Legally Parking Your Bicycle in Japan
Have you ever “mistakenly” left your bike in an illegal parking area or shopping center while you left for a few hours or the whole day? If you have, don’t feel bad. It happens on a rather frequent basis – especially if you are new to the area/country, it’s pouring down rain or you are running late.
If you own a bicycle or motorbike and use it to commute to the train station or another transportation area, there are simple and inexpensive ways to do it correctly. As you will read on, your bicycle or motorbike can be towed and the fees are much more costly than parking your bike in the correct way.
Where to Park and Not Park Your Bicycle
Churin Kinshi駐輪禁止 (NO PARKING)
People in Japan do tend to park in illegal bicycle places. You will see that on many street corners or near transportation locations. Why, you wonder?! The simple answer may be the same as yours – time and/or convenience. That gets you thinking . . . since local Japanese people are doing it, can I do that too?! The short answer is “No.” You are taking a risk that it will be towed away. (Yes, they do tow bicycles!)
There are signs that indicate where NOT to park your bicycle. You will see them everywhere in Japan. Be careful to follow these signs! There are special designated lots to park your bicycle. The cost is minimal, and you will not need to worry if your bicycle will be there when you return.
Churinjo 駐輪場 – The correct place to park your bike
If you want to be better safe than sorry, you should park your bike in a Churinjo or 駐輪場. This is considered a bicycle parking lot in Japanese.
Most train stations will have a nearby bicycle parking area where you can pay by the hour or for the full day. Many of these parking lots are automated or have a kiosk with a staff attendant that will help you to rent a parking space.
There is a great blog written by an expat with detailed information on how to use the bicycle parking lot. It is completely in English and shows step-by-step instructions as well as clear photos. The explanation will help you to correctly use and pay for your bicycle storage. It was written several years ago, but the “how-to” steps are the same as today. Check it out!
Per Day: Most lots cost ¥100 per time. It is an inexpensive way to pay for the day.
Per Month: There are options to pay on a monthly basis. This might be something to consider if you plan to commute by bicycle on a daily basis. The cost could save you from paying more for the daily rate (over time) and the actual time to use the daily pay system.
Underground Bike Parking Lots (Echo Cycle Lots)
The underground bike parking lots can store up to 204 bikes in only 8.15 meters. It parks a bike in as little as 13 seconds. Eco Cycle Anti-Seismic Underground Bicycle Park was invented and built in 1998 by the Geiken Seisakusho Company. There are currently 47 units in Japan; 28 in Tokyo and 19 in other cities. It is operated using a card system and costs ¥1,800, which is a lot cheaper than the cost of a stolen bike. You need to have a scanner attached to the front area of your bike and receive a card. The YouTube video below shows in depth how it works, how you use the system, etc. It is all in English.
Larger department stores and area restaurants or shops generally provide their own bicycle lots for paying customers. The lot(s) may be limited in the number of bicycle spaces. Therefore, you might need to park nearby or plan your shopping trip to avoid the peak “bicycle parking” times.
If it is a small convenience mart or shop, you also might not see any designated parking. Follow the “local” rules and generally you will see people parking their bicycles in front of or near the shop away from the ongoing traffic.
The cost of using the designated shopping bicycle lot is typically FREE even though you do not purchase any items from the store.
Towing Your Bike
If you receive a slip of paper attached to your bicycle, it is considered a warning notice. The police will tow your bicycle if you continue to park illegally.
Having your bike towed in Japan can be challenging to expats. You have to find where the illegally parked bike lot for that area is located and then go there to retrieve your bike in person. This tends to be in a location that is hard to find and far away from any major train station. Also, at some major train stations there is more than one illegal bike parking lot. Therefore, asking someone locally may result in a wasted trip to the wrong location.
Additionally, each area has different staff that can decide whether or not they want to simply place a warning paper on your bicycle or actually have it removed. The cost for getting your bike back is around ¥4000. For this reason, taking the extra time and energy to find a visitor parking lot or pay parking lot is worth the extra few minutes.
Bicycle Theft and Registration
Bicycle theft is not an everyday occurrence, but it is not as uncommon as you think in Japan. In order to fight crime, every bicycle in Japan is supposed to be registered with the police. This requires a small one-time fee. If you buy a new bicycle, the registration process will likely be handled by the store. However, if you buy a used bicycle from someone else, you are supposed to re-register it under your name at the local police station in order to avoid future issues.
Most bicycles are equipped with a basic lock (see illustration below on how to use it), but more sturdy locks are required if you are concerned about bicycle theft.
There are several rules with bicycles in Japan. This article pertains to only parking. However, there are bicycle “rules of the road” that you need to learn and follow. There is a pamphlet in English that will help you understand how to ride your bicycle safely and without issue in Japan. It is published by the Japan Traffic Safety Organization.
Now that you know how to use the bicycle parking system in Japan, you will look like a local and find the convenience rewarding. Until next time, have fun cycling around your area!