Inokashira Park Declares War on Bicycles (for a few weeks)

Byron Kidd
Tokyo's Inokashira Park has always been a popular cycling destination for families but it seems authorities are hell bent on putting an end to that.

Over the summer months my family and I would often cycle along the Kanda River to its source, the lake in the middle of Inokashira park. We'd park our bikes among hundreds of others in what appeared to be the designated bicycle parking area and enjoy an afternoon viewing the weekend market, watching the kids play in the playgrounds and even enjoy a boat ride on the lake itself.

Imagine my surprise in September when we cycled up to the parking area to find it roped off, devoid of bicycles and being watched over by 2 security guards. What the hell? One of the guards began walking towards us waving us away, but rather than politely walk away I confronted him. What the hell? Where are we supposed to park?

He unfolded a map that he had in his pocket indicating the location of paid bicycle parking lots, not one of which was in convenient distance from the park and a number of which were already full when we arrived.

I was fuming. For as long as I can remember people have always parked their bikes in that spot without authorities giving two hoots. Why now? What the hell? Where would we park on future visits? Would the inconvenience of not having bicycle parking force us to take the train to the park instead? Having a coffee while my daughters rode a swan boat I was getting angrier by the minute.

It was then I remembered something about Japan, this was a campaign, just like thousands of others held around the country each year, and that all campaigns come to an end. There is no way authorities would keep security guards on site for any longer than a couple of weeks and once the barriers and security guards disappeared the otherwise law aiding Japanese public would simply go back to parking in exactly the same spot and things would return to normal.

So imagine my smugness when we returned to Inokashira Park weeks later to find that bicycles were slowly returning to the park. Barriers are still up, and signs abound warning visitors not to park in the park grounds, and there are maps everywhere showing the location of inconvenient, over capacity and expensive parking lots, but these are being largely ignored and bicycles are returning.

Authorities must learn that the bicycle is an incredibly efficient and important form of transport for millions of people around Japan and accelerate the development of cycling infrastructure rather than impose insane parking bans without providing suitable alternatives.  Whenever they step in and make cycling more inconvenient, they're really inconveniencing everyone that cycles, and in Japan that is just about everyone.

Non cyclists may never understand, but I love the lawlessness that exists around cycling in Japan. More power to the pedal pushers!

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  1. A great example of the opacity of the cycling laws in Japan. The UK has a lot to learn from Japan's 15% mode share for cycling; in spite of a relative lack of dedicated infrastructure, the cycling culture is deep rooted. Greater London, for all its vaunted schemes (Boris bikes with a £1.36 per trip subsidy) and developing cycle network, still only has around 2% mode.

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