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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Author: The Japan FAQ

Creator of Japan FAQ and former resident of The Land of the Rising Sun.