Cycling under the influence will earn you a fine in Japan, so may your groceries.

Byron Kidd
A spot of drama on the commute home a few weeks back. I stopped, as I occasionally do, by the local 99 Shop to pick up a couple of cold beers and otsumame. As its close to home, and I had a bag of groceries hanging from my handle bars, I decided to ride the remainder of my journey on the sidewalk.

Up ahead there were two bicycles heading in my direction so I moved to the left as is customary when riding on the sidewalk in Japan. After adjusting my course I noticed the lead rider up ahead wobble, swerve, glance off a wall on his left then connect hard with the railing on his right before meeting the pavement in a most ungraceful manner. He went down hard. A loud noise, limbs everywhere.

There are a lot of elderly people on shopping bikes pottering around Tokyo and witnessing them topple over isn't an uncommon site. So when I saw the middle aged lady following simply swerve around the accident site and continue on her way I was stunned, no offer of assistance? Not even an "Are you OK?" Nope, she just rode on without a second glance.

Upon reaching the downed rider I discovered a Japanese man in his 30's, not the senior citizen I was expecting. "Are you OK?" I enquired. From his slurred response I deduced he responded "No I'm not %$&! OK". I also deduced that the cause of his accident had a lot to do with the level of alcohol in his bloodstream.

Great. What to do? Can't ride away from an accident. There isn't a lot I can do for a paralytic drunk who is unable to walk and will most likely puke on my shoes by way of thanks. What to do?

There was no blood, he was feeling no pain, nor the cold and after a few moments of the "I've fallen and can't get up" routine he seemed quite content to simply be lying down.

So, I did the only thing I could and doubled back to the local koban to informed the police officer of what had happened. I've visited the local koban twice in my capacity as a responsible citizen and neither time felt that my effort was appreciated. No questions, no note taking, no sense of urgency, no thanks. Why did I bother? Oh well at least the drunk in the street was no longer my responsibility, he was now the responsibility of this disinterested policeman.

Therefore moral of today's story is:

"Don't ride with groceries dangling from your handlebars."

That's right. As I was leaving the koban the police officer told me to remove the groceries from my handlebars as it is against the law to hang items from your handlebars while riding. Thanks Jack, I knew that. I'd just never seen it enforced in 12 years, in particular never seen it enforced on a person after they've gone out of their way to help another citizen.

After all that excitement I rode home, shopping dangling from the handlebars, and enjoyed a responsible beverage. Later I slept content in the knowledge that neither my rogue shopping bag nor responsible beverage caused any accidents.


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  1. I am sorry to read of your experience. It is really discouraging. I have had similar experiences and unless it looks real serious, blood gushing or such, I ignore cyclists that fall over. I am shamed to admit it, but the police tend to act like the messenger is the bad guy.

    Some years ago I saw a drunk guy jump into the Sumida River- about 10 pm. He must have had change of heart about ending it all because he was clinging to a pole in the water. I went to koban and the policeman grabbed a ring and some rope and yelled at me because I did not call it in. He tried to coax the man to shore, but the swimmer would have none of it and took a dive and headed down stream.

    Then the show started. Two trucks with huge racks of halogen spot lights were called to the bridge. Several police boats with divers combed the river. An ambulance truck arrived and so it went for the next several hours. What an event. The police would not let me leave and kept asking the same questions and over and over again.

    Then, what shocked me the most, a guy who was sleeping by the river, who I thought was homeless, came over and started to question me! He was an undercover policeman- or maybe off duty. He must have seen the whole event. I wonder why he did not call it in.

    I got home at 3 a.m.

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