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Traffic rules for cyclists in Japan

PatPaul

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Hello Everyone,

I would like to know if anyone could give me some clarification about the rules of the road for bicyclists in Japan. Today an old man riding a bike going in wrong direction hit me while I was on my bike. I am sure this has happened to others, like it has to me, on many occasions. In the past, I have gone to my local KOBAN to ask the police to please explain the rules of the road, since I might have been in the wrong. In addition, I asked my Japanese brother-in-law, who works at the Central Police HQ, to explain the rules to me. I walked with him outside to the main road, and indicated the green arrow signs painted on the road on the left hand side of the street, indicating the one-way flow of traffic (the arrows pointed in one direction, the same a motor vehicles). He said that it is OK to ride in both directions, since the lane is wide enough for bike traffic to go both ways. I know there are special cyclist lanes in my city, where the lanes are side-by-side, and are clearly marked which way cyclists are to ride, and the same for the cyclist/pedestrian lanes, which clearly designate which lane to travel on...So, is there a definitive law that states bicyclists are required to ride on the left hand side of the street, as cars do? When I visited the KOBAN, I was given a pamphlet of the the traffic rules, written in Japanese. I did a Google search to try to find out if I am in the wrong. I read several stories written by fellow foreign cyclists who described the dangerous situations they have encountered, where mothers riding those bikes with the baby carrier, coming towards them in the opposite direction. I live in Kagawa-ken, and "assume" the traffic laws are uniform throughout the country. I am a careful defensive driver (cyclist) with all bells, lights, baskets, helmet, and an battery-operated neon flashing vest, like road construction crew wear, which I put on when I cycle in the evening, but it seems to matter little.

Sincerely,

PatPaul
 

thomas

Unswerving cyclist
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We had this discussion years ago on our sister site:

In Japan cyclists can cycle in both directions on sidewalks wider than 3m which are marked as shared use. When cycling on the road bicycles are required by law to keep to the left. So why this new regulation when a law already exists? Many roads in Japan don't have space for sidewalks, but have a small area on each side of the road marked for pedestrian use by a single white stripe of paint. These side lanes are rarely wide enough for pedestrians to walk two abreast. Under normal conditions pedestrians walk on the roads and when a vehicle approaches they drift, single file, into the side lane until it passes by then disperse to fill all the available road space again.

This revision to the Road Traffic Act pertains to those roads with side lanes. Until now there has been no law preventing cyclists from riding against the flow traffic in these narrow side lanes. Under the revised law bicycles must use the left side of the road at all times. Finally, some much needed consistency. Cyclists who do not keep to the left-hand side of the road may face up to 30 days in prison or a fine of ¥20,000, police said. The key word in that sentence being "may", because as we all know cycling laws in Japan are rarely, if ever, enforced by the police.


Were you or the other cyclists injured? Was there any damage to your bicycles? How did you two part?
 

PatPaul

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No, neither of us were injured. No damage to my bike. It turned into a heated confrontation. When he hit me, I waited for a "sumimasen," a slight bow of the head, or a "sorry," but nothing. I mean, kids will at least give me that, and I will, when I am in the wrong. What he did say in English was "I am busy." I think he meant to say, "I am in a hurry." No matter. I lost my cool and got in his face and told him off in English since if I had tried in Japanese, it would have made me look foolish. I did read the above threads, and it still seems that the law is very opaque.
 

thomas

Unswerving cyclist
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I'm glad you are safe.

The law is probably quite clear but its enforcement and interpretation seem to be rather opaque. In my fifteen years of cycling in Japan I have been asked by the police to get off the road and ride on the pavement as well as to get off the pavement and ride on the road, in all instances "because it is dangerous".

Anyhow, bicycles, considered light vehicles, have to ride on the left. I'm sure you have seen all these:


 

PatPaul

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Dear Hiroyuki and Thomas, Thank you both for your replies. So, I apologize about needing to again, make sure I have the law straight in my head. So, if I am riding my bike on a street that has no pedestrian sidewalks, but only a single, white strip painted line on both sides of the road so pedestrians can walk in a protected space separated from car traffic, cyclists still must ride on the left-side of the road. Of course, manners would require the cyclist to be mindful of pedestrian traffic that might be walking in the same or opposite direction. I really hate having to ask such questions, since I thought that a law/rule like this, would be similar to one, like "no smoking" on the premises, where there is no room for subjective interpretation. Also, am I out of line, or expecting too much from the cyclist who is in the wrong, that they at least provide some indication of an apology, like a slight bow of the head?
 
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