Break cycling laws in Japan and win a prize!

Byron Kidd

Imagine cycling into work in central Tokyo in light traffic on a pleasantly warm spring morning. You approach a red traffic light at an intersection you pass through every day.  You slow to a crawl, standing to balance your bicycle as you check left and right, but as experience has taught you from the countless times you've cycled this route, the way is clear.

You crank down on the pedals and cruise safely through the intersection, against the light, on your way. Instantly three blasts from a police whistle drill into your skull. Damn, where did he come from? Then you remember its the 10th, the one day each month that the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department has chosen to crack down on lawbreaking cyclists. You thought they'd given up that game ages ago.

Despite the intersection being clear, you know you're in the wrong, you're busted and now its time to face the music.

You've heard the police announce countless times over the past months that they will be targeting law breaking cyclists, handing out hefty fines to repeat offenders. You dismissed it offhand as previous announcements from the police had amounted to nothing. You pull to the side of the road, checking your watch estimating how long it will take the officer to take down your details and calculating how late you'll be arriving to work.

The policeman walks up to your bicycle, initially he is a little surprised by your foreign features, but soon regains his stern composure. He explains in comically oversimplified Japanese and with hand waving gestures that bicycles should observe traffic signals and that you'd ignored the light. Before you have a chance to plead innocence, ignorance or fake not understanding Japanese, the policeman hands you a packet of tissues and gestures for you to leave.

You're free to go and you've won a prize!

Later, when in need of a tissue you notice a bicycle safety leaflet inside and it all falls into place.  Once again, rather than enforcing cycling laws Tokyo's police continue to let everyone off with a warning and a reminder of the same cycling laws that they never enforce. As always you were never in any danger of being fined or worse.

"There are no traffic laws in Japan, just suggestions", you think as you clean your glasses with a complementary tissue, remembering to pocket the bicycle safety leaflet so you can blog about it later.

By "you" in this article I actually mean me.

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  1. Cyclist running red light; it is so common around the word.... and drive motorist batty :)

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