November 20, 2013

How to Register Your Bicycle in Japan

Japan has an interesting bicycle registration system. Interesting because while registration is compulsory there are no penalties for not doing so. Even though this is the case I do strongly recommend you register your bicycle, so here is all you need to know about registering your bicycle in Japan.

Buying a New Bicycle at a Bike Store

When you purchase a new bicycle at our local bike store the salesperson will offer to register your bicycle for an additional 500 yen fee. If you decide to register your bicycle at the time of purchase you will be asked to fill out a form with details including your name, phone number and address and details about the bicycle including maker and serial number etc.  Finally you will have to present a valid form of ID.

Once done the shop assistant will place a bright yellow registration sticker on your new bicycle and you're ready to ride. Easy! They will also give you a receipt which you should hold on to for a while just in case you're stopped by police before your registration information has entered the police records.

Japanese bicycle registration sticker
Japanese Bicycle Registration Sticker

Buying a New Bicycle Online

After purchasing a bicycle online it is your responsibility to visit the police, fill out the aforementioned form and show the police your receipt of purchase and valid ID which they will use to confirm that you are the rightful owner of the bicycle.

Buying a Used Bicycle

When purchasing a use bicycle you will have to visit your local police koban with your bicycle and fill out an identical form as you would had you purchased your bicycle new from a bike store and you'll have to pay the same registration fee. But as this is a used bicycle the beaurocratic fun doesn't stop there. Both you and the previous owner of the bicycle will have to fill out an additional form confirming the transfer of ownership.

Transfer of ownership sounds complicated and time consuming, but it isn't. When you go to purchase your second hand bicycle print out this change of ownership form and take it with you, once you've completed the deal, get the former owner to fill out their portion of the form. If you purchase a used bicycle in Japan and do not get the owner to fill out this form then it is unlikely that you will be able to transfer ownership into your name.

If you have suspicions that the person selling you a second hand bicycle is not the registered owner you should not purchase the bicycle. If you try to transfer ownership of a bicycle using a form with fake seller information the bicycle will be confiscated and returned to its rightful owner, and you may even be charged with stealing the bicycle even if you protest that you bought it second hand from someone who claimed to be the owner.

Bringing a Bicycle from Overseas

Not surprisingly when the bicycle registration system was conceived nobody considered the fact that people may move to Japan and bring with them unregistered bicycles and as a result there is no formal system for registering a bicycle you've bought into the country. It is possible that if you take your bicycle, passport and if possible a photograph or two of you and your bicycle overseas and explain your case to the police then you may be able to register the bicycle.  I've not tried this method, so if you do please do let me know how it goes.

If you're here for just a few weeks or months on a bicycle tour with your unregistered bicycle your very appearance will be enough to convince any suspicious police officer that you're only here temporarily. If that doesn't convince them then showing them your passport should be enough to deter any further suspicion.

Once Registered

If your bicycle is stolen and later abandoned, or the police stop someone and discover the bicycle is registered to you, not them then they will contact you to reclaim your stolen bicycle.

Failing to Register

While there is no penalty for not registering a bicycle, if you're ever stopped by the police for a bicycle registration check things will get very complicated very quickly and you could be accused of having stolen the bicycle you're riding even if you are the rightful owner.


While it may seem to some an invasion of privacy, or unnecessary bureaucracy to some I believe the advantages of registering a bicycle far outweigh the disadvantages so please do go out of your way to ensure that police records accurately list you as the rightful owner of your bicycle.

For more information about the Japans bicycle registration system and to download the necessary forms please visit Tokyo Bicycle Crime Prevention Association's web site.

For more stories, news and information about cycling in Tokyo and around Japan follow @tokyobybike on twitter.

10 comments:

  1. Odd that I have not been stopped in seven years riding in Japan, 'knock on wood'. Perhaps it is because I am 6'1", ride a 59cm frame, so the cops figure that even if my bike is hot, it was only stolen from another Gaijin.

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    1. In over 16 years of cycling in Japan (and I cycle almost every single day) I've not once been pulled over for a registration check, nor have I had a bicycle stolen. But like insurance you can be the day you let it lapse you'll need it.

      I've seen police performing bicycle registration checks on the sidewalk as I whizz past on the road, and many friends from South East Asia and Africa are constantly being pulled over to have their registration (and residence cards) checked, some multiple times each month! There has been talk in the past that police use bicycle registration checks as an excuse to stop foreigners and check their visa status, but I've seen equal number of Japanese people getting pinged.

      While I've no data to back me up I'd say you're more likely to get pulled over if you're riding a mamachari on the sidewalk than if you're on a more expensive looking bicycle on the road.

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  2. What happens when you move? I bought a bike and had it registered by the store I bought it at. I have since moved 2 or 3 times and never reregistered it with my new address (different city/prefecture).

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    1. I didn't go into all the nitty gritty details in the article but if you change address you are required to change update your registration details (there are forms for this on the site mentioned). Having said this I've never bothered to update my address. In addition to this even if you transfer ownership of a bicycle within your family you'e expected to update the registration details which is insane because as a family we share bicycles so I could be pulled over anytime riding a bicycle registered to my wife.

      The vast majority of people register their bicycle once at the time of purchase then never bother updating that registration ever again.

      Now you've reminded me that at least one of my bicycles is registered to me at an address that hasn't been valid for over 10 years. The address doesn't worry me but it also means its registered against my old phone number. Maybe I should go update my details after all!

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  3. The Yokosuka Navy Base requires registering bikes with the base vehicle authority. We get a big yellow "CFAY" sticker that looks pretty darn official. All the police around here know about it, but I suspect it will be a bit of a mystery to them once we move away from the base.

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  4. Since I have asian ethnicity, but not Japanese, I get questioned all the time when riding my bike. Police can not ask for your Gaijin card without reason of suspicion of a crime. Riding a old Mamachari without a wheel lock on the fork or chain stay, will send up red flags and give them a reason. The bike I ride is my wife's sister's bike that she has not ridden in 15 years. They lost the key 20 years ago and removed the lock. Police always question me why did I remove it. Also her first and last name is written in Kanji on the fender, so the police pick that up quick.

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  5. I've been riding in Tokyo for about 10years. I ride a track bike with brakes, however, when I first started riding here, I believed all you needed was A brake. That came to an end a few years ago when they wanted to arrest me and send me to the Marunouchi Police Station for not having a REAR brake. After a conference of 4 Police Officers, they decided to let me "walk my bike back to the hotel where I could fix it"! It was humiliating to pose for a mug shot against the wall right in the middle of busy Yurakucho Station. Humiliated and pissed to this day.

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  6. Very helpful post, thank you! Just to add my own experience, I recently purchased a bike online and took it to the koban to register it. They looked at me like I was the first person to ever ask them about it, but were very helpful in calling a nearby bike shop to check I couId do it there.

    So maybe it's a regional thing, but the Shizuoka city police don't deal with new bike registrations.

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  7. Very helpful post. I bet there's also a bike culture and rules/practices while riding in the streets/main avenues, right? I'm writing from mex and i can buy really good time moving freely with my bike... i dunno if in tokyo will be the same..

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