In Tokyo one of the biggest, busiest and most populated metropolises in the world, cycling holds a respectable 16% modal share yet cycling infrastructure is severely lacking and cycling lanes barely exist. In addition to this cycling laws are poorly understood by the public and inconsistently enforced by the police. In short cycling should be a disaster in this city yet it thrives with none of the infrastructure of world leading European countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark.
I've written before about the ingredients that when mixed together create an environment where cycling thrives without planning and infrastructure. The compact neighbourhoods, the expense and inconvenience of private car ownership, the exceptional public transport, the lax enforcement of cycling laws, these all contribute to high cyclist numbers in Tokyo and around Japan.
But the biggest factor in making cycling work in Japan is the attitude of the Japanese people.
Drivers in Tokyo are used to sharing narrow roads with both cyclists and pedestrians as many smaller streets lack even sidewalks. In addition to this most drivers also cycle which means they drive around cyclists as they'd expect other motorists to drive around them. Cyclists are, of course, also pedestrians and thus when cycling on the sidewalks they generally show respect for fellow cyclists and pedestrians. Watching cars, cyclists and pedestrians interact in Japanese cities may appear to be complete anarchy, but it is a polite form of anarchy in which most people subconsciously strive not to have a negative impact on the people around them.
Without meaning to overgeneralise (and I am) it is the Japanese peoples attitude of mutual respect and flexibility when it comes to sharing spaces which makes cycling work here despite the lack of infrastructure. Imagine for a moment every Japanese person was suddenly a New Yorker, cycling would become extinct overnight!
So while Japan has no official Nice Way Code campaign, each individual has their own internal code of conduct, based on sharing the road and tolerance for each other, because you can't cycle in a city with 14 million others without exercising a little patience. This highlights a startling cultural difference, and teaches us that cycling initiatives that work well in one country will not necessarily be accepted in another.
When seeking ideas to improve conditions for cyclists in your area it is worth remembering that what works in one city or country may not necessarily work in another. Unfortunately in the case of the Nice Way Code the Japanese notion of "Wa", harmony and keeping the peace, did not translate well into the Scottish environment, its a shame.