A little clip we made of the Shinkansen @ Yurakucho Station.
Except for limited new blue or red Tokyo bike lanes, this is how Japan does bike lanes.
Not very safe. And this is in upscale Maruonuchi.
In this post we’ll quickly cover how to use the Suica card machines @ Japan train stations – not too much in depth stuff – just the most basic but important things to know.
A photo of one of the machines:
- To use English tap the small square blue button in the upper right corner of the touch screen. This takes you to a screen with more large touch-screen buttons – such as buy new Suica, add fare to Suica, etc. Once on this screen, tap the touchscreen button for the type of transaction you want.
- Note most machines have a combo of physical + touchscreen buttons.
- To cancel any transaction, press the small plastic round red button on the left on the top panel (just to the left of the white down-pointing arrow).
- When you first buy your card, you inser bills in the bottom right black slot. The slot will light telling you to put your $ in. Once you put ¥ in and press the purchase button on the touchscreen, the machine will spit your new Suica card out of the bottom left black slot. Take your card. You can now use it – at the IC turnstyles in stations, at coin lockers (newer ones anyway), and in some convenience stores to buy stuff at checkout).
- If you want to use coins for any transaction, in addition, drop them in the coin slot on the right side of the machine (the one with the rectangular yellow border around it.
- If you need to add ¥ to your Suica later, first tap English again (if you need English), then insert your Suica into the top left slot (the one with the yellow border around it on top). A green light may also flash around the slot telling you where to insert your card. Once the machine sucks your card in, there will be buttons for the amount you want to add. Tap the button onscreen, then insert bills and/or coins as described above. The amount will be added and your cards’ new total will be displayed. Once the machine adds your ¥, tap the done button and it will eject your card. Take your card and you are done.
- There is also an option purely to check your Suica’s current balance – follow the onscreen instructions on the machine.
That’s it – you won’t use most of the other controls on the machine – hell, we still don’t know what most of them are for.
Location: 35°44’45.85″ N 139°43’03.77″ E
Our Rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑
Worth it? Yep.
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My return to the first small town I stayed at in Japan 18 years ago – Itabashi in northwest Tokyo.
The name Itabashi literally means plankbridge.
Itabashi is part of a larger northwestern area of Tokyo called Toshima City.
In 2001, on my first trip to Japan, right off the airplane, I landed in the charming small town of Itabashi. I was excited. Everything in Japan was new to me then, and I was thrilled to be there.
Purely by accident I discovered a great Japanese hotel chain APA Hotels, which has a hotel in Itabashi, right next to the JR Itabashi train station. APA stands for “Always Pleasant Amenities” and they mean it. APA’s are usually cheap, very clean + have soundproof windows. The APA Itabashi hotel off season is an low $65/night – which is what you would pay for a Motel 6 in the US, but APAs are much much better.
The rooms have a fridge, HDTV, power, charging sockets, and nice bathrooms. Well worth the $. There’s also a nice cafe, vending machine, and ice machine (which the Japanese call Ice Engines).
In 2019, I returned to Itabashi, 18 years after my initial sojurn, and stayed just 3 doors down from the room I stayed in during 2001.
This post is a memory of that journey, and about my new adventure in Itabashi in 2019.
The 2001 Photos + Trip
In 2001 digital cameras were still a new thing. All the photos in this section were taken on an Apple QuickTake 200 – which at the time was a hot camera. By today’s standards these are postage-stamp resolution, but they provide a good comparison with the 2019 trip.
In 2001 I hopped a flight from California to Tokyo. The city was overwhelming as was the 16-hour flight. Upon landing I took the NEX from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station, changed trains to the JR Chuo Line, changed again at Shinjuku Station, and took the Saikyo Line up to Itabashi. I will never forget the momemt I stepped off the train and onto the street below the station – the subdued feeling of calmness and relative silence for a city this large.
I headed straight to the hotel – APA Itabashi. I was amazed at the cleanliness + quality of both the city + hotel.
Original JR Itabashi Station – where I first stepped onto the street in Japan for the first time, now replaced.
City center square – just across from the station. This area and the station have been renovated in 2019 for the 2020 Summer Games. Note this view for later.
APA Hotel just to the west of the station. There is a small pedestrian tunnel on the right which leads to the other city square up to the north of the station.
Just to the east of APA Hotel. The small police box or Koban is the small white bldg. on the right. The small brown bldg. on the left has been torn down and replaced with a big new remodelled station in 2019. People in Japan don’t steal bikes and amazingly, all of these parked bikes were unlocked. Note this view for later below.
The Koban from the front. The old station is just to the right, and the city square is just behind the camera. APA Hotel is to the left.
Diagonally from the Daily Yamazaki was this vending machine corner – still the same today.
APA Itabashi hotel lobby with cafe in 2001. Still the same today.
APA Itabashi room view in 2001 looking west. Today the small white apato bldg. has been torn down and replaced with a massive condo development which blocks nearly the entire view. The platform for JR Itabashi Station is just below, but the hotel has soundproof windows. Note this view for later, below.
APA Itabashi room. The rooms are tiny, but quite good, and very clean. They even have a tiny desk. Note the old-style CRT-type TV from 2001. In all APAs in Japan, these have now been replaced with HDTV’s.
The 2019 Photos + Trip
So in 2019 I began to make plans to return to Japan for an extended tour. I immediately began to think of returning to Itabashi as my 1st stop – just for fun – to see if it had changed. So I booked the same hotel for 2 weeks. This time I played the flight smart and stayed overnight in the Pacific Northwest in the US – which cuts the flight time down from 16 hours to a mere 10 – and makes it much easier. If you live in Vancouver you can do the same – although flight time will be 12 instead of 10 hours. 10 hours is doable. 16 is murder.
Touching down at Narita, 2019.
Tokyo Station had changed and was now much more massive – by an order of several magnitudes. On top of that, all the train stations in Tokyo were being remodeled that fall in preparation for the 2020 Summer Games. I struggled my 3 bags through the station and its labyrinth tunnels to get the Chuo Line once again to Shinjuku.
Once in Shinjuku (whose station was also completely torn up), I bought a Suica prepaid IC card and headed for the Saikyo Line platform. After a few minutes’ wait, I boarded and rode the line back north – just as I had done 18 years earlier. Just as I had remembered, it was only a short hop.
The train stopped at Itabashi, brakes squealing, the doors opened, and I once again stepped off onto the platform. Time rewound decades as I vividly recalled my first step into Japan nearly 20 years earlier.
To my amazement, with the exception of a large white bldg. to the east of the station, nothing had changed. Nothing. The station + platform were almost unchanged. The back of the hotel, which faces the station was as if I had never left. I saw the long oval windows of the hotel restaurant where I had eaten my first breakfast in Japan the day after arriving the first time in 2001. Memories of that trip came flooding back – the unique smell of Japan, the low quiet rumble of this city of 30 million people, the cleanliness, the sky, the trains.
Return to Itabashi – as if by time machine – 18 years later.
I headed to the stairs – which had been replaced by a new escalator. It was here I learned the stations were being remodeled for the Olympics. Inside, the station had completely changed. Modern marble walls, new restrooms, a new conbini inside the station which had not existed before.
The newly remodeled JR Itabashi Station.
The new Itabashi Station was finally completed in June 2020 – including a new row of shops on the right side.
South/East side of the new station. Entrance is on the left. Note the nice new pavement. In almost 20 years this is about the only thing that has changed in Itabashi.
I slapped my Suica card on the turnstile’s IC reader with a beep, and passed through. I went up the new exit ramp, around the corner of the new station, and onto the same street where I first set foot 18 years ago.
Nothing had changed.
The same small white police Koban, the same small town square + fountain, the shops + apartments, the same street.
First step out of Itabashi Station in 2019 – except for the large new station bldg. on the left, nothing had changed. The same Koban is visible up on the right. The pedestrian tunnel entrance is visible on the left.
The pedestrian tunnel leading to the north side of the station, bike parking, and the west city square.
Itabashi city square today – just outside the station.
Dental office directly across from the hotel. Except for a freshly painted railing, and new sidewalk pavement, nothing had changed.
I walked to the right 1 block and there was the hotel – exactly as I had left it a long time ago. The same dentist office right across the street, the same small Italian restaurant where I had first eaten pizza in Japan in 2001. The Daily Yamakazi conbini right across from it. Surely, I said to myself, the same vending machines can’t still be on the corner – where I had tasted my first Japanese soft drink – Pocari Sweat in 2001. I walked down the street – and there it was – the same vending machine corner. As if by time machine, I was back in Tokyo, after all this time, at the exact same spot I remembered from long ago. And everything was exactly the same.
With the exception of the new station bldg, Itabashi had been trapped in a time warp.
I headed into the hotel on the right. Same bike parking lot, same sign, same street. Once again, memories came flooding back. The large brass frame on the front door’s circular sliding glass doors, floor tiles, and 200¥ coin lockers – all the same. I headed up the ramped lobby, past the small coffee bar I remembered, and to the front desk. Not one thing in the lobby had changed. Even the same painting on the stairs leading up to the restaurant.
APA hotel today – even the bike parking fence is the same – in fact, it hasn’t even been painted.
I checked in. The staff were polite as usual. I got my room key, and dragged my bags toward the elevator. Past the Hoshizaki Ice Engine I had used 18 years before.
Into the elevator.
To my amazement, the hotel staff placed me in a room exactly 3 doors down from the very first room I had stayed in 18 years earlier. I didn’t request it – somehow it just turned out that way. Same floor, same wallpaper, same hotel – even the same side of the hall. Just 3 doors down.
4th floor in the hotel.
Just for fun, I walked to the end of the hall and to the door of the room I had stayed in during 2001. I looked out the same fire escape window at the first skyline view I had ever had of Tokyo. I just stood for a minute thinking in silence – 18 years – amazed that I was even here again, in the same spot.
My original room in 2001.
Looking south towards Ikebukuro. The groaning city in the gathering dark.
I went back down the hall to my room, unlocked the door and stepped inside. Everything here too, was just as I remembered it – except the view was now blocked by a huge new condo development. I opened the window and looked out into the humid late summer air. That familiar smell – the smell of Japan. The station platform below was just as I left it too.
Back in Japan for the first time in 18 years.
What a thrill.
In Part 2 I describe more about the town, the other side of the station, and things to do + see. Enjoy!
My original Apple QuickTake 200 camera from 2000. A ghost from the past.
Original west side of Itabashi Station – now completely replaced by a new taller station bldg.
Original east side entrance of Itabashi Station – now completely replaced.
Main center square outside JR Itabashi Station, early fall.
Shopping street northwest of Itabashi center square.
JR Sakiyo Line train crossing, east of JR Itabashi Station.
JR Itabashi Station at night. JR Saikyo Line headed south to Ikebukuro.
Location: 35°46’47.87″ N 139°43’22.99″ E
Worth it? Yep.
Akabane is another fun, charming small Japanese town in northwest Tokyo. A nice short day trip, it sits just south of Saitama Prefecture in northwest Tokyo. Its train station is the 1st stop on the JR Saikyo Line with other notable stops to the south: Itabashi, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Omiya.
Be sure to check out the town square right outside Akabane Station. There are also very nice hotels right next to the station and even a western-style Denny’s. The lobby of the hotel Denny’s is in also has a 7-11 ATM which accepts some foreign bank + debit cards.
The newly remodled JR Akabane Station
The JR Akabane Station has just been rebuilt and is very nice. Lots of shops and restaurants right in the station itself. Lots more just outside the west and east exists.
Akabane is 1 stop north of Jujo and 2 stops north of Itabashi on the Saikyo JR line. It’s easy to get to from Shibuya, Shinjuku, or Ikebukuro: take the Yamanote Line north from Shibuya, Harajuku, or Shinjuku, then get off at Ikebukuro Station and change to the Saikyo Line headed north. Akabane is 2 stops north of Itabashi on the Saikyo Line and 4 stops north of Ikebukuro.
West exit, JR Akabane Station.
South of the East Exit – there’s also a large Family Mart here.
There’s even a Mister Donut at the east exit: leave the station and turn right – you can’t miss it.
Careful – this can get dangerous real fast.
There’s more usual western fast food, and coffee in the area. But the real treats are the fine dining restaurants located on the upper floors of buildings overlooking the square. Give any one of them a try:
There are 2 handy spots just to the north of the west exit: a bank of coin lockers where you can stash your stuff for a few bucks – and a free public WiFi spot. Go out of the west exit, turn left, cross the street, then turn left again. Cross the next intersection and immediately turn right – both the coin lockers + WiFi spot are just on your left.
After dark, visit Akabane Ichibangai alley – which dates back to the turn of the 20th century and survived World War 2 air raids intact. Locals pour into bars and tiny restaurants here. There’s an endless variety of local food.
At the south end of the city – away from the square is a great little cafe called Nine Tea. Worth a stop. From the west exit, head one block east, then south.
Also check out the huge Kyu-Furukawa Gardens.
One of the first Walmarts to open in Japan is to the east of the station – and they seem intent on putting traditional Japanese depatos such as Seiyu out of business.
Walk far enough east + south – you’ll end up in Jujo. It’s a good idea to have a cell phone or GPS device available at all times in case you get lost.
Some areas in Japan are finally starting to install bike lanes – something long overdue. This one is just to the south west of JR Akabane Station.
There’s also a large Catholic Church built right after World War 2 to the east of the station.
Name: Narita City
Location: 35°46’35.97″ N 140°19’07.47″ E
Take the Keisei Line from the airport to Narita Station and get off.
There are 2 different lines + stations in Narita – the Keisei Line + the JR lines at the JR station. Both stations are within a few blocks of each other near the town square. Don’t get these confused with the stations at the airport. Narita City is actually a few miles southwest of the airport.
Skyliner Info Desk @ Narita International.
There are many good hotels in Narita City but we recommend APA Narita Ekimae – it’s 1 block from the station, very clean, quiet, and reasonably priced at around $65/night. You’ll see the word Ekimae at many hotels in Japan. It means “At the station”.
Just north of the airport is also the Narita View Hotel at around $50-60/night. Well worth the money and closer to the airport. Just keep in mind this option is outside the town of Narita itself so you’ll have to take the train into town to sightsee.
If you take the Skyliner to/from the airport to Keisei Ueno station, there’s a very good luggage forwarding service at that station which will forward your bags the next day for $9/bag. This works in both directions – to/from the airport to your hotel.
Narita City itself is a charming old small town with lots to do.
There are stations for both JR trains and Keisei lines in the same block in the town square.
Step off the train from the aiport onto a local street and you’re instanly in small town Japan.
If you’re feeling adventurous, walk one mile from Narita City’s center on backstreets to get to a large AEON shopping mall. There is also a street called Narita Omotesando on the way lined with lots of traditional shops + restaurants.
Just to the left of the JR Narita Station in the city square is the Narita City Tourist Information Office. There’s actually a lot to do in Narita City – including a nice museum. Also be sure to check out the impressive Narita City Hall.
View of business district in Narita City. The edge of the city hall is the sloped green-roofed bldg. on the left center in this photo. You can also walk a few miles down the main street shown above to the south and back for some nice exercise.
Entering Narita City Square from the south. Turn right here for Narita Omotosando. The JR Narita Station is out of frame to the left.
Narita City Square. APA Hotel is the small white bldg. in the distance to the left of the tall brown bldg. on the right.
JR Narita Station, right. The Narita Tourism Office is just to the left in the same building. Turn right at this light and go north here to get to the main shopping area. In the 3-story bldg. on the left there is a very nice and large Family Mart.
Keisei Narita Station – take the Keisei Skyliner out of Narita International Airport and get off here. This is just across from the town square.
Narita City Hall
There’s a huge map of Narita City just next to the city hall.
Just to the northeast of Narita City Hall under the elevated Keisei tracks is Kuriyama Neighborhood Park – a very nice verdant park with benches and lots of room for kids to play. There’s also an old steam locomotive here. Well worth a look. It’s around 35°46’42.67″ N 140°19’08.71″ E
Most hotels in Narita City are conveniently located. Easy to use convenience stores (conbini) and parking abound.
Eat like a king cheap out of conbini (convenience stores). A lot of the food is quite healthy such as cheap pre-made salads, lemon tea, and vegetable drinks. This entire meal only cost around 600¥ (about $6).
You can actaully have a great time in Narita City just walking around. Pick a street and just start walking to see what you’ll discover. If you’re up for getting a Japanese Driver’s License, you can even buy a brand new Honda scooter at local dealers for as little as $900, like the one shown below.
The real attraction in Narita is the long shopping street just to the north of the town square. Nippon Wandering TV covered this street in the video shown at the end of this post. To get there go west from either station, into the city square, then turn right (north) immediately. There are all kinds of nice little shops along this street which are well worth a stroll.
Narita is full of simple + charming small homes such as this one. Note the typhoon shutters on the left side.
Narita City has plenty of old-school charm to keep you occupied – well worth a few days exploring.
Epic train tracks heading back to Narita International. Narita City Hall is just across the street to the right, out of frame.
More Narita International Resources
Narita to Tokyo: Late-Night Transfer Options
While trains are one of the easiest ways of getting from Narita during the day, they aren’t really an option late at night. The N’EX is $36, last leaves Terminal 1 at 9:44pm depositing you at Tokyo Station just under 60 min, and Ikebukuro at 11:09pm (which should give you enough time to transfer to a connecting train for you area, if it isn’t one of those).
N’EX Round Trip can be purchased from JR EAST Service Centers + JR Ticket Offices at Narita Terminals 1, 2·3. Purchase is not available outside Japan, we recommend buying the ticket immediately on arrival.
Note several JR Service Centers also offer hotel reservations + luggage services.
Adults $60-$70. Tickets are valid 14 days. Trains operate every 30 mins + take about an hour from Narita to Tokyo station. Use Ordinary Car reserved seats on Narita Express. A one-way ticket is valid for use on one limited express.
|Narita Airport Terminal 1||JR EAST Travel Service Center||All Days||8:15-19:00|
||JR Ticket Office||All Days||6:30-8:15, 19:00-21:45|
||Narita Terminal 1 Travel Center||All Days||9:00-20:00|
|Narita Airport Terminal 2·3||JR EAST Travel Service Center||All Days||8:15-20:00|
||JR Ticket Office||All Days||6:30-8:15, 20:00-21:45|
- Tokyo Station
- Shinjuku Station
- Shibuya Station
- Ikebukuro Station
- Ueno Station
- Hamamatsucho Station
- Narita Airport
- Haneda Airport
- Sendai Station
- Shinkansen and limited express ticket sales
- Suica sales
- Various other tickets
Currency exchange window/Foreign currency exchange ATMs
Footnote: T-CAT As a Cheap Return Alternative
Here’s a cheap travel hack for the return trip to Narita when you’re ready to leave Japan: Use the Tokyo City Air Terminal (aka T-CAT) bus service. This little known bus service is way out on the east side of Tokyo right in the Metro Hanzomon Line’s Suitengumae (pronounced Sweet-ten-goo-may) Station. There is also First Cabin Suitengumae capsule hotel just 3 blocks down the street from T-CAT @ around $42/night. When you’re ready to return to Narita you could take the NE’X or Skyliner back, but the T-CAT bus service will shoot you there in silent comfort for a mere $9. It also has busses to Haneda Airport.
To get to T-CAT, jump on the Metro Hanzomon Line down to Suitengumae Station, and take the City Air Terminal District Gate exit. You can also enter the station from the street. In fact, it’s only a few miles from Tokyo Station itself so you can even walk there from Tokyo Sta. – and see some sights along the way. You can also make reservations on T-CAT’s website in advance.
Hanzomon Line is indicated by the purple circle and “Z”, in this case at Otemachi Sta. just north of Tokyo Sta. Suitengumae is Hanzomon Z10 – just 2 stops east. The blue Metro system symbol is on the left.
For T-CAT exit City Air Terminal District Gate.
Metro Hanzomon Line map. Suitengumae is roughly in the center (Z10), shown in red, and Otemachi Sta. is just 2 stops to the east at Z08. You can also take the line all the way to its western terminus @ Shibuya, shown on the far left, or Oshiagé/SKYTREE, its eastern terminus, shown on the far right. The Mitsukoshimae stop (Z09) is in Nihombashii just to the north + stops in the basement of the Mitsukoshi Depato (department store), which is well worth a look.
Metro Hanzomon Line’s Suitengumae platform.
Bike Access to T-CAT
If you are on bike you can park your bike for up to 24 hrs. at the very nice Royal Park Hotel Nihonbashii just down the street for a few ¥. The lockers are outside on the east side, but the place is very safe + the hotel staff will even be willing to help you if you’re not staying there since it’s their bike park. You can lock your bike, jump a bus, or train, go where you need + return later for your bike. The hotel is at 35°40’54.88″ N 139°47’13.24″ E (2-1-1 Nihonbashi-Kakigara-cho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo). This here map shows roughly the relationship between all 3 places:
Suitengumae Station is the leftmost pin, Royal Park Hotel the center one, First Cabin Suitengumae the right one. T-CAT is in the station. Sumida River is just to the right. To the east (right) of this is Asakusa, and a little further east, Sky Tree. There is also another Royal Park Hotel in Shiodome.
Suitengumae Area Photo Enjoyment
Here are a few more photos from the area for your enjoyment + reference:
2 more views of T-CAT @ Suitengumae Station.
Walking from Suitengumae Sta. to Tokyo Sta.
There is also another public outdoor bike locker on this route.
Be careful with Otemachi Sta. – it’s easy to get sucked into its labyrinth shopping malls + corridors which go on for miles inside + underground.
First Cabin Suitengumae is on the left tucked down this quiet residential side street. The main street, Etai-Dori is just to the right out of frame. Turn right on Etai-Dori and head a few blocks west to get to T-CAT.
Welcome, dear traveler, to First Cabin‘s futuristic sleeping pods:
First Cabin Suitengumae‘s facilities are quite nice:
If you walk just a bit east on Etai-Dori Ave you cross Etai Bridge over the Sumida River, from which you can gaze at this famous view of Toyko known as Ookawabata River City:
Etai Bridge is roughly at 35°40’33.40″ N 139°47’17.99″ E and you can walk or ride a bike across it. You can enter Ookawabata River City by crossing the Chuo-ohashi Bridge shown on the right in the distance. But to do that, you must first cross an intermediate bridge on the Nihonbashi River @ roughly 35°40’45.91″ N 139°47’02.25″ E first to get to it.
Well, that’s it for now. Enjoy your trip to Narita International + Narita City!
Royal Park Hotel (agoda.com)
Having a bicycle in Japan can come in handy.
Walking long distances take a long time. Trains are crowded + expensive.
If you’re in a hurry to get somewhere quickly, having a bicycle can save you time and frustration while getting around in Japan.
This guide tells you everything you need to know.
Unfortunately Japan – unlike many other modern countries – has yet to build good widespread bike lanes, even in Tokyo. This is surprising given the number of people who ride bikes here. Some areas in central Tokyo, such as around Tokyo Dome do have good bike lanes – but they are often blocked by deliveries so you must still be careful.
Everyone from housewives with kids, to octogenarians can be seen riding bikes. Many Japanese rely on their bikes to get to grocery stores, to commute to and from work, and just to get around.
The streets in Japan are very narrow, sometimes hilly, and everyone is always in a hurry. Riding a bike in Japan can be a real hazard. You’ll have to be extra careful at intersections and crosswalks – both so you don’t get hit by a vehicle, and so you don’t collide with pedestrians.
Bikes are everywhere in Japan.
Here are the basics of how to buy + ride a bike in Japan:
- Buying a bicycle in Japan.
- Do’s + dont’s of riding safely.
- Taking your bike on trains in Japan.
- Bike sharing.
Buying a bicycle in Japan
There are smaller higher-end shops such as Y’s Road and Cycle Base Asahi, but be prepared to pay more. If you’re looking for high end bikes, check out dealers in Japan, or higher end shops. There’s a huge Y’s Road shop 2 blocks east of the main Ikebukuro JR Train station in Tokyo.
Cheap generic bikes can be bought in Japan anywhere from $125 – $200 + up. These are really low end bikes – some have Shimano shifters + sprockets, but they’re usually low end equipment. Most sub-$200 bikes in Japan are for very basic getting around. There are also generic unisex $125 bikes at discount stores. For just puttering around, these will work. If you’re after a high end bike, go to one of the specialty or dealer shops.
A new bike lot at discount store Don Quijote.
Legally, when residents of Japan buy a bike at a bike shop, they’re required to fill out a small registration form which contains a small registration sticker which gets affixed to the front top or neck of the frame of the bicycle. If you’re a short term visitor to Japan (under 3 months), this requirement is often waived by the shop selling you the bike. However, consider in this case if some legality later arises between you and a resident party, it could cause you trouble. Also, the lack of a registration sticker on your bike will almost certainly mean you will never see it again if it’s stolen. The police won’t even listen to you if you didn’t have the registration sticker to begin with. So, for temporary visitors, proceed with a purchase at your own risk. The best way to mitigate theft risk is to make sure you lock your bike, and park it in a designated bike parking lot (more on this below).
However, bike theft is much more rare in Japan than in western countries. Only very high end bikes are usually targeted in Japan, and even then theft is rare. People simply don’t steal bikes here. It’s common to see peoples’ bikes parked out front of their houses, with no locks whatsoever.
Most Japanese bikes today come with an ingenious locking mechanism on the rear wheel called a Gorin Lock. This device is permanently affixed to the frame and contains a sliding ring which you slide into the spokes of the rear wheel when you park – which makes the wheel impossible to turn. With the lock engaged, no one can ride off with your bike. The only downside is the lock is secured with a key, which you must keep on you at all times. If you lose your key, you’ll have to cut the lock off, which won’t be easy.
A Gorin Lock.
Do’s + dont’s of riding safely
There are a lot of bikes on the streets of Japan – and, as we mentioned, few good bike lanes. Unless signs state otherwise, you may ride your bike on sidewalks – as most locals do. Just be sure to not ride too fast, endanger people, or cause pedestrian problems.
It is extremely important to be extra careful at intersections. Many of Japan’s streets are tiny and have blind corners. Micro-sized motor vehicles often shoot out of nowhere with little warning. Many backstreet intersections have no stop or yield signs. You take your life in your hands if you don’t use proper caution when crossing intersections. We mean it. In many ways, this makes riding a bike in Japan much more dangerous than in the west.
Always honor all road signs. This site has a list of Japanese roads signs for motor vehicles, but the same applies to cyclists.
Also always remember to ride on the left – as motor vehicles do in Japan. Even on sidewalks try to always ride on the left.
Be polite to other riders + pedestrians. Be considerate. When in doubt, yield the right of way.
You can ride on streets, which means you won’t have to deal with as many pedestrians, but be aware that without bike lanes, you must be eternally vigilant. No one is going to watch out for you or see you,. No one. You have to be aware at all times of the situation + be ready to take evasive action in an instant. Not doing so could cost you your life.
In Japan many deliveries are made by small trucks on main roads. If you decide to ride on the street, you’ll have to deal with these + navigate around them – which creates another hazard. Keep in mind that if you swerve left in front of a parked truck at the curb, as you re-emerge and swerve back right, it’s highly likely that the flow of traffic behind you will not see you – or even know you’re there. This is an incredibly dangerous situation in heavy traffic. You may want to invest in some bike mirrors – but even then you’re going to have to be extremely careful. Always assume every vehicle around you may not see you – and plan accordingly.
Japan’s tiny backstreets present a hazard for all cyclists. In this case motor vehicles are banned, but they’re not always. Small streets like this can leave cyclists totally blind to oncoming traffic.
Bicycle parking (like auto parking) in Japan can be problematic. You usually can’t just lock your bike up anywhere and walk away. In fact, there are many signs along most streets telling you so. If you ignore them, your bike may be impounded by the police, and you’ll have to go retrieve it, which in huge cities might be a huge headache.
Unless you work in Japan + use your bike to get to + from work, parking willy-nilly out front of buildings is generally discouraged. Instead you need to find an authorized bike parking lot. Most Japanese train stations have them out front of the station. There are also metropolitan lots with paid or free parking. Prices are generally pretty reasonable – ¥100 for 6-10 hours. So around a buck a day. Unless you need to use a paid lot every day, it’s probably worth it.
Some central metro areas such as Ikebukuro + Shinjuku have large paid lots. You can Google around to find them.
Some rail station lots have automated parking ticket machines, and some have attendants. Some have coin-operated locks on each space. Some have coin-operated slots on the honor system – you pay for the time you use, but there is no lock on the bike slot – you have to bring your own locks or not use them at all.
To lock your bike at paid lots, you usually roll your bike up into a metal slot until it locks. You then note down the number of the slot, and go to an automated machine and pay. The machine will give you a ticket. When you are ready to retrieve your bike you punch in the number of your slot, or in some lots insert your ticket, pay any extra due, if required, and the machine will remotely unlock the slot so you can roll your bike out. Do not just walk up to these slots and lock your bike to them. It’s highly likely your bike will be removed by the lot owner if you do.
Honor system bike racks in Narita City.
Most Japanese rail stations have bike racks out front. Most are usually full.
Fully automated bike lot with payment machine.
Taking your bike on trains in Japan
In general, bicycles are not allowed on normal commuter trains around Japan: there just isn’t any space. If you attempt such, you’ll likely be asked to leave the train by a conductor. The one exception is the Narita Express to/from the airport, but even on that train, you’ll have to store your bike somehow at the end of a car in the luggage storage area, which is usually already cramped. Your best bet is not to. If you must, then take it apart in advance and store it in a bike box or Rinko Bag and then load it onto the train. A much better option however, is to disassmeble it, then ship it in a box ahead of you. Japan’s trains are just too crowded to accomodate a bicycle.
Japan’s NTT Docomo has started a bike sharing service in limited areas of Tokyo. You can read more about it on DoCoMo’s Bike Sharing Websites. They also have iOS + Android bike sharing map apps.
Best Bike Parking near Ikebukuro Station, Toshima:
Eco Station 21 iTerrace Bicycle Parking Area A:
Rent a bicycle in IkebukurO:
2 Wheel Cruise Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClvtLAnUD8z_9dec6iUc24Q/videos
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