It’s 7 p.m. in Tokyo and we are making our way towards the neon lights of Shibuya. It’s a short walk to the metro station, but in just 60 seconds we encounter 17 cyclists. All are cycling on the pavement.
It’s clear cycling is popular in Tokyo, but where are cyclists actually permitted? It seems Japan remains undecided on the issue. However, as of October the 25th 2011 (just a few days ago), the police have been told to crackdown on pavement cyclists. Whilst many of the areas are marked as dual use for pedestrians and cyclists, the translation seems to have been that everywhere is permitted.
As a pedestrians I can see how it is frustrating. You quickly learn to pick a path when walking down the street and stick to it. If you deviate there’s a good chance a cyclist will have to swerve around you. It doesn’t create an environment for a pleasant walk. However, this is Tokyo after all, a place not known for relaxation.
As a city, Tokyo is as modern, exciting and contradictory as they come. Warning sounds echo everywhere. From recordings of birds chirping in the metro, to songs from the latest boy band sensation as you walk around Shibuya. It’s a dazzling experience and one I felt more comfortable exploring on foot, before I hop on a bike next week.
When I do hop on a bike, I won’t be sticking out if I choose a Dutch style bike. Though not sticking out is a little hard to do in Japan. A western face always draws glances and waves from school girls dressed as sailors.
Whilst the predominant bicycle you see in Tokyo will have a pannier rack, a few gears and a step-over frame, there are big signs of fixed gear and single speed appreciation present. This is a stylish city after all and sights of red wheels, one front brake and no derailleur don’t come as a surprise.
There is however one thing about cycling in Tokyo that really surprises me. In a good way.
It’s the bike locks. Or, more accurately, the lack of them. Locking your bike here means turning the key in the lock attached to the rear wheel. It then snaps into place and the bike cannot be pedalled. On most bikes, this is the only form of security used. The sheer jealousy I’m certain I will feel the next time I lug my heavy Kryptonite lock into my bag will not soon fade!
On bikes lacking a lock attached to the rear wheel, a simple lock such as the Knog Kabana is suffice. Perhaps however, this too shouldn’t have come as a real surprise. Japan is a very safe country. I find myself tempted to leave my phone on a bench and wait to see if someone runs after me to hand it over or decides to pinch it. However, I need my phone, and anyway, I’m always forgetting the words for thank you very much.
Next week I’m going to try some riding around Tokyo so they’ll be more to report.
P.S. A very special thank you to everyone who has been getting in touch with me with Japan and Tokyo tips. It seems there’s a number of Japanophiles amongst London Cyclist readers. I’ve not had a chance to respond to all emails but I have read them and I’m following the advice.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.