I have been cycling for more than 20 years and have always loved it as a form of exercise, as an ecological way to commute to work or just for fun.
I have cycled in several big cities around the world and I consider myself to be a competent and considerate road user.
Until very recently I had never had any kind of accident and have never been stopped by the Police anywhere in the world for breaking cycling laws.
So it is with some consternation that I have recently been seriously considering no longer cycling in Tokyo.
The short film above attempts to elucidate why.
Cycling in Tokyo is far more dangerous than anywhere else I have ever cycled, simply because of other cyclists.
It may sound like vitriol to some but as stated in the video, the vast majority of cyclists in Tokyo are criminally irresponsible in their use of the roads.
Regardless of laws it would seem to be simple common sense, graspable by all but the most idiotic of cyclists that cycling the wrong way down a major 4 lane road at night, with no lights, with headphones on whilst texting on your phone is at best irresponsible, but I see this and comparably dangerous acts on a daily basis.
Breaking a law that places others in serious danger should, I think everyone would agree, carry stiff penalties.
The problem in Tokyo is made much worse by the fact that despite there being adequate laws and penalties in place the Police do almost nothing, even when witnessing these crimes directly. The willful incompetence of the Police makes them complicit in the 150,000 accidents involving cyclist that occur every year.
As much as I love cycling, when the situation is such that even if I obey all the road laws and am considerate of other road users and pedestrians I am still taking my life in my hands due to the stupidity and criminality of others and the seeming inability of the Police to do anything about it, I am forced to consider the worst every time I get on my bike.
I don’t want to stop cycling in Tokyo, but given the situation, what am I supposed to do?
(I would be happy to hear from other Tokyo cyclists regarding the issues raised here in the comments)
A few facts from the voice over in the video in case you missed them:-
In Japan it is Illegal to:-
cycle whilst drunk,
on the wrong side of the road,
with no front light and rear reflector at night,
whilst wearing headphones,
using a mobile phone,
with an open umbrella,
with a passenger over 6 years of age and on most but not all sidewalks.
These crimes are punishable by up to 5 months in prison or fines ranging from 20,000 to 1 million Yen.
However less than 100 people were charged last year, fewer than the number charged for murder.
There are more than 150,000 Accidents a year involving bicycles, one of the highest rates in the world.
Approximately 800 cyclists are killed a year.
40% of cyclist fatalities are caused by cyclists ignoring red lights or stop signs.
More than 20% of all road traffic accidents involve cyclists.
Several pedestrians are killed and about 2500 are injured a year by cyclist on sidewalks.
(Sources:National Police Agency Of Japan and General Insurance Agency Of Japan)
Filmed using a GoPro Hero 2 over the course of 7 days in Tokyo.
I did not go out looking for these scenes, I merely attached the camera to my bicycle whenever I went anywhere and took it with me whilst walking.
So many crimes were recorded that it would have been impossible to include them all, the edited video would have come out at something like 11 minutes!