When it came to commuting, I chose cycling over taking the train when I prepared for my internship in August.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like the convenience of the Japanese train system. It is fast, always punctual, and tells you where to stand to be in front of a door. Furthermore, the ticket gates are amazing. No ticket inspectors needed here.
My point is: A lot of people think this the most convenient way to commute. Especially in the morning rush hour, the trains are so crowded, that at those times special rail cars with less seats and more doors are used. I did not feel ready for being pushed into a train, plus, the embassy is not even that far away (as you can see here).
Since there was no space in the Borderless House for a bike, I decided on a bike sharing network. There are three stations in my area and every morning I look on the websites if there are bikes left. I choose a station and a bike and get a four number code to unlock the bike.
The ride itself only takes 15 minutes, but in that short time I noticed some things that struck me as unusual.
To say it directly, there don’t seem to be any traffic rules for cyclists here.
People basically drive wherever. On the pavement, on the road, on the road in the opposite direction – it doesn’t seem to matter. Crossroads are crossed, without dismounting, in either direction or just diagonally. In Germany I would have got a ticket for not dismounting when crossing. Not here.
And it’s definitely not because there are no policemen there to control you. Basically every big crossroad has a so called koban, where policeman watch out for the traffic and are just there, so you can ask them for directions if you get lost.
They have a small whistle and I have seen them calling out pedestrians for jaywalking – which still didn’t have consequences for them – but never a cyclist for any of the things named above.
I can see however, why some cyclists would avoid riding on the roads in Tokyo. The majority of the cars in central Tokyo is not in private ownership but actually taxi cabs. In the evening and late at night I observed an estimated ratio of ¾ taxis to private cars. So chances are high, that you will have a taxi cab right in front of you. And the taxi drivers basically stop wherever, rather suddenly, on the site of the road. You really need to watch out for that when driving your bike and I admit, this could be kind of dangerous here.
To be honest though, I do take advantage of this lack of rules, too. When the road is blocked, I switch to the pavement without dismounting. I cross the roads wherever it seems convenient. I have crossed some red lights. I have even rode my bike on the wrong side of the road to avoid crossing the street. Sometimes I look at the koban policemen while doing so. 😀
I really should get rid of those behaviours before returning to Germany, though. This might get expensive otherwise…