Travel, Teach, Live in Japan
One of the first things that foreigners arriving in Japan are often surprised by are the vast number of bicycles that can be seen careening through the city streets and sidewalks. Almost everyone, from grandmothers to well dressed businessmen on their way to the office use a “jitensha” ( bicycle) as a form of mainstream transportation. Whether employed for picking up the children from preschool, pedaling to the nearest train station, or commuting to work or university, the bicycle has become an integral part of Japanese society. Even the police, who can often be seen making nightly rounds on bicycles, prefer them in regard to navigating the narrow network of streets that comprise most Japanese cities and towns. The two wheelers are indeed everywhere, and to such an extent that huge parking areas near most shopping centers and railway stations are dedicated solely to accommodating bicycles.
Despite their convenience and appeal as a cheap form of transportation, they are also a major annoyance and possible physical threat to those riders and pedestrians who fail to learn the rules of the road. Those rules being: that there are no rules of the road. In theory bicycles by law are to be ridden only on city streets and not sidewalks, except when signs indicate otherwise. In reality however this regulation is entirely ignored by everyone. More times than I care to remember I've found myself
jumping out of the way of some over zealous cyclist who decided the path of least resistance would be to run directly over me. Or felt the sudden swoosh of air touch my arm as a crazed biker appearing out of nowhere like some invisible phantom in the night sped manically by from behind as I leisurely sauntered home.
In spite of these pitfalls the bicycle in Japan for better or worse is here to stay, and as the saying goes, “if you can't beat em join em”. For those of you who are considering purchasing one upon arriving
you'll be pleased to know they're quite inexpensive, the average cost running around 10,000 yen , and used bicycles are available for even less. The most common bicycles for everyday use are typically one speed models with steel frames which include a kickstand, generator lights, fenders, caliper front brake and disk rear brake, and a steel mesh basket which is attached to the handle bars for carrying groceries and other items.
Jim Sherard is the author of "Land of the Rising Sun, A Guide to Living and Working in Japan", which can be found at: www.escapeartist.com/e_Books/Living_and_Working_in_Japan/Living_and_Working_in_Japan.html