During early spring 2012 there’s been two very gruesome car-related accidents in Kyoto and Kyoto prefecture. The accident on April 12, 2012 in the Gion district alone involved 8 casualties and even more injured pedestrians. Even though both accidents have been without involvement of a cyclist, Kyoto Prefecture recently urged cyclists to abide by Japanese rules on riding a bicycle in traffic due to the increased number of casualties (I am drawing this from an e-mail newsletter for foreign residents issued by the Kyoto prefectural department).
If you haven’t been to Japan reading about “3 years imprisonment with forced labor” for riding on the wrong side of the road sounds quite draconic. If you have been in Japan, you’ll wonder why everyone including a fragile granny on her trusty but rusty mama-chari seems to not give a shit about spending 3 years behind bars. They are cheerfully riding into oncoming traffic on double-lane roads as well as not abiding to most other supposed bicycle traffic rules such as sudden turning w/o hand-signal, no lights at night or riding with an opened umbrella in hand.
Reading further, it says “or a fine of 50,000 Yen”, which seems like an absolute bargain in comparison to 3 years of imprisonment, to me. Does this imply, that the average Japanese cyclist simply carries around about 500 Euros in cash, to ward off any oncoming imprisonment? Not necessarily. Lastly, proceeding to read the last attachment in this specific penalty “or less”, you are basically left with a very, very relative quote. “Or less” seems to be generally deducted down to a verbal warning, or “not even bothering”. Personally, I am a bit thrown of by this, because I’d be very happy to be able to make a turn on my side of the road (left, in Japan) without maybe being hit head-on by another cyclist.
What I can say is, Japanese police is going to give you a lot more leeway and creativity on riding a bicycle in traffic, as long as you, and that’s the key point, never harm another individual. If you bump into a granny or get hit by a car you’ll get into trouble. That is correct, even if you get hit by a car, you’ll get in trouble. This is another peculiar fact about Japanese traffic, everyone involved in an accident is guilty. You get hit, shouldn’t have been there at that time then.
If you want to read a bit further into this matter, and here some more opinions as well as funny examples I can recommend this posting “Of Bicycle Laws in Japan and other Mythical Beasts” on Tokyo by Bike. It’s a nice and informative blog in English, about what’s going on with bikes, commuting etc. in the big city Tokyo. Give it a look!
Ride safe, and don’t hit or get hit!