If you have begun looking at moving to Japan, one thing you may see in many pictures of city life is bicycles. They are a heavily used source of transportation, especially in the cities of Japan. The rules of the road also apply to bicycles in many ways and buying one will come with some extra things that you should be aware of.
Purchasing a bike is very simple and straight forward in Japan. You have a few choices as to where to get it from as well. Your first choice is a bicycle shop. These stores specialize in everything you will need to purchase your first bike in Japan. Finding a store that has workers that can speak more than Japanese is very rare, but you can generally work out what you want with the store staff. Having a friend that can speak Japanese accompany you will make this much easier. These shops typically sell the top or high-end bike models which tend to be a little pricy. There are less expensive models, but these shops will try to steer you towards ones that can make a bigger hole in your wallet. You will be able to find the bicycle that will fit your needs, whether it be light travel to the grocery store or mountain cycling. This also means that you will be getting a better-quality bicycle so the money will be well spent if you decide on one at these places.
Your next choice would be department stores. Some big-name store chains in Japan sell electronics, home appliances, and other things, like bicycles. The selection of bicycles in these stores will be smaller, but they will also have more affordable models for you. They will also stay closer to the city type of bicycles, and less to the off-road kind. There will usually be family bicycles and ones for easy item transport for grocery shopping. These stores will also offer special promotions like free maintenance for a year, or special prices on insurance. Here you will have a little more luck in finding a sales associate that speaks English as well.
If you didn’t find what you want, or the price just wasn’t where you wanted it to be, then you can try the recycle shops. The name simply means a pawn shop, where you can find bicycles among other things. These shops will usually have the cheapest prices of any kind of model bicycle. They are usually well kept and can be easy to purchase. These places usually just sell the bicycle with no insurance or special promotions. They do register it in your name, but that is about all that they do in most places. There is also no guarantee that there will be all models or any substantial stock, so it’s a gamble every time you go to one.
Online groups, social media & websites
Your last place to look is on social media. There many groups, and websites, dedicated to selling unwanted items, groups for people doing farewell sales, and ones for giving things away for free. These sites can be very convenient since most people using them are English speakers, so it makes the whole process easier. These sales are usually meeting face to face and exchanging cash and items. The quality of the items can be less than desirable as well, so make sure you check the items out as much as possible before paying for them.
Registering your bike
Once you purchase your bicycle you will need to register it and buy insurance for it. Bicycles are seen as small vehicles in Japan and require everyone to register it and get accident insurance just in case anything happens. At bicycle stores, and department stores, you register at the time of purchase, and most likely buy your insurance as well. Insurance is typically around 10,000 yen for one year. If you are ticketed or get into an accident without insurance, you can get extra fines and penalties added to your record. It is best to stay up to date and renew it every year.
Parking and what to be aware of
Now that you have finished the paperwork involved with your new bicycle, you have to have somewhere to put it. Most apartment complexes, mansions, have a parking area that you will have to pay a monthly fee to park your bike. It is usually about 2,000 yen a month, and you may get a space that is only for you. Some mansions allow you to keep the bicycle at your apartment area, and this usually will not require you to pay a monthly fee, but some places prohibit this so you will have to check with your landlord. If your apartment complex does not have parking, there are bike garages you keep your bicycle at for a monthly fee as well. These places vary in prices so you will need to search around for one that is convenient and affordable. Most train stations have parking garages near them and they also have monthly parking fees that may be useful for you as well. Make sure to mind the signs, as some areas may have spots that if you park there, they will haul away your bicycle away. You will then need to talk to the police to try and get your property back.
Last but not least
You may wonder if you even need to buy one when you get to your new apartment. Distance to your basic necessities like supermarkets, “konbinis”, train stations, etc. may be farther than desirable. There are also many bike trails in the parks, and some places have places specifically for bicycles so riders can enjoy the scenery. You may be able to bypass public transportation and only pay a small parking fee which will save you more money. Exploring the cities can become much more enjoyable as well and can allow you access to areas quicker than walking. It is also a great source of exercise, you may be able to find groups that enjoy riding, and develop new friendships.
Whatever your reasons may be, buying and owning a bicycle in Japan can make your time in the country more enjoyable. It’s easy to get one, and the upkeep is usually minimum. As long as you pay attention to rules involved with ownership of one, you should have no trouble at all.