The Bicycle in Japan

By: James Sherard

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.

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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.

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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.

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