Racing, Race/Advanced School, and Suzuka


Tetsuya Nishimura adds:

I don’t race, and I don’t have a racing license, but I have run the Suzuka Circuit a few times. This is how:

Attend the Honda Motorcyclist School (HMS) and a circuit run session is included in the program using Honda bikes they provide (VFR750K, etc.).

A Basic Course includes slalom, braking, trial, and high speed run in the Suzuka Circuit. The cost is about Y23,000 as of 1990, which includes one night stay at the Suzuka Circuit Hotel, three meals, training wear, protective gear other than your helmet, boots, and gloves, and choice of motos used through the session. [WARNING: NOTE THAT YOUR SIZES MIGHT NOT BE AVAILABLE — CHECK IN ADVANCE] If you drop and break the bike, you simply go to the garage and pick another one.

Some Basic Course schedules run for three days, and of course, cost more. The Basic Course is highly recommended for riders with some experience with bikes but wants to improve skills, and the Advanced Course for those who want more improvements in their skills. There is also a Beginner Course that accommodates novice riders.

No contact info available at the moment. Look for info and number for:

Honda Motor Cyclist School, or Suzuka Koutsuu Kyouiku Center (Suzuka Traffic Education Center) (鈴鹿 交通 教育 センター) The center/school is located on the Suzuka Circuit Land, right next to the Internatinal Racing Course.

TV COVERAGE During the GP season, motorcycle racing on most Sunday night sometimes after midnight.


Contributed by John Crossley:


The most famous race-course in Japan is Suzuka, in Mie Prefecture (三重県) (several hours due east of Kyoto, a bit south-west of Nagoya). Each year both the Japanese round of World Grand Prix racing and an 8-Hour Endurance race (Hachitai 8耐, short for HACHIJIKANTAIKYUU 8時間耐久) are held there. The GP is usually around the end of April, and the Hachitai around the end of July. The Hachitai generally runs from about 11:30 to 19:30; for the GP, GP2 starts at around 12, GP1 at around 13:15, and GP3 at around 14:30.


There is a range of seating, from semi-covered grandstand bleachers at start-finish to grassy areas scattered around the course. The grandstand consists of S1, S2, and A seats. S1 is grandstand bleacher seating directly at start-finish facing a large TV screen, and partially covered by a roof; S2 is grandstand bleacher seating just down the course from S1; A seating is grandstand bleacher seating just up the course from S1. The B1 stand is up-course of the grandstand, between the final corner and the grandstand; the C stand is yet further up-course, in front of the chicane. The D stand is at the end of the straight, by the entrance to Turn 1. Stand E is right on Turn 1. Stand F is on the short straight out of Turn 1 before the S Curve.

I generally use A seating, which offers a good view of the straight, the bikes coming out of the chicane (final corner), and from which the large TV screen is mostly visible, so you can always keep track of the front-runners.

Row numbering starts from the top of the bleachers; in general higher seats are better, so go for low-numbered rows. A trick: try to get the uppermost row in a given block. For example, in Stand A, Row 10 is midway down but the first in its block so there’s no-one sitting immediately behind you. This makes it relatively easily gotten to, and you can set small bags and such behind you or lean back against the railing.

Pit Walk

The Hachitai pit walk has been from 7:15 to 9 in the morning. The GP pit walk has been from 8:10 to 8:50, although I’ve not done it personally. Tickets for GP/Hachitai pit walk cost 1,500 yen, can be purchased at a special little booth not that far from the wickets where they check entrance passes. There is a limited number of tickets (usually around 2,000) and they sell out quickly, so get there well before the pit walk is scheduled to start. The queue for the pit walk is rather long, and the pit itself fills up with people quite quickly, so that it can be difficult to get a really good look at bikes, especially in pits that also have umbrella girls. Basically, if you don’t like getting elbowed a lot, don’t do it [ depends on who’s doing the elbowing 🙂 ]

Course Walk

The Hachitai has a course walk after the race. The officials open the gates in front of the grandstand almost immediately after the last bikes cross the finish line, and spectators can go out and stand on the course (inside a certain area) as the riders come back into the pits. Typically people cross out of the safety area before the last of the riders has come in, and the officials controlling the crowd seem resigned to this. You can get right up next to the riders as they come in, but obviously it’s better not to make a nuisance of oneself: the riders are exhausted and probably not in much of a mood for fiddling their bike through a crowd.


Like so many things in Japan, tickets are expensive. Expect to pay about 11,000 yen for entrance (入場券) and another 5,000 to 12,000 yen if you want reserved seating (指定席). Tickets can be purchased from some JR Midori no Madoguchi, Ticket Pia, etc. Probably one should avoid using JR, as they tend to not know what tickets are necessary, where seats are, etc. Prices are the same everywhere anyway. For both the GP and the Hachitai one can buy either multi-day or 1-day entrance tickets. In general the multi-day tickets are only about 1,000 yen more expensive than the 1-day.

Getting There & Away

There’s any number of ways of getting to the course, but unfortunately none of them are terribly straight-forward. Coming from anywhere distant, probably the best start is taking the Shinkansen to Nagoya station. From there the JR Kansai-sen can be taken to Shirako station. On days of races, special buses run directly from Shirako to the track. Alternatively, one can try taking the Ise-tetsudo railway from Yokkaichi to the Suzuka Circuit Inou station (from whence it’s an easy 1.5 km walk to the track), but Ise-tetsudo runs *very* infrequently (sometimes as little as once every other hour), so in general it’s best to avoid any plans involving it. There may also be some JR trains that run from Yokkaichi to the Circuit station, but these are probably special ones that run only on race days. Returning from the GP is relatively easy: immediately after the last race, walk to the Suzuka Circuit Inou station. There are special trains that run directly to Nagoya station, and getting there quickly means that you will get on the first one and may even be able to get a seat. It takes about one-and-a-half hours from Suzuka Circuit Inou to Nagoya. Transportation to and from the Hachitai can be more problematic. Because it starts earlier and runs later than the GP, in general the Shinkansen is not usable to make a day trip out of it, at least not from Tokyo. Some companies run package tours which include overnight bus or train to/from the course, and these are relatively easy, but of course some degree of Japanese is necessary to book through such companies. I use Suzuka Circuit Land tour company, and they have been acceptable. Riding or driving there is another option. From Nagoya take the Higashi Meihan expressway to the Yokkaichi exit, and then follow Route 477 to Route 23 and head South along 23 to Suzuka-shi. From Route 23 in Suzuka-shi there’s a road leading West, straight to the racetrack; it’s well-marked, just keep your eyes open for a large blue traffic sign indicating the turn. There are grassy parking areas run by the local residents, as well as proper paved parking lots with plenty of separate motorcycle parking, run by the racetrack. The latter costs only 500 yen (for a bike), is relatively close to the entrance, and there’s probably less chance of a bike falling over. Traffic for the GP is generally not too bad, but the Hachitai can be terrible. And don’t think that having a bike will mitigate that, because just about everybody else is on bikes too!


The weather at Suzuka generally seems to be both hot and windy. Especially at the Hachitai in July, it can be *incredibly* hot and humid; plan on drinking lots of fluids, and bring your sunscreen and a hat with a brim. Even in April it can be uncomfortably hot. And of course rain is always a possibility; for the wealthy, large gaudy umbrellas can be purchased at the track, others may want to consider bringing their own.

Phone Numbers

Suzuka Circuit Business Offices– Mie: 0593-78-1111, Nagoya: 052-571-7176, Osaka: 06-372-1526, Tokyo: 03-3582-3221,

Suzuka Circuit Land (Tours/Tickets)– Mie Tel: 0593-78-1111, Tokyo Tel: 03-3271-8399 (Tours), Tokyo Tel: 03-3271-5888, Tokyo Fax: 03-3271-9877,

Ticket Pia– Tokyo: 03-5237-9999, Osaka: 06-363-9999, Nagoya: 052-320-9999, Fukuoka: 092-708-9999

Ticket Sezon–Tokyo: 03-5990-9999, Osaka: 06-308-9999, Nagoya: 052-264-8210,

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Possible Problems and Issues


Traffic moves on the left side of the street, as in the U.K.

Whitelining is very popular here.

Unlike in America, you can turn off your headlight (but best to *always* ride with it on).

Traffic can not turn on a red light (unless specifically allowed by a left turn sign).

Wet road paint has a friction coefficient of 0.00 — Rainy weather isn’t much better (and it rains A LOT in Japan). By far the biggest hazards are lumpy roads, rain/snow, and gravel. There is always a lot of construction in Japan, and dump trucks carrying dirt from construction sites scatter gravel and sand every time they hit a bump. The result could be a disaster for you. Manhole covers are another danger. You’ll find them every few feet on Japanese roads, often worn as smooth as glass from constant traffic. They are extremely slippery, even more so when wet. And some Japanese road shoulders don’t even have any pavement–only a grating. Avoid these wherever possible. And if the driver behind you doesn’t like it, too damn bad. It’s your body that’s on the line.

It’s common for people to run red lights up to several real seconds after it turns green for the other direction. This is especially bad if the cars are turning at an intersection, and you have four cars platooning one after another.

Police cars often drive with their lights flashing. If their siren isn’t sounding as well, it generally means nothing (it really means “hey, there’s a cop here, so you’ll probably want to drive nice and slow, so we don’t have to give you a ticket”). [Their siren is distinct–a long wail, in contrast to ambulances which are more of a loud “pee-poh, pee-poh, etc”.]

Horns are used *often* by all to say “hey, let’s be careful, I’m here”. This appears very rude to some Americans, for whom the horn usually means “Fuck you, asshole!”.

Bosozoku will try to kill you, [and being minors they can get away with it.]

You are legally required to come to a full stop at all railway crossings (regardless of status of lights and gates). This is obeyed to varying degrees; personally I figure the chances of getting rear-ended by some bozo in a cage who isn’t expecting me to stop are much higher than the chances of getting clipped by a train coming when the gates are open, so maybe slow a little bit but rarely come to stop. — contributed by John Crossley

A Few Other Notes…

HELMET CARE– It’s very easy to wreck or ruin your helmet in Japan. It frequently rains, which means that if you leave the helmet hanging down the side of your bike and the insides get wet, it’ll eventually ruin it, or provide a nice place for lots of mold and mildew to throw a party. The same goes for leaving your helmet in a scooter trunk (under the seat) during the summer months for several days at a time. Also, bicycles and bikes often park together in small areas in the cities, and it’s very easy for some dickhead to scratch your new $200 helmet while sandwiching his bicycle between your bike and another.

DISTANCES–Japan runs on the metric system–if you don’t, you’re going to have lots of problems.

GASOLINE– Prices have come down considerably in the last few years (finally!). Gasoline is typically 130 per liter + 8% tax (that’s about 530 yen per US gallon).

OIL–Most motorcycles and all scooters run on 2-cycle oil (which means you just add more). Larger bikes often are 4-stroke, and need periodic oil changes. Make sure you put the right kind of oil in your machine….

PUBLIC TOILETS–The stench is worse than the bosozoku assholes. Some of them are nearly wide open for the whole world to watch you. Others don’t have any toilet paper. If you’re out far away, you might bring some with you. And then of course, you’ll have to deal with the Japanese toilet…… (photo)

MAPS–Urban design in Japan is as backward as your behind–make sure you have an extremely detailed map of where you want to go. Some roads aren’t even on some maps.

THE “THANK YOU ACCIDENT”–A common urban motorcycle accident you should be aware of is called the “Sankyu Jikou”, or literally translated the “Thank You Accident”. It occurs during a traffic jam between you and some oncoming car trying to turn in front of you. Some drivers moving along just ahead of you will stop in front of a side street or entrance way, then wave through an oncoming car waiting to turn through your line of cars. Unfortunately, neither the car turning nor the driver waving him through know about you coming up the road along the shoulder from behind until too late. Then, BAM! And you’re the one bleeding because of it. Be very careful when you see a car in front of you with a large open space in front of it.


[Can *not* send a bike from Japan to Canada, according to Sev.]

Probably too expensive anyway, so just skip it. One info source said that it cost about US$1,800 each way to ship a bike by sea ( 4-6 weeks from/to America, up to 2 mos. for Australia).


Make a report to the police.

Be able to tell them the license plate number, engine number, and frame number (actually, any one of these should be enough, but best to be safe).

Chances are about 50/50 that it will be found (in some state of health) within a week or two. If not, chances are that it will never be found. Often, they’re stolen by BOSOZOKU (–\‘–‘°) that just want to joy-ride, and they’ll dump it when they get tired of it, it runs out of gas, or they wreck it.

Larger, nicer bikes often find their way to showrooms outside the country.

The steering column lock (HANDORU ROKKU ƒnƒ“ƒhƒ‹ƒƒbƒN) is virtually useless… a screwdriver and pliers, or pair of scissors can have it broken in a matter of seconds. A U-lock at the *front* wheel should be enough to deter the casual bosozoku thief (if put through the rear wheel, they can rev the engine, drop the clutch and use the rear wheel itself to snap the lock). A thick cable lock is also effective, but bulky. A stapler-type brake disc lock is also available.

If you see a “suspicious” bike or scooter (one that looks as if it’s been abandoned), report the engine serial number (should be easy to find) and location to any police box. They should be able to tell you in real time if it’s stolen or not (and if it is, you’ll feel good for having helped recover it). Be aware though that many people simply dump their bikes by leaving it in an alley or small street, take off the license plate, and go home. This is very typical for scooters, which have an engine life of about 25,000km — and it’s cheaper to get a new bike than replace the engine.


Tetsuya Nishimura recommends, in the Nagoya area:

Nankai Buhin Nagoya-ten parts & accessories 1-16 Tsurumai 3-cho^me, Showa-ku, Nagoya-shi, tel (052)741-1669

Nankai Buhin Nagoya Higashi-ten same as above, 3-320 Urasato, Midori-ku, Nagoya-shi, tel (052)892-6221

Ito Motors bike sales, gymkhana, riding school, 2-14 Showa-machi, Tsushima-shi tel (0567)26-3894

Tell the “Shachou” that I referred them to you!

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Japanese Road Signs You Should Know

Japanese Road Signs, Lines and Traffic Law


Many road signs that pose restrictions (one way, do not enter, etc.) will have small signs appended to them (white, with black lettering) limiting the restriction to certain times or types of vehicles.

The most popular is:

JITENSHA WO NOZOKU (自転車を除く) “bicycles excluded” meaning that the restriction doesn’t apply to bicycles (not that anyone on a bicycle would ever pay attention to a “one way” sign anyway).

Others might include

JIDOUSHA (自動車) “(applies to) cars [and trucks, etc.]”

9-17 “applies from 9am until 5pm only”

9-17 NOZOKU (9ー17除く) “except from 9am until 5pm”

NIRINSHA WO NOZOKU (二輪者を除く) “two-wheeled vehicles excluded”

TAKUSHI WO NOZOKU (タクシを除く) “taxi excluded”

BASU WO NOZOKU (バスを除く) “bus excluded”

TOKU, OOGATA (特・大型) “trucks and special vehicles only”

250cc IJOU WO NOZOKU (250cc以上を除く) “250cc and above excluded”

…WO NOZOKU (…を除く) means “exclusion” or “excluding”.


“one way”

white circle, red ring, blue number inside shows speed limit (in km/h)

 ”no parking” — lots of law-breakers here.

“no parking or stopping” — even more law-breakers here.

“no bikes over 250cc allowed” (during times specified). Note that this law is nearly never enforced, or enforced very selectively.

“no U turn”, obviously

“left turn only” — i.e. no right turn

“Under Construction”

“Construction ahead” — Here, 200m ahead

“No Cars may enter (but bikes OK)” –often in packed neighborhoods or small mountain roads

“50cc scooters must use the two-step right turn method for right turn*”

“Do Not Enter” — On some signs, like in this picture, it only applies during the hours listed (often during rush hour, etc.)

blue or green signs with lettering — route info, major highways, exit signs, etc.

 Large blue signs show place names and directions. Often they are 200m in front of an intersection, and are nearly the only signs with the places listed in the alphabet.

  TOMARE (止まれ)–“Stop”

* the two-step right turn method is like the “Melbourne turn” or “hook turn” – when there are more than 2 lanes in your direction at an intersection (including any right turn lane for cars), you ride on the left edge of the road, signal to turn, cross and stop at the opposite side of the intersection, stop and turn to face right, switch off the signal, and go straight when the signal turns green. There are a few intersections that permit it but they are rare.

Note that TOMARE (とまれ) will usually be written on the road as well.

Other Signs

SHASEN HENKOU “must change lane” (due to construction, etc).

DEGUCHI (出口) exit; off-ramp

IRIGUCHI (入口) entrance; on-ramp

TACHIIRI KINSHI (立入禁止) “do not enter”

RAKUSEKI CHUUI (落石注意) “beware of falling rocks”

NIRIN KINSHI (二輪禁止) “no motorcycles allowed”

CHUUI (注意)  ”caution”

SUPEEDO OTOSE (スピード落せ) “slow down” (usually ignored)

“Lane directions change during hours specified” — During rush hour a 2 by 2 lane road may change to a 3 by 1 lane road to accomodate more traffic.

Often signs are put together.

For a good collection of other Japan photos for living in Japan, trying visiting Rob’s Japan Photo Gallery.

Road mirrors — You’ll often see mirrors like this along curving roads and blind intersections — Use them! Many times they’re the only thing that keeps some maniac from plowing right into you.


Contributed by Warren Daniel: I recently asked a couple of police officers (in detail) about the situation regarding lines. According to what they told me, it is safe to cross all white-lines, however, it is prohibited from crossing any yellow-lines. One may *pass* inside of the lane marked with a yellow-line and as long as one does not cross the line, one will be fine. Here’s the breakdown of what they gave me:

White lines/yellow lines:

1) Broken white-line — go for it. Just use your turn signal and no one really cares.

2) Solid white-line — go for it but use caution. The purpose of the solid, white-line is to highlight the fact that changing lanes is more dangerous but one may cross the line.

3) Solid yellow-line — do not cross. Passing within the lane is okay and also cutting across the line due to double-parked cars is fine.

About solid yellow lines, Tetsuya Nishimura contributes:

It becomes Oikoshi Kinshi (追い越し禁止 – No Passing) only when accompanied by a no-passing sign. And the no-passing sign is the same as Oikoshi No Tame No Hamidashi Kinshi (追い越しの為のは食み 出す禁止 – No crossing of line when passing): a white sign with a red circle and slash with two arrows inside), which people generally believe no-passing, except a white, recangular supplimental sign underneath it saying Oikoshi Kinshi (no passing).

4) Solid, thick yellow-line — DO NOT CROSS. They seemed to stress that one… It was almost as if crossing the thick, yellow line means “Go straight to jail, do not pass go.” This also includes the thick yellow-line which contains a thick white-line.

Nirinsha (two-wheeled vehicle) zones:

1) white-line leading to the nirinsha zone — may be crossed to reach the nirinsha zone.

2) yellow-line leading to the nirinsha zone — may be crossed to reach the nirinsha zone *if* cars are not moving. If cars are moving, however, it is not to be crossed.

3) white-line that turns into a yellow-line leading to the nirinsha zone — white part may be crossed at anytime however yellow area may only be crossed when cars are not in motion. Same as number 2 above.

4) confusing, what-the-hell-does-this-mean, speckled white-yellow-white-yellow-line — I personally feel that it is an attempt at the sanity of motorcyclists by the police but from what I was told, if a line has any amount of yellow in it, treat it as if it is a yellow line. When I asked if it was permitted to wheelie down while avoiding the yellow areas, they just laughed. I have no idea why. 😉

On the highway:

1) broken white-line (lane lines) — Again, maybe crossed however turn, however, use of turn signal is needed. Tetsuya Nishimura also contributed: On major National Routes and Expressways, the distance from the beginning of a broken line to the beginning of the next broken line is usually 20 meters. It may not be the case in the city even if it’s a major route.

—— —— —— ——

|<- 20m ->| |<- 20m ->|

2) solid white-line (lane lines) — Okay to cross but use caution.

3) solid white-line (emergency lanes) — These are not to be crossed unless stopping in the emergency lane. Although cagers enjoy barreling down the emergency lanes, especially during Golden Week and other times of major backups, you’ll get stopped if they see you.

4) yellow-line (where incountered) — Cannot cross although passing is allowed (???).

Other notes courtesy of Tetsuya Nishimura:

Two white diamonds lined up vertically Pedestrian crossing ahead

White inverted triangle Yield ahead

“60 Kou Chuu” (“60高中”) 60km/h for high and mid speed vehicles

With this paint on the road, Chuusokusha (Mid-speed vehicle) that includes 125-250cc bikes can run at 60km/h, which exceeds the legal speed limit for the class on the ordinary street (50km/h) by 10km/h. 50 Kou Chuu and 40 Kou Chuu are more frequently seen. [Note: Wherever possible Japanese routinely exceed the speed limit anyway–patrol cars, comparitively speaking, are few and far between. Still, keeping Murphy’s Law in mind…]

A typical city street.


Japan has a point system (you get “points” for various bad things, and various extra penalties kick in when the points reach certain limits). There are two levels of inebriation with respect to driving. One is plain and simple “drunk” (0.05% BAC, I believe). The other I translate as “tipsy”, and is apparently a rather subjunctive observation of if you’ve been drinking or not.

In the following list of offenses and their respective point penalties, the second of a pair of numbers is the penalty if you’re “tipsy” when you’re nabbed. For example, riding w/o proper helmet is a 1 point violation unless the officer notices you’ve been drinking, at which it becomes a 7-point violation (and, as you’ll see, a one-month suspension of your license).

License suspensions in last 3 years Points for 1 month suspension Points for revocation of 1 year 2 years 3 years

none 6-14 15-24 25-34 35+

1 4-9 10-19 20-29 30+

2+ 2-4 5-14 15-24 25+

Points more than three years old disappear. Also, a one-year clean record (no accidents or tickets) clears all points. Note that speeding 30 km/h over the limit results in six points, which is a one-month license suspension. Ouch! [Believe me, I know]

If your license is suspended, you have the option of going to a class (one or two days long, depending upon number of points) to reduce the length of the suspension. At the end of the class, you take a test (they have an English test available) whose most difficult question is something like “true or false: you can drive as wild and rude and crazy as you like, so long as you don’t hurt anyone” (answer: false). Depending upon how well you do on the test (I got all answers correct; took three minutes), they reduce your suspension to as little as one day (that one day being the day you take the class, so you can’t drive to the test center).

(list as of July, 1991)

offense      points


(酒酔い運転) drunk driving 15

(麻薬等運転) driving while under the influence of drugs 15

(共同危険行為等禁止違反) 15

(無免許運転) driving without a license 12/13

(大型自動車等無資格運転) driving a truck w/o proper license 12/13

(仮免許運転違反) ???offense WRT a temporary license?? 12/13

(酒気帯び運転) driving while tipsy 6

(過労等運転) driving while impaired (tired, etc.) 6

(無車検運行) operating vehicle w/o appropriate SHAKEN 6/ 9

(無保険運行) operating vehicle w/o insurance 6/ 9

(速度超過、50km以上) speeding more than 50 km/h over limit 12/13

(速度超過、30km以上50km未満) speeding 30-50 km/h over limit 6/ 9

(速度超過、25km以上30km未満) speeding 25-30 km/h over limit 3/ 8

(速度超過、20km以上25km未満) speeding 20-25 km/h over limit 2/ 7

(速度超過、20km未満) speeding up to 20 km/h over limit 1/ 7

(信語無視、赤色等) running a red light 2/ 7

(信語無視、点滅) ignoring a flashing (caution?) signal 2/ 7

(通行禁止違反) driving where you’re not allowed 2/ 7

(通行図分違反) 2/ 7

(急ブレーキ禁止違反) sudden braking when you shouldn’t 2/ 7

(追越し違反) passing violation 2/ 7

(路切不停止等) 2/ 7

(優先道路通行車妨害等) not yielding right-of-way 2/ 7

(交差点安全進行義務違反) undue caution in an intersection 2/ 7

(徐行場所違反) offense in a “go slow” zone 2/ 7

(指定場所一時不停止等) stopping where you shouldn’t (?) 2/ 7

(放置駐車違反) leaving car unattended offense

(駐停車禁止場所等) in no-stopping zone 3

(駐車禁止場所等) in no-parking zone 2

(駐停車違反) trying to park offense

(駐停車禁止場所等) in no-stopping zone 2/ 7

(駐車禁止場所等) in no-parking zone 1/ 7

(整備不良、制動装置等) bad brakes and the like 2/ 7

(整備不良、尾灯等) bad taillight and the like 1/ 7

(積載物重量制限追越) exceeding load limits

(10割以上) by more than 100% 2/ 7

( 5割以上10割未満) by 50-100% 2/ 7

( 5割未満) by less than 50% 1/ 7

(安全進行義務違反) not using due caution 2/ 7

(免教条件違反) restriction (i.e. eyeglasses required) 2/ 7

(乗車用ヘルメット着用義務違反) not wearing appropriate helmet 1/ 7

(自動二輪車乗車方法違反) motorcycle/scooter violation 1/ 7

Most of the other offenses (too many to list) are “1/7” offenses.

If case of accident, points to add if deemed you caused; and are:

Completely Responsible Somewhat Responsible

Manslaughter 13 pts. 9 pts.

Major Injury 9 pts. 6 pts.

Light injury or property damage 6 pts. 4 pts.

If you leave the scene of an accident, add 10 or 5 points based upon the circumstances.

Note that the above can be combined. For example, running a light while tipsy and causing a minor accident will result in at least 33 points and your license being revoked for two years. Each penalty has its own cash fine (a 30-50 km/h over the speed limit fine was 40,000 yen in 1993). ON TOP OF THAT, you’ll have the following point-based license suspensions/revocations.

A cop car – best not to do something stupid with one of these behind you…

NOTE: This page contains Japanese script–if your computer’s OS or browser is not set up to read it, many words will simply look like garbage. Try changing the way your browser reads the info – for example, using Firefox, click on “View”, then “Character Encoding”, then choose something like Japanese Shift_JIS.

Useful Vocab for Bikers

Motorcycle Linguistic Info

Many motorcycle-related words in Japan come from English. They often, however, have somewhat different meanings than the original English. For example BAIKU (バイク) means “motorcycle”. It never means “bicycle”.

NOTE: This page contains Japanese script–if your computer’s OS or browser is not set up to read it, many words will simply look like garbage. To be able to see the Japanese without a properly equipped computer, try running this page through a translator website like Monash University’s Japanese page viewer.

Names for vehicles:

BAIKU (バイク) motorcycle (most commonly-used word)

GENTSUKI (原付き) motorized two-wheeled vehicle (usually < 50cc)

JIDOUSHA (自動車) car

JITENSHA (自転車) bicycle

KURUMA (車) car

KYUUKYUUSHA (救急車) ambulance

MAIKAA (マイカー) personal car (i.e. not taxi, etc.)

MOTOKUROSU (モトクロス) motocross (vehicle, riding, etc.)

NANAHAN (七半) 750cc motorcycle (Kansai dialect)

NEIKIDDO (ネイキッド) motorcycle without fairings (engine exposed)

NIHAN (二半) 250cc motorcycle (Kansai dialect)

NIRINSHA (二輪車、2輪) “two-wheeled vehicle”

OFUROODO (オフロード) offroad (vehicle, riding, etc.)

OOTOBAI (オートバイ) scooter/motorcycle

SUKUUTAA (スクーター) scooter (usually 50cc)

TANSHA (単車) scooter/motorcycle

YONRINSHA (四輪車、4輪車) cage (car)


AITE (相手) “the other driver/rider”

BOUSOUZOKU (暴走族) engine-revving delinquent punks/bike thieves

DORAIBAA (ドライバー) car driver

KEISATSU (警察) the police

OMAWARISAN (お巡りさん) policeman (friendly term)

RAIDA (ライダー) biker; one who rides a motorcycle

SHIROBAI (白バイ) motorcycle cop (lit: white bike)

SHUURIYASAN (修理屋さん) mechanic

TANDEMU (タンデム) motorcycle passenger; riding with a passenger

Proper names:

ARAI (アライ) Arai (helmet manufacturer)

DOKA (ドカ) Ducati

DOKACHI (ドカチ) Ducati

HAARII (ハーリー) Harley Davidson (who?)


HONDA (本田) Honda

KATANA (刀) Katana

KAWASAKI (カワサキ) Kawasaki

SHOUEI (昭栄) Shoei (helmet manufacturer)

SUZUKI (スズキ) Suzuki

YAMAHA (ヤマハ) Yamaha

YOSHIMURA (ヨシムラ) Yoshimura (parts manufacturer)

Accessories and Parts (if not in the list, probably can just Japifiy the English):

GASORIN (ガソリン) gasoline; petrol

REGYURAA (レギュラー) regular octane gas/petrol

HAIOKU (ハイオク) high octane gas/petrol

MANTAN (満タン) full tank

HANDORU (ハンドル) handlebars; steering wheel

HANSHATEEPU (反射テープ) reflective tape

HERUMETTO (ヘルメット) helmet

KOUGU (工具) tools

OIRU KOUKAN (オイル交換) oil change

RAITO (ライト) headlight

RAITO NO KOUJIKU (ライトの光軸) aim of the headlight

SHASHU (車種) make or model (of vehicle)

KUUKI (空気) air

SUPEEDOMEETAA (スピードメーター) or SOKUDOKEI (速度計) speedometer

(Some Japified English examples that translate directly)

BUREEKI (ブレーキ) brakes

CHEEN (チェーン) chain

ENJIN (エンジン) engine

KURACCHI (クラッチ) clutch

OIRU (オイル) oil

ROKKU (ロック) lock

TAIYA (タイヤ) tire


HOKEN (保険) insurance

JIBAISEKIHOKEN (自賠責保険) mandatory vehicle liability insurance


JYUURYOOZEI (重量税) weight tax

KARIMENKYO (仮免許) temporary license

[UNTEN] MENKYOSHOU (「運転」免許証) [driver’s] license

SHONENDO TOUROKU (初年度登録) “year first registered” (i.e. model year)

NANBAA PUREETO (ナンバープレート) license plate

SHARYOUHOU (車両法) Motor Vehicle Law

DOUROKOUTSUU (道路交通法) Road Traffic Law

HAISHA (廃車) deregistered (out-of-service) vehicle

GAIKOKUJIN TOUROKU SHOUMEISHO (外国人登録証明書) alien registration card

JUUMIN HYOUSHOUMEISHOU (住民票証明書) Japanese citizen’s card

INKAN (印鑑) seal/stamp

HANKO (判子) seal/stamp officially used as a signature

Bad things:

AKAKIPPU (赤切符) (“red ticket”) ticket for particulary grevious offenses

AOKIPPU (青切符) (“blue ticket”) ticket for minor offenses

ATENIGE (当て逃げ) hit-and-run accident causing property damage

DANPU (ダンプ) dump truck

GASUKETSU (ガス欠) running out of gas

HIKINIGE (ひき逃げ) hit-and-run accident causing personal injury

HIKINIGE NI AU 退き逃げに合う to be the victim of a hit-and-run

HIKINI WO SURU 退き逃げをする do to a hit-and-run (not a good thing)

IHAN (違反) violation; offense

JIKO (事故) traffic accident

JINSHIN JIKO (人身事故) traffic accident resulting in personal injury/death.

BUSSON JIKO (物損事故) traffic accident resulting in property damage

KIPPU (切符) ticket (traffic, concert, train, plane, etc)

KOUTSUU JUUTAI (交通渋滞) traffic jam

KOSSETSU (骨折) bone fracture

PANKU (パンク) flat tire; tire leak

SHAKEN (車検) mandatory (and expensive) biyearly vehicle inspection

SUBERU (滑べる) to slip; to slide

KUROBU (転ぶ) to fall down

TAKUSHI (タクシー) taxi

TENTOU (転倒) dropping the bike, falling over

TORAKKU (トラック) truck

SHOUMEN SHOUTOTSU (正面衝突) head-on collision

TSUITOTSU (追突) rear-end collision


BYOUIN (病院) hospital

BIYOUIN (美容院) beauity parlor (don’t confuse with BYOUIN)

DOURO (道路) street; road

KAABU (カーブ) curve (in the road)

KEISATSUKAN (警察官) police station

KOUBAN (交番) police box

KOUSATEN (交差点) intersection

KOUSOKU DOURO (高速道路) very expensive toll highway

KYUUHAN (急坂) steep grade

MICHI (道) street; road

RIKU’UNKYOKU (陸運局) District Land Transport Bureau (i.e. DMV)

SUTANDO (スタンド) gas station; petrol station

TOUGE (峠) mountain pass

YUURYOU DOURO (有料道路) toll road


ANZEN (安全) safety; safe

ANZEN UNTEN (安全運転) driving safely

ANZEN DAIICHI (安全第一) safety first

ENJIN BUREEKI (エンジンブレーキ) engine braking (as opposed to using brakes)

KYUU BUREEKI (急ブレーキ) sudden braking; stopping very quickly

MANAA (マナー) manner of driving; following the rules

OINUKU (追い抜く) to pass (i.e. another vehicle)

KIBOU KAKAKU (希望価格) asking price

OOBAAHOORU (オーバーホール) overhaul (i.e. engine)

SOUKOU KYORI (走行距離) or NENPI mileage (i.e. odometer)

NIDAN KAIUSETSU (二段階右折) two-step right turn (see BIKE CLASSES)

Go on to the next page Bike Classes and Vehicle Licensing

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Biker License Info

Driver’s License Info

Unlike in some American States, you must carry your license with you at all times if you’re operating a motor vehicle. You must also carry the title of the vehicle on the bike, (i.e. the insurance form). A non-Japanese license is not a valid license in Japan — you must have either a Japanese license or international permit.

INTERNATIONAL If one has an international driver’s permit with a motorcycle endorsement and your country’s valid license, one may drive any size motorcycle. Japan only allows the use of an international permit for up to one year after your latest entry into the country (even if the international license would otherwise not be expired).

CONVERSION FROM A NON-JAPANESE LICENSE A foreign license may generally be converted to a Japanese license. Any international license, or lack thereof is irrelevant. Note: Non-Japanese must have been in the issuing country for three months after the last-date-of-change on the license for it to be convertible in Japan. For Japanese, the three months become six. A motorcycle endorsement converts to a mid-class motorcycle license.

Basic conversion method: Bring alien registration card, passport, foreign license, and about 2,500 yen to a JAF (Japan Automobile Federation, much like the AAA [American/Australian Automobile Association]). They will “translate” your license, and give you some paperwork.

Bring it all to your prefectural licensing center, stopping at one of the photo shops that should litter the nearby area to get two license standard size photos (3cm x 2.4cm…. they’ll know what size to give). B/W ok. Note that neither of these photos will actually appear on the license. I have no idea what the photos are for.

Bring it all, and about 7,000 yen (cost depends on various factors) to the licensing center and fill out appropriate forms. You might have to take a practical test, I’m not sure. Recently, converting a car license changed to requiring a test (make sure to not hit the cones, and use your mirrors “appropriately”) Do what they tell, pay what they want. Receive license. Valid for three years, expiring on your birthday. Some ex-pats have said they have been asked for “Proof of First Issuance” or “Certificate of First Date of Issuance”, basically a document indicating when you received your first driver’s license in your home country.

DOING IT THE JAPANESE WAY Getting a scooter-only license is apparently trivial. Getting a motorcycle license (mid-class or big-class) is rather difficult, and apparently an exercise in patience and frustration (and money).


Andy Stubbings writes:

“I bought a Japanese book on how to pass the 400cc test and decided to kill two birds with one stone and learn some motoring terms as well as how to ride a bike and take the test. Maybe other people will tell you the test is easy, but having only practiced on a 250 and sitting on a 400 for the first time at the starting gate I was very nervous. It took me a few times to get used to the bike and course, and paying 1700 yen [this amount varies by location] a time is a lot cheaper than going to a school (where you have to pay an entrance fee of 50000, ten lessons at 3000 each hour, 5000 for a test certificate and other charges!). I’m not ashamed to admit it took me 6 times to pass as I get pretty nervous about things that are important for me to get right, and the examiners will stop you for any thing not exactly correct (more than the examiners at a school), such as stalling the engine, hitting a cone on the figure-of-eight, slalom, T-junction and other obstacles, or not going at the correct speed going into the emergency stop. All of these things were very new to me on a bike I had never practiced on before (VFR 400). The bastards also had another bike (a Yamaha I think) that had awful balance. They had most of their failures on that bike!). “A foreign license automatically converts to a 2nd level, but you have the option of going to the test center and going around the course on a 750cc just to impress the tester that you can actually ride a big bike, and they are a bit more lenient in giving you an oogata menkyo. If you don’t take the 750cc test there and then you have to apply at a later time and they assume you haven’t ridden a big bike before and are very strict (not sure about going to a riding school since I didn’t bother).

For more info on costs, try looking at

Tetsuya Nishimura reports on the test skillset:

Required tests for following bike sizes:

Small (50-124cc) Medium (125-399cc) Large (400cc+)

5 Cone Slalom Yes Yes Yes

Stopping from: 30 km/h 30 km/h 40 km/h

Designated speed in X meters 8m. 10m. 10m.

Crank Course Yes Yes Yes

Uneven Pitch Obstacle Course (See Below) No No Yes

Start on uphill No Yes Yes

NARROW BRIDGE: There is a steel bridge (5cm X 30cm X 10 meters) on which a testee passes taking more time than the specified time. Stepping a foot on the ground or falling off from the bridge immediately terminates the test. Crossing the bridge faster than the specified time counts 5 points per second against the testee.

UNEVEN-PITCH OBSTACLE COURSE: There is a series of 8 (or so, I forgot) concrete bars (approx. 7-8cm base/5cm top X 5cm X 100cm) laid parallel to each other with uneven pitches. The testee is required to cross these bars taking as long a time as possible without running off of the bars or dropping the bike. The performance should be done in a standing position on the steps.


In the middle of the license, in large characters (the largest characters on the whole license), it will have some Japanese, with a number among the characters. That’s a year number, and the license expires on your birthday of that year.

Example: If a license says:

HEISEI 28 NEN NO TANJOUBI MADE YUUKOU (•½¬‚P‚S”N‚Ì’a¶“ú‚Ü‚Å—LŒø) “valid until your birthday in Heisei-28” (Heisei 28, or the 27th full year of the current Japanese Emperor, is 2016).

You can renew the license in the month preceding your birthday. You’ll need the license, pictures as above, and about 5,000 yen.

If you’re getting a license for the first time though, waiting until just after your birthday will give you the longest period before it’s time to renew it.

NOTE: This page contains Japanese script–if your computer’s OS or browser is not set up to read it, many words will simply look like garbage. Try changing the way your browser reads the info – for example, using Firefox, click on “View”, then “Character Encoding”, then choose something like Japanese Shift_JIS.

Go on to the next page Road Signs, Lines and Traffic Laws

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Biker Class Info

Bike Classes and Vehicle Licensing

There are four classes of motorized two-wheeled vehicles in Japan, with different licensing requirements, rules, and such. The classes are demarked by engine size.

The Motor Vehicle Law (SHARYOUHOU, probably governs licencing and registration issues) demarks them into three classes, while the Road Traffic Law (DOUROKOUTSUU, probably governs the vehicle operation) into four.

Engine size: Up to 50cc


Class 1 Engine-Attached Bicycle

Road Traffic Law: 原動機付き自転車 (原付き) GENDOUKITSUKI JIDOUSHA (GENTSUKI) Engine-Attached Bicycle

Common names: Scooter, gentsuki

Speed Limit: 30 km/h (but routinely ignored)

Passengers: Never allowed

Travel restrictions: Must stay to the left 1m of street (but often ignored). Not allowed on the expressways. See below about right turns.

License plate: Small, white

License: Easy paper-only test. Japanese car license includes this permission as well (but international endorsement of a foreign license does not).

Mandatory Insurance: 7850, 9800, 11600 yen for 1, 2, and 3 years

Engine size: Over 50cc up to 125cc


Class 2 Engine-Attached Bicycle

Road Traffic Law: 小型自動二輪車 (KOGATA JIDOU NIRINSHA)

Small-Size Auto-Mobile Two-Wheeled Vehicle.

Common names: Small class, KOGATA (小形)

Speed Limit: 50 km/h or less, as posted

Passengers: May have a passenger

Travel restrictions: Not allowed on expressways.

License plate: Yellow, or pink with white triangle mark on mudguard

Mandatory Insurance: 7850, 9800, 11600 yen for 1, 2, and 3 years

Engine size: Over 125cc up to 400cc

Motor Vehicle Law: 自動二輪車 (JIDOU NIRINSHA)

Road Traffic Law: 中型自動二輪車 (CHUUGATA JIDOU NIRINSHA)

Mid-Size Auto-Mobile Two-Wheeled Vehicle.

Common names: Mid-class, CHUUGATA (中型)

Speed restrictions: 80 km/h on expressways, 50 km/h or less, as posted

Passengers: May have a passenger

Travel restrictions: May go onto expressways (w/o passenger)

License plate: White. Over 250cc has a green border

Mandatory Insurance: 13650, 21000, 28000 yen for 1, 2, and 3 years.

Engine size: 400cc and Over

Motor Vehicle Law: 自動二輪車 (JIDOU NIRINSHA)

Road Traffic Law: 大型自動二輪車 (OOGATA JIDOU NIRINSHA)

Large-Size Auto-Mobile Two-Wheeled Vehicle.

Common names: Large class, OOGATA (大型)

Speed restrictions: 80 km/h on expressways, 60 km/h or less, as posted

Passengers: May have a passenger

Travel restrictions: May go onto expressways (without passenger)

License plate: White with a green border.

Mandatory Insurance: 17100 yen for one year, 27800 yen for two.


ENGINE SIZE: Technically, these are “up to, but not including” (so a scooter would be up to, BUT NOT INCLUDING, 50cc). However, all “50cc scooters” are really 49cc, “250cc bikes” are really 249cc, etc, so for the rest of this FAQ I’ll sloff over this technical point and just say that 50cc is a gentsuki class, etc.

“SCOOTER”: Most scooters are 50cc, so “scooter” and “gentsuki” are often used synonymously. However, they’re not exactly the same. Some vehicles which are scooters can have engines as large as 750cc, while some motorcycles have only 50cc engines.

“GENTSUKI”: The Japanese word “gentsuki” is short for what originally literally meant “bicycle with engine attached” (i.e. “moped”), and now technically means any motorized two-wheeled vehicle. However, now it’s generally used to mean that class of vehicle with engines smaller than 50cc (and again, most “50cc” vehicles are really 49cc, so they’re gentsuki as well).

EXPRESSWAYS: less than 125cc may not go onto expressways. Others may go, but there is an implied 80 km/h limit. Passengers are not allowed unless in a side-car.

RIGHT TURNS: Scooters doing right turns at large intersections (sometimes marked with a special sign) must do the two-step “Melbourne” right turn. This is called a NIDANKAIUSETSU (二段階右折). Rather than attempt to turn across a on-coming traffic, you rather pull mostly across the intersection and to the *left* (with right turn signal on!), waiting at what amounts to the very head of the waiting cross traffic. There will likely be a special box marked for you to wait in. When the cross-traffic light turns green, go across. That said, with few patrol cars around, many scooter riders just ignore the law unless the police are nearby. Don’t assume anything!

HELMETS: Helmets (of some form) are required for all classes and all passengers, with differing requirements according to class.

POPULAR SIZES: Because of these classes, there aren’t a wide variety of bike engine sizes on the market, as might be found in America. The most popular sizes (in order, by my guess): 50cc, 250cc, 400cc, 125cc, 750cc


Bike licensing, ownership transfers, license plate procurement, insurance, and such can all be rather complex affairs, requiring unbelievable amounts of paperwork. Thankfully, the bike shop will often take care of much of it for you.


License plate colors sometimes differ by location. However, small bikes (or big scooters) from 50-125cc (cf. BIKE CLASSES earlier) generally have a special color. Also, 125cc bikes have a white triangular mark painted somewhere on the rear body or mud guard. Motorcycles over 250cc (which require shaken) also have a green border on their license plates.

In summary:

up to 50cc: white small plate

then up to 90cc: yellow plate with triangular mark

then up to 125cc: pink plate with triangular mark

then up to 250cc: white regular plate

and over: white regular plate with green border


All vehicles must carry some minimal amount of liability insurance. This is called JIBAISEKIHOKEN (自賠責保険). You can purchase it from a bike shop, or other insurance provider (I buy mine at my company). You get a small sticker that goes on your license plate to prove you’ve got it. You have no choice about this – you must buy it. There are discounts for multiple-year purchases. Penalties for riding or driving a vehicle without it are a penalty fine of up to 500,000 yen and a year in prison, not to mention immediate license suspension.

Costs (as of April, Heisei 5 [1993]):

12 mos. 24 mos. 36 mos.

250cc+ 17,100 yen 27,800 yen N/A

126-250cc 13,650 21,000 yen 28,000 yen

125cc or less 7850 yen 9800 yen 11,600 yen

The insurance applies to the bike, and transfers with the bike if it sold. If the bike is decomissioned (totaled or stolen) before the insurance runs out, you can go through all kinds of paperwork to get some of your money back. It’s a pain.


Only an idiot would drive without extra insurance beyond the mandatory liability insurance. If you need some prompting, I have heard that the minimum legal compensational fine for causing a traffic death is on the order of 32,000,000 yen (about US$380,000). Rates (with Nippon Fire and Marine, at least, although I suspect it’s an industry standard) are based upon a number of factors (this info somewhat scratchy):

Age: less than 21; 21-25; 26 or over

size of bike: scooter, 50cc-250cc, 250cc or over

how long you’ve insured with them.

coverage you want

One data point:

I bought extra insurance from Nippon Fire and Marine.

Personal liability (if I hurt others): unlimited coverage

Bodily injury for passenger: 10,000,000 yen/accident

Bodily injury for me: 2,000,000 yen/accident (I have national health coverage, so coverage for me isn’t so important)

Cost: 3,960 yen/month.

Collision coverage would have been ridiculously expensive (on the order of 6,000 yen/month for minimal coverage).


For vehicles larger than 250cc, a biyearly (every other year) inspection must be done. This is called SHAKEN (車検). The main cost components of shaken is the mandatory insurance (JIBAISEKI HOKEN) and weight tax (JYUURYOUZEI). These, plus a few miscellaneous fees can come to as low as about 35,000yen. However, in order to get the bike to pass the rather picky inspection, a lot of work might be required. Or at least required in the eyes of the bike shop (more work means more yen for them). It seems average costs are about 70,000 yen, but you can probably do it for much less by doing it yourself. See the section on SHAKEN below. Like the mandatory liability insurance, the shaken transfers with a vehicle (and is often a selling point: “comes with shaken good until next January”). Since a 250cc bike is the largest bike that doesn’t require this, 250cc is the most popular size.


Every April, the city where you’re a resident taxes you for your bike (via mail). Bummer if you buy the bike in March.

Engine Size (cc) Tax/Year (yen)

under 50cc 1000 yen

51-90cc 1200 yen

91-125cc 1600 yen

126-250cc 2400 yen

250cc+ 4000 yen


125cc and below: none

126cc – 250cc: one-time 6,300 yen fee when the bike is new

251cc and up: 5000 yen for 2 years, 2500 yen/year after 10 years.

NOTE: This page contains Japanese script–if your computer’s OS or browser is not set up to read it, many words will simply look like garbage. Try changing the way your browser reads the info – for example, using Firefox, click on “View”, then “Character Encoding”, then choose something like Japanese Shift_JIS.

Biking in Japan – Introduction

A General Introduction

In his book “Japan — A Travel Survival Kit”, Ian McQueen gives a great introduction to driving and motorcycles in Japan. (3rd edition Feb 1989; published by Lonely Planet; ISBN 0 86442 045 5).

In the following excerpts, our added editorial comments are given in [brackets]. Also, we have adjusted the spelling to conform with the rest of this FAQ. His observations about dangers particular to Japan, because they are accurate, are to be taken very seriously. Probably the most important thing to point out to the new foreign driver is:


The problem is that a new foreign driver WON’T KNOW THE PATTERN… the general Rules of the Road, and so won’t be prepared to defend himself properly. Be Careful.

Starting on page 149:

A person who likes motorcycles can have a very enjoyable time touring Japan by bike. The weather is favorable (or at least bearable) for at least eight months, there is the individual freedom afforded by any motor vehicle, plus the added advantage of being able to get through spaces that can stall a car for long periods when traffic gets snarled (which is quite often).

Except in metropolitan areas (where wealth is concentrated), bikes larger than 250cc are quite rare. Although many fire-breathing super bikes are built in Japan, most are exported. There are no new Japanese-made bikes for sale in Japan that are bigger than 750cc [this is one of the “voluntary restrictions” that the bike makers adhere to]. Any that you see have been exported, then re-imported, for there is no restriction on engine size for imported bikes.

The optimum size of a bike for touring Japan is 250cc. This is the smallest size allowed on expressways and the largest allowed on the major streets of Tokyo between 11pm and 6am [although I don’t know why anyone would want to be anywhere near Tokyo if they were _touring_]. An absurd law prohibits large bikes from using the major arteries between these hours. It penalizes law-abiding riders and is scoffed at by the Bosouzoku [groups of young assholes who steal motorcycles and rev the engines at 120 decibels plus] who intentionally ride on these streets, making as much noise as they can, to taunt the police [and everyone else, for that matter].

Best of all, a 250cc bike is the largest size that is not subject to SHAKEN [an expensive mandatory vehicle inspection]. Because of the low speed limits there is little sense buying anything bigger anyway. A lady friend of mine rode from one end of the country to another on a 50cc bike without problems. One thing you should be aware of, however, is that any bike of [50cc] or below is supposed to hug the side of the road an not ride in the lanes; a dangerous requirement in view of the way car drivers disregard space requirements of two-wheelers.


Honda has the largest dealer network in the country, followed by Yamaha then Suzuki. Kawasaki dealers seem comparatively rare. Remember that dealers in smaller centers don’t normally work on large bikes so spare parts will not likely be sitting on the shelf in such places.


Prices for used bikes have strange patterns. For example, a used 400cc bike won’t be much cheaper than a used 750cc (because the demand for the latter is less [because the license for the latter is so much more difficult to get]) and the price of bikes up to 250cc is also high because they escape the very high recurring cost of SHAKEN.


If buying a used bike in Tokyo, first check the _Tokyo_Weekender_. Since advertisers are usually other foreigners there should be no language problem in negotiating. You could even run an advertisement yourself, saying what size bike you want (and the date of your arrival in Japan if you’re doing it from another country). Write to: Tokyo Weekender, 55-11 Yayoi-cho 1-chome, Nakano-ku, Tokyo 164.


If you’re touring Japan by bike it is advisable to carry a tire repair kit and pump. There is nothing worse than getting a flat high up on a mountain road. [I can say, from experience, that popping the chain while coming out a major twistie can give a flat tire a run for its money. As for flat tires, I *highly* recommend tubeless tires. I once ran for 100km on a 100% “flat” tubeless tire, through both city and mountain roads, before I really noticed anything was amiss. Besides saying something about my powers of observation, it does say something very good about tubeless tires.]


Road Dangers — Japan is no more dangerous than other countries for motorcyclists – possibly less so because the speed limits are so low – but you must be aware of a few idiocies that persist.

Car and truck drivers have no appreciation of the space needs of bikes [or any other vehicles, for that matter] and drive close behind, unable to tolerate the sight of a clear space ahead of the vehicle in front. They will also go to ridiculous extremes to squeeze past a motorcycle, even if there is no space in front of it. It is not at all uncommon in city driving for a car to pass shortly before a corner, then abruptly cut across in front and make a left turn at the corner, instead of waiting a couple of seconds, pulling in behind, and making the turn leisurely. [Taxis are especially notorious for this].

Many car drivers simply don’t know the law regarding motorcycles. Small bikes are required to hug the edge of the road and not exceed 50 km/h [30km/h for 50cc scooters, 50 for others (see the “BIKE CLASSES” section), but virtually everyone exceeds the speed limit wherever possible]. Ignorant motorists — found in large numbers in small towns and remote areas — rarely see a bike bigger than 50cc and just don’t know that larger bikes have the same right to travel down the middle of the lane as a car does.

The necessity to stay by the edge of the road leaves you exposed to danger from another source – the road surface is often uneven due to deformation of the asphalt caused by heavy trucks and the heat. These ragged edges, along with uncertain shapes and slope of the gutter [as well as poor drainage], can making riding hazardous.

Another road surface danger is the fact that many curves on mountain roads are cambered *toward* the edge, not (safely) toward the hillside. Also, riders must always beware of taxis. Without warning they will cut across to the curb to pick up a fare, no matter how many lanes of traffic they have to cross. You must be on the watch for prospective passengers as much as the taxi drivers.

Another type of problem too-often encountered is the driver who pulls out from the curb or from a side road right in front of a motorcycle, even if the bike has the right of way and the road is completely clear once it has passed. It is also necessary to watch out for car doors opening in front of you, for few drivers look back to see if anything is coming. [In most cilvilized countries, drivers will check to see if the lane is clear. In Japan though many drivers just enter a lane whenever they want, expecting the whole world to stop for them. Feeling your bike tip over and shredding your clothes and skin to stop is NO fun].

The worst danger, however, is probably the riders of motor scooters [GENTSUKI] as they cut in with no regard for others [or themselves]. Among other things, they have no concept of the space needed for their own safety or that of other cyclists (both motor and pedal variety) nor of good road manners, stopping directly in front of other motorcycles at traffic lights. [Another hazard is after stopping for a light and waiting in the turn lane, many recklesly gun the engine as soon as the light turns green assuming they can turn through the intersection before oncoming traffic approaches. Buses and bicyclists can also be a danger. Buses are often road-slugs which completely fill the lane, making passing on either side impossible. They also have their exhaust pipes pointed right in your face (by law, for whatever God-forsaken reason) and will blast toxic diesel smoke at you for as long as you’re behind them. As for bicyclists, in other countries there are laws as well as common sense which dictate that they should go with the flow of traffic. But in Japanese cities it’s common for them to go on the street against traffic, coming directly at you.]

From the section on general driving habits, starting on page 143:

The main problem with drivers in Japan is lack of foresight. Too many do not think ahead to predict what might happen and consequently have to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision. In this they are not always successful. Many drive so they are almost touching the vehicle ahead, relying solely on their reflexes to save them if a sudden stop is called for. This is probably a problem common to many countries but it seems to be a national characteristic in Japan… When moving away from the curb, many drivers pull a meter into the road before looking behind them to see if anything is coming. Going around corners in the city at quite high speed, without that there might be a pedestrian or car in the way, is all to common. Too many drivers change lanes without looking, and, once a vehicle they are passing is out of peripheral vision, many drivers immediately begin to cut over, forcing the other driver to brake abruptly.

Beware of cars coming through the red lights. A large percentage of Japanese drivers seem to hold the belief that if a light they are approaching has been green at any time while in their view, they have the right to continue through it even if it has been red for several seconds. This makes things interesting when one road has the green light, yet cars from the cross-street continue to stream across in front.

[We might add two observations ourselves: one is that drivers floor it the nano-second their light turns green. Secondly, If there is an oncoming car waiting to turn across your path, more than the slightest gap between you and the car in front of you will invite the waiting car to try to pull in front of you. This is probably the same as in many countries, and involves many of the same considerations for you as it would elsewhere. If you follow too close to the car in front, you risk rear-ending him if he slows suddenly. If you allow too large a gap, you risk both being rear-ended by the impatient car following you, as well as inviting the oncoming car to turn across your path. I have found that placing myself more towards the inside of the lane (to be closer to the oncoming lane) will help make me more visible to the waiting car and help me to “claim” my lane. A flash of the high beams is also helpful. ANYWAY, all this probably applies to most countries. One thing I have noticed about Japan is that if a waiting oncoming car does pull across your path, the car waiting right behind it will simultaneously (and blindly) pull into your lane as well, using the first car as a “shield”. Of course, since the first car is still actually there, there’s no place for the second car to go until the first has finished pulling across your lane, off the roadway, and out of the way. So the second car ends up just sitting in your lane for a few moments while waiting for the path to clear. What starts out as a chancy move by the first car ends up being a very dangerous hazard by the second driver. Of course, now that he’s in your lane, and he’s bigger anyway, it’s your problem and your responsibility to deal with it.]

Vestiges of the old days [in the 60s when personal car ownership was becoming popular, and the roads were a anarchic free-for-all] can be found on almost any mountain road, where every Japanese male driver seems to go silly, thinking himself highly skilled with the trained reflexes of a racing driver. The fact is that the low speed limits throughout Japan [though often ignored] prevent them from gaining any experience at high speeds on any kind of road, let alone twisty mountain ones. ALMOST EVERY DRIVER CUTS STRAIGHT THROUGH CURVES [emphasis added], so it is advisable to sound your horn at every blind corner [not that it will help]. Evidence of the bad driving is that there is scarcely a meter of guard rail in all Japan that isn’t scraped or bent. Containers of flowers by the roadside, often with some personal possessions and a flat stick with a name written on it, are mute testimony to a fatal accident, and are a common sight.


Although most truck drivers are careful and sane, their numbers include some of the most dangerous drivers in the country. Too many drive irresponsibly, indulging in games of chase, driving almost touching the vehicle ahead and unmindful of the mass [and/or length] of their vehicle. I have seen a multi-ton concrete mixer being put through maneuvers in heavy traffic that I would hesitate to perform in a sports car on an open track. One of the worst smashups in Japanese road history is believed to have been caused by the driver of a large truck loaded with chemicals playing “tag” with other drivers. The rear-end collision that he caused in a tunnel of the Tomei Expressway (Tokyo-Nagoya) killed seven people and destroyed 173 cars in the pile-up [whose drivers themselves apparently followed too close to be able to stop] and ensuing fire.


The amazing thing is that there are relatively few accidents. AS LONG AS EVERYONE HAS THE SAME HABITS AND EXPECTATIONS, A CERTAIN PATTERN OF DRIVING SEEMS TO DEVELOP AND IS EXPECTED [emphasis added] It would appear that other drivers just assume that it is up to them to allow for the problems caused by others.


The biking season in Japan varies according to the region you’re in. Japan has different climates according to where you are at. About 70% of the country is mountainous (hence a motorcyclist’s paradise) with lots of winding roads, valleys, waterfalls, out-of-the-way scenic places, etc. The Tohoku (northeast) area and the island of Hokkaido have very frigid, long winters with lots of snow. Summers are rather mild though, compared with the rest of the nation, where the summers are crushingly humid. Winter in the southern half (the Japanese call it the western half) of the country gets cold too, going down to about zero Celsius (32 F) in January and February in the cities, and colder naturally in the mountains.


Never, but NEVER underestimate the stupidity of the drivers around you!