[How to Start Life in Japan] Buying and owning a bike

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Moving to Japan and starting a new life can be very stressful. Being prepared by knowing what procedures are needed and how to perform them can reduce unnecessary problems. In this series, written by people who have lived in Japan for several years – your sempai – aims to make your transition to Japan as smooth as possible.

Finding a way to get around comfortably tops the list of newcomers and former residents alike. Trains and buses are excellent, not the only option.

[Link Shaun’s transportation piece when available]

Depending on where you live in Japan, buying a bike can make a huge difference in your day-to-day quality of life. Even in crowded Tokyo, it’s common in residential neighborhoods to see mothers – and others – whizzing by on their bikes.

Surprisingly, traveling by bike in the big city can be a different way to experience your neighborhood as well as great local parks. And it helps reduce travel time when public transport isn’t as well connected between where you’re traveling.

There are a few things you should note when buying and owning a bike in Japan, so keep reading to find out what they are.

One note, this article was written from the perspective of living in Tokyo, so a few tips are especially helpful in the metropolis. But several of us have also seen how bike registration works in other cities, so hopefully this helps!

First, sort out the options for buying your bike.

As a Tokyoite, there are many bike shops you can choose to purchase your transportation from, most likely in your neighborhood.

We recommend going through your neighborhood first, as it will make your life easier if you want to register later or need to make easy fixes to your ride.

Alternatively, large DIY stores and supermarkets often have a bicycle section, such as Olympic.

If you want to get your used bike, try websites like Mercari. Note that if you go this route, it is a more informal means of purchase than in a store, so the owner may not have all the paperwork. you need.

A bike is not a car, so what about checking in?

Once you’ve purchased a bike, most cities require you to register it in case it gets stolen.

Registration can be done at the bike shop where you purchased the item. Bike shops and other local shops with bikes are used to this and will do much of the work for you.

If you bought from a friend or another source, there are other options. Your local police station, and some supermarkets or conbinis carry a mark indicating that they are Jitensha Bouhan Tourokusho (自転車防犯登録所). This means that you can register your bike in the store displaying this brand.

What if I buy online or receive a bike as a gift?

Sometimes a friend or acquaintance can give you their bike. In this case, the friend must accompany you to the local police station to certify that you are the new owner by filling out a Jitensha Jouto Shoumei (自転車譲渡証明). It’s quite easy. With the help of your friend, you can quickly register the bike in your name.

If you buy the bike online, for example on platforms like Mercari which sell used goods, it is possible that the item was not registered in the first place. In this case, proof of purchase may be requested during registration. So be sure to get a proper receipt for payment and a Jitensha Jouto Shoumei (自転車譲渡証明) certificate that the seller transfers the bike to your ownership when you buy it.

What should I ask for when registering the bike?

When you go to register your bike, you will need to request a Jitensha Bouhan Touroku (自転車防犯登録).

You will be asked to provide documentation proving that you are the owner (or that the person giving it to you is the owner) and pay a small fee. Although fees differ by location, they are normally less than ¥1,000 (US$8).

What else do I need ?

Lights are also mandatory if you are cycling at night. From personal experience, you will be arrested for this. So be sure to buy lights if you plan to use your bike after dark.

A lock is also recommended. Theft isn’t particularly common in Japan, but if your bike doesn’t come with a lock, you should consider getting one.

What about parking my bike?

This may not apply in the countryside, but especially in cities you may need to be careful where you park.

Densely populated areas often have designated parking areas ー Churinjo (駐輪場)ー which can be used for a fee. Some are paid by the day or by the hour. There is also churinjo for commuters, where you can park longer.

Fees can often be paid in cash or by transit card like Pasmo or Suica (the card for traveling on public transport in Tokyo).

If you are driving to school, college, or your place of work, you can probably register at the office and receive a parking permit or instructions to park on school or office grounds. . Be sure to inquire when you arrive.

Of course, there are still areas that are free for parking for short periods. So be sure to check the area beforehand.

What if the bike is towed?

Some areas are marked “no parking bicycles” (駐輪禁止), so be careful to avoid these areas.

Sometimes parking spaces will also have a limit on the parking time. After the time has elapsed, your vehicle can be towed and taken to a car pound or collection centre.

If your bike is missing from this type of parking, check the signs around the parking lot. Usually there is something that gives you more information, along with a location or a contact. Otherwise, search online Tekkyo sareta jitenshano kaishu (撤去された自転車の回収).

Pounds are normally open on weekends and weekday evenings. It is therefore possible to pick up your bike there.

Before bringing your bike home from a collection center, you will need to provide identification and pay a fee.

Note that collection centers will probably only keep bikes for a few weeks or months, so be sure to check quickly.

Should I take out bicycle insurance?

Since April 1, 2020, bicycle insurance has been compulsory, and perhaps for good reason.

The number of cyclists has increased with COVID-19. And with that comes an increase in accidents, which can have quite a high cost if they include injury or damage to vehicles.

If you have auto insurance, or perhaps some sort of travel insurance, check to see if your plan covers this.

Otherwise, bike insurance is pretty cheap, sometimes as cheap as a few hundred yen per month. It is therefore highly recommended.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has summarized some insurance options here in Japanese.

What traffic rules should I be aware of?

Follow the basic traffic rules and you should be fine. Stay to the left of the road and do not run a red light.

It is also against the law to hold a bicycle umbrella (even transparent).

Bikes are meant to stick to the road, not run on sidewalks. But in practice, many people drive on sidewalks. Just watch out for pedestrians ー who have the right of way!

Can you take your bike on a train?

In Japan, you are not allowed to ride on the train with your bicycle ー unless it is folded and wrapped.

If your bike is foldable, it must be folded and put in a case.

If it is not foldable, it should be taken apart and put in a case.

It’s not a common thing to worry about, but it can be something to keep in mind if you’re moving house or planning to take your bike for a weekend.

Anything else to know?

When you’ve passed the initial hurdle of figuring things out, biking can be a very fun, healthy, and sustainable way to experience your city.

Let us know if we missed anything in the comments below, and be sure to check out the page for more articles on How to Start Life in Japan.

What are useful expressions to know?

自転車(じてんしゃ | jitensha) bike

Bicycle Parking 駐輪禁止 (じてんしゃきんし|jitenshakinshi) do not authorized

駐輪場 (ちゅうりんじょ|churinjo) bicycle parking

Certificate of transfer of ownership

自転車防犯登録 (じてんしゃぼうはんとうろく|jitensha bouhan toroku) bicycle theft prevention registration

撤去された自転車の回収 (てっきょされたじてんしゃじょ | tekkyo sareta jitenshano kaishu) recovery instructions for impounded bikes

ライト (らいと | raito) lights

鍵 (かぎ | kagi) lock

保険 (ほけん | hoken) insurance

To find other parts on [How to Start Life in Japan] on JAPAN Forward.

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