What’s so Hard about Riding a Bike?

Posted on February 3rd, 2011 by

The cliche phrase that immediately comes to mind when talking about Japan is inevitably “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” After arriving in Japan and learning some of the do’s and don’ts, I’ve come to realize that this is not only a comment on conformity, but also an enlightening thought on the nature of the hammer.

As one would expect, just about everything works a little bit differently in Japan. If you were to ask a Japanese person, you would likely hear that it works “better”. Regardless, Japan tends to approach rules and regulations with a no-nonsense mentality that stands in direct opposition to the indirect nature that one tends to expect from the culture. Rules are to be followed, regulations are to be observed, and all documents, no matter how complicated, are to be filled out in a certain way.

While I had no shortage of experience with filling out forms in my first few days in Japan, it was in learning about the rules, and likely punishment for infringing on such, that I began to get a very different picture of Japanese culture.

The easiest example I can supply is that of the bicycle.  It takes no great intellect to guess that on such a densely populated island there would be more people riding bicycles than in the United States, and yet the bureaucracy involved in buying, registering, and even riding a bike is simply stunning. The simplest part of the procedure is the purchasing of a bicycle, as there are any number of bike shops in Hirakata with reasonably priced bicycles. Part of the purchasing procedure is the registration of your bike to yourself at the time of purchase. If you are buying from a bike shop, the salesman should take care of this for you. If you were to opt to buy a bike from another student, perhaps one leaving after having completed their semester, you would both have to go to a bike shop together and pay a small fee to change the registration. While this may not seem terribly inconvenient, it is only the first of three registrations a Kansai Gaidai student would need to own a bicycle. Following the actual registration of the bicycle, students must register the bicycle at both the University as well as their Seminar house in order to park without being confiscated.

It is worth noting that part of the reason for all of the bureaucracy surrounding bicycles in Japan is that Japanese law considers bicycles as vehicles the same as cars or scooters. To clarify, practically every law you can see applying to a car, also applies to a bicycle. Riding a bike while drunk will earn the rider the same punishment (a large fine and a solid chunk of Jail time) as driving a car while intoxicated. This is motivated not by some deep seated hatred of bicycle riders, but simply by the idea that consistency and proper procedure must come first in regards to the law. On just about everything, from excessive noise levels to drug use, Japan exercises a zero tolerance policy with extremely little leniency. While this may sound like a somewhat draconian approach to the law, to the Japanese it is a way of maintaining the harmony of the community as a whole.

To make a long story short; in Japan there is a proper way to do just about everything, if you follow such, the world is a happy place, if not, you are unlikely to make the same mistake twice.



  1. Carol Vick says:

    Kyle: So good to hear from you.
    Did you buy a bike? I am so happy you areacclimating and can find food and drink. Grandma Vick

  2. Nicollette McMann says:

    Haha, that’s so true – learning bicycle etiquette is truly the sign that you’ve arrived in a foreign country ^^.