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[How to Start Life in Japan] Buying and Owning a Bicycle

When you get past the initial hurdles of moving to Japan, cycling can be a very fun, healthy and sustainable way to discover your city! Learn more here.

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Moving to Japan and starting a new life can be very stressful. Being prepared with knowledge of what procedures are required and how to complete them can reduce unnecessary trouble. In this series, written by some people who have lived in Japan for several years – your senpai – aims to make your transition to Japan as smooth as possible.

Finding a way to move around comfortably is high on the list of new arrivals and old residents alike. Trains and buses are excellent, not the only option. 

Depending on where you live in Japan, buying a bicycle can make a huge difference in your everyday quality of life. Even in crowded Tokyo, it’s a common sight in residential neighborhoods to see mothers – and others – whizzing about on their bicycles. 

Surprisingly, traveling by bicycle in the big city can be a different way of getting to know your neighborhood as well as great local parks. And it helps in cutting commuting time when public transport isn’t as well connected between the locations you travel to and from. 

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

A note, this article was written from the perspective of living in Tokyo, so some advice is particularly useful in the metropolis. But several of us have also seen how registering bicycles work in other cities, so hopefully this helps you! 

First, sorting out the options to buy your bicycle.

Speaking as a Tokyoite, there are many bicycle shops that you can choose to buy your mode of transportation, most likely in your neighborhood. 

We recommend skimming your neighborhood first, because this will simplify your life if you want to later register, or need to do easy fixes to your ride. 

Alternatively, large home stores and supermarkets often have a bicycle section, like Olympic

If you want to get your bicycle second hand, try websites such as Mercari. Do note that if you go through this route, it’s a more informal way of buying than through a shop, so the owner might not have all the documents.  you need.

A bicycle is not a car, so what is this about registering?

Once you buy a bicycle, most cities require you to register it in case it gets stolen.

Registration can be done at the bicycle shop where you bought the item. Bicycle shops and other local stores carrying bicycles 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 saying they are Jitensha Bouhan Tourokusho (自転車防犯登録所). It means you can register your bicycle through the shop displaying this mark.

What if I buy online, or receive a bicycle as a gift?

Sometimes a friend or acquaintance might give away their bicycle to you. In that case the friend should accompany you to the local police precinct office to certify that you are the new owner by completing a Jitensha Jouto Shoumei (自転車譲渡証明). It is quite easy. With your friend’s help, you can quickly register the bicycle in your own name. 

If you buy the bicycle online, for example platforms like Mercari that carry second-hand goods, it’s possible the item wasn’t registered in the first place. In this case, you might be asked for proof of purchase upon registration. So make sure you get a proper receipt for payment and a Jitensha Jouto Shoumei (自転車譲渡証明) certificate saying the seller is transferring the bicycle to your ownership when you buy it. 

What do I ask for when I register the bike?

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

You will be asked to provide documentation showing you are the owner (or that the person giving it to you is the owner) and pay a small fee. While the fee differs by location, it is normally under ¥1,000 JPY ($8 USD). 

What else do I need? 

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

A lock is also recommended. Theft is not particularly common in Japan, but if your bicycle doesn’t have a lock included, you should consider purchasing one. 

What about parking my bicycle? 

This might not apply in the countryside, but especially in cities you might need to pay attention to 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 daily or hourly. There are also churinjo for commuters, where you can park for longer. 

The fee can often be paid either by cash or by transportation card such as Pasmo or Suica (the card for traveling on public transport in Tokyo). 

If you are commuting to school, university or your workplace, you can probably register at the office and receive a parking permit or instructions that allow you to park on the school or office grounds. Make sure to inquire about it when you arrive. 

Of course, there are still some areas which are free for parking for short periods of time. So just make sure to check the area beforehand.  

What if the bicycle gets towed? 

There are some areas that are marked “forbidden to park bicycles” (駐輪禁止), so beware to avoid those areas. 

Sometimes, parking spaces will also have a limit on how long you can park. After the time passes, your ride can be towed and taken to an impound lot or collection center. 

If your bicycle is missing from this kind of parking place, check the signs around the parking area. Usually there is something giving you more information, with a location or contact. Otherwise, search online for Tekkyo sareta jitenshano kaishu (撤去された自転車の回収). 

Impound centers are normally open on weekends and in the evening on weekdays. It is therefore possible to go and pick up your bicycle there. 

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

Note that collection centers will likely keep the bicycles only for a few weeks or months, so make sure to check promptly. 

Should you buy bicycle insurance? 

Since April 1, 2020, bicycle insurance is mandatory and perhaps for good reason. 

The number of people cycling has increased with COVID-19. And along with it, there is an increase in accidents, which can have quite a steep cost if they include injuries or damage to vehicles. 

If you have car insurance, or possibly some kind of traveler’s insurance, check to see if your plan covers this. 

Otherwise, bicycle insurance is quite cheap, sometimes as cheap as a couple of hundred yen per month. So it’s 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 rules of traffic, and everything should go smoothly. Stay on the left of the road, and don’t run a red light. 

It’s also against the law to hold an umbrella while cycling (even a transparent one). 

Bicycles are supposed to stick to the road, not run on sidewalks. But in practice a lot of people do ride on the sidewalks. Just be mindful of pedestrians ー who have the right of way! 

Can you take your bicycle on a train? 

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

If your bicycle is foldable, it needs to be folded and put in a case. 

If it’s not foldable, it needs to be disassembled and put in a case.

It’s not a common thing you need to worry about, but it might be something to keep in mind if you are moving cities, or plan to take a weekend trip with your bicycle. 

Anything else you should know? 

When you get past the initial hurdle of figuring things out, cycling can be a very fun, healthy and sustainable way to discover your city.

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

What are some useful expressions to know? 

自転車(じてんしゃ | jitensha) bicycle

駐輪禁止 (じてんしゃきんし|jitenshakinshi) bicycle parking not allowed

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

自転車譲渡証明 (じてんしゃじょうとしょうめい|jitensha jouto shoumei) certification of transferring 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 bicycles

ライト (らいと | raito) lights 

鍵 (かぎ | kagi) lock

保険 (ほけん | hoken ) insurance

Find other pieces on [How to Start Life in Japan] on JAPAN Forward.