Japan Glances

Bicycle Rental in Japan


Cycling is a good way to explore a little further afield than traveling on foot. In Japan, there are many bicycle rental services available, especially around tourist spots.

Cycling Over the Sea

Bicycle rental services are available at tourist spots all over Japan, including the country's big cities as well as remote areas like Okinawa and Shikoku. The Japanese term is rentasaikuru, deriving from the English “rent-a-cycle.” Bikes can be a good way to negotiate the narrow streets of the former capital cities of Kyoto and Kamakura. They are also especially popular around the mountain resort of Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture, where tandems are a common sight in summer. Cyclists can enjoy the fresh air and a flexible itinerary, stopping in easily for refreshments at convenience stores as they go.

In crowded Japan, it can be tough to find an automobile parking lot. Bike rental services make it easier to get around without the need to do so. They may be run by public bodies or private companies; for easy access, they are often located near to railway stations and landing points for ships or ferries.

Riding a rented bicycle on the island of Taketomijima in Okinawa Prefecture

One recommended route for cyclists in Japan is the 70-kilometer long Shimanami Kaidō road that connects Japan’s main island, Honshū, with Shikoku. Travelers can look out over the charming Seto Inland Sea as they ride and explore the smaller islands in between. The route is suitable for casual cyclists, if a little strenuous, with many hotels and restaurants along the way.

Bicycles wait for riders at a train station.

Services Available

Services may charge by the hour or the day, and prices can vary greatly from a low ¥200 per day to as much as ¥3,000 for three hours. There may be a range of bicycles on offer, including mamachari with baskets, mountain bikes, and electric bicycles with motors that give riders a boost when they need to accelerate or make it up a hill. Child seats and helmets are also available at some outlets. Typically, users should return bicycles to the same place that they hired them, although some services offer multiple parking facilities for handy drop-off (see below). Insurance is also available to cover accidents, damage, or theft.

Users should present some form of photographic identification when hiring a bicycle, such as a driving license, passport, or student card. Be aware that many services only allow credit card payment.

Rules of the Road

Under Japanese law, cyclists should ride on the left side of the road together with vehicles, unless there is a clear cycle lane on the sidewalk. As may be observed, however, frequently this law is not strictly enforced. If riding on the sidewalk, cyclists should give priority to pedestrians and travel on the side closest to the road at a speed at which they can stop immediately. While there is some legal ambiguity about cycling on wider sidewalks, note that the law directly states that it is not permitted to cycle on pedestrian routes less than three meters wide at any time.

To prevent theft, it is best to lock bicycles and park them in designated areas. Illegally parked bicycles may be removed by local authorities and only returned after payment of a fine. For example, the Chiyoda municipality in central Tokyo requires a ¥2,000 payment to retrieve an illegally parked bike once it has been impounded.

Bike-Share Systems

Bicycles for hire on a city street.

Recently, Japan has started to introduce the kind of bicycle-sharing systems found in many western countries. These schemes allow users to return bicycles to one of many unstaffed parking lots within a certain area with no requirement to go back to their starting point. These services are at an early stage in Japan, but are growing rapidly.

Local authorities in Tokyo are making particular efforts to introduce sharing systems before the Olympic and Paralympic Games are held in the capital in 2020. A unified agreement throughout the metropolis on charges and methods of returning bicycles would make the process smoother and the sharing scheme easier to understand for visitors.

Related sites with English information

Rent a Bike.jp (Tokyo and surrounding area)
Online guide for exploring Kyoto on bicycle
Shimanami Kaidō road cycling
Ononavi (Shimanami Kaidō road)

(Banner photo: The Shimanami Kaidō road connecting Honshū with Shikoku. © Onomichi Tourist Association.)

tourism bicycle