporary barriers to form what they termed an "experimental" bicycle lanes.

After monitoring the flow of traffic and reviewing the results of a survey in which 80% of cyclists and motorists were in favour of the lane the council has decided to make the two 240m lanes a permanent installation.

Lets hope we see more attention being paid to the safety of cyclists and more cycling infrastructure developed around Japan.


A cyclist challenges snowy road conditions in Tokyo.

It rarely snows in Tokyo, and when it does there is little in the way of organised clean up.  Most cyclists have very little experience cycling in such conditions and as a result it took almost 3 days from the snowfall last Monday before cyclist numbers returned to normal.


Tokyo Brits cycling Japan to support tsunami survivors

On April 19th, nine Tokyo Brits ( will venture forth from the pub, suck in their stomachs, and wrap themselves in Lycra in preparation for a 300km bicycle journey from Tokyo to Minamisoma over 3 days, aiming to raise at least ¥1,000,000 (USD$11,000) to support the Save Minamisoma Project.

Remember March 11, 2011? For those of us in Japan at the time it is a day we can never forget. It was the day that a devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off Japan's Pacific coast. Over 19,000 people were killed by the resulting tsunami, which also damaged or destroyed over 1 million buildings including the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactor.

It is easy to believe that almost 2 years after that terrible event that life must have returned to normal for the survivors, but nothing could be further from the truth. As of 1st January 2013, 305,000 people are still homeless including almost 7,000 elderly residents living in temporary shelters, many without income struggle to purchase food and water.

Immediately after the disaster The Save Minamisoma Project ( was set up by a group of volunteers who rely on generous donations to purchase and distribute supplies of food and water to those most in need. Their great work continues today and it is this work that the nine intrepid Tokyo Brit cyclists are supporting and they need our help.

Its hard work to get a Englishman to put down his beer, step of the pub, and onto a bike (even harder to make him wear Lycra) unless he is motivated by a worthy cause, and there are few as worthy as this. Another motivator for the chaps will we watching the donations come in and reading the comments that arrive with them, so please do visit their homepage consider making a donation.

Please help the Brits and the Save Minamisoma Project, to help those still in need of support by making a donation.

Finally I'd like to ask you to spread the word about this charity ride through your social networks, share it, tweet it, like it and lets see if we can exceed the target amount!

Our friends at Cleverhood took advantage of a Tokyo by Bike advertising offer which sees that 100% of the money they paid for advertising on this site goes to charity. I have just donated $50 of that to this cause. Please support with as little or as much as you can.


An underrated health benefit of cycling to work in Tokyo

We all know about the numerous health benefits of cycling, its good for your heart, muscles and of course your waistline.  Many of us also agree that cycling is also good for our mental health.  Regular exercise is also responsible for boosting your immune system which is what I'm interested in as we plough through winter.

In Tokyo cycling has one HUGE undocumented health benefit that should receive much more attention.  Every day millions of Tokyoites cram themselves into rush hour trains and subways, sharing the space and the air with an unknown number of sick commuters and an equally unknown number of viruses.

Maybe this is making me paranoid?
Fortunately the wearing of surgical masks in Japan is widespread even when you're not performing surgery. Cautious individuals wear them to ward off viruses, sickly individuals wear them out of courtesy to those around them, one fellow at my office started wearing a mask months ago and claims he'll continue wear it up until the end of spring. Of course not everyone is so considerate, and in addition to that, some viruses are contagious even before the carrier realises they're sick, which puts everyone sharing the confined space of a train carriage at risk of infection.

By removing yourself from this unhealthy environment you're decreasing your chances of picking up a nasty bug on your commute.  So cycle to work, improve your health and protect yourself from nasty winter bugs.

(I write this post after heavy snowfall in Tokyo has forced me to take the train for the last two days straight. While riding the train with the masked, sniffling masses I've been reading the opening chapters of "The Stand", so maybe I'm just overly paranoid!)


Bicycle Horns. Lets make some noise!

There has been quite a bit of noise (excuse the pun) about bicycle horn projects on Kickstarter recently.

The Loud Bicycle Horn for your bike by developer Jonathan Lansley is a 112db bicycle horn that sounds remarkably similar to a compact car horn.  Drivers react instinctively to the sound of a car horn even when they don't know where that sound is coming from, because they know failure to do so could result in a collision with something of equal or grater mass.
The Loud Bicycle Horn

Imagine a driver reversing from a driveway without noticing you approaching on your bicycle. If that driver hears a car horn, even without seeing a car nearby, they will brake to double check the environment around them.  Imagine their surprise when there is nothing there but you an your bicycle.

The Loud Bicycle horn project is fully funded and the first horns will go on sale in August 2013.  You can pre-order the horn for $95 via their homepage.

Of a more compact design in the ORP Smart Horn being developed by Tory Orzeck. This two tone, 96db horn mounts on your handlebars and also conveniently doubles as a headlight so your dash doesn't get all cluttered up with additional gadgets.  While it doesn't sound like a car horn its distinctive sound will certainly attract the attention of motorists and pedestrians alike.
The ORP Smart Horn

The ORP Smart Horn will retail for $49.95, but you can snare one right off the assembly line if you back their Kickstarter project for $40.

A horn I've had my eye on for a while is the Delta Cycle Airzound Horn.  The horn is a remarkably low tech air horn that produces a 115db burst of noise without the need for batteries.  Simply pump the tank full of air using your bicycle pump and you're good to go. Its not a Kickstarter project so you can get your hands on it today for just $29.98 from Amazon.

The Delta Airzound Horn
When buying its a difficult decision as each of the horns operate at roughly the same volume and each has attractive features. I like the sound of the Loud Bicycle Horn, the compact design of the ORP Smart Horn, and the sheer simplicity of the AirZound horn.

Do you feel the need for a horn on your bicycle?  As a daily bicycle commuter I've certainly been in situations where I would have liked  nice loud horn, though more for venting my anger loudly than avoiding a situation.


Tokyo Plans to Ban the Sale of Brakeless Bicycles

Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced on Friday (January 11, 2013) their intention to ban the sale of fixed gear track bicycles, or Piste bikes,  for us on public roads.

Police indicate they'll be able to enjoy longer
tea breaks if they're not forced onto the streets
to implement already existing cycling laws.
According to reports it will submit an ordinance to implement the ban to the metropolitan assembly in February with the intention of putting it into force before summer 2013.  Under the ban bicycle stores would be banned from selling brakeless track bicycle to customers in the knowledge that they will be used on public roads.

Riding a brakeless bicycle on public roads is already illegal in Tokyo but there is currently no regulation on the sale of such bicycles.

In 2012 misguided proposals with the aim of improving bicycle safety including a proposal for mandatory number plates for bicycles, flourished across the nation but as yet few have been implemented therefore I remain sceptical about this ban.  Assuming it did however, questions remain about how the ban will be enforced as brakeless track bicycles are still required for , well, track racing.  Will stores require a government permit to sell brakeless track bicycles, or will they rely on the customer to swear on a stack of bibles at the time of purchase that they will nor cycle on the road?

Once again we see expensive, difficult to implement and enforce proposals aimed at improving cycling safety when all Tokyo really needs is for the police to get out there and routinely enforce the current cycling laws, which they currently neglect.