Getting Around In Japan: Bicycles & Leg Gasoline

By Donald Ash | Articles

My Trusty, Electric Blue Bicycle

Public transportation is quite common in Japan. Many people use the trains and subways to commute to and from work, visit friends, go sightseeing, and even just to ride for the sake of riding. I do use trains in the the city I’m living in, namely the Tsukuba Express. That’s for usually for special occasions, though.

Tsukuba is kind of a diffuse city, if that makes any sense. Things are pretty spread out. The mall is a little ways away from the university, and there are parts of Tsukuba I haven’t even seen because it’s a bit of trek without a car. Many people use cars to get to those areas where public transportation may be inefficient or expensive. For example for me to go from Tsukuba Station to Mito (also in Ibaraki-ken) the fastest option costs ¥3,720 one way! By current conversions, that’s nearly $45.00 (USD). And remember, you probably have to come back, so tack on another ¥3,720 ($45.00). In those cases, and rightfully so, people drive instead. I haven’t bought a car for two major reasons: 1) it was discouraged by my company (we can’t insure you if you get one), and 2) I like not having to buy gas. So instead, I use my trusty, electric-blue, Indicator bicycle…everyday!

The Benefits of Riding a Bicycle in Japan

What’s good about riding a bike in Japan? Well there are several advantages:

• Leg Gasoline: The first great thing that comes to mind about riding a bike is that they use leg gasoline. This it’s a wonderful renewable resource. If my legs get tired, I can’t wait, grab a drink, and I’m good to go in a few minutes. In many respects, it beats paying for gas.

• No Payments: I have been able to save money so much more easily than I could in the United States, and I make less money. Part of the reason is that I don’t have to make car or insurance payments (although I don’t know exactly how all of that works here in Japan).

• Breakdowns don’t cost an arm & a leg: Have you ever had your car breakdown. It is just a terrible feeling isn’t it? Your car isn’t moving and already know it’s going to cost alot because your car isn’t moving. If my bike stops moving, it’s probably the chain, or if there’s wheel or brake trouble, it doesn’t cost much at all. My most expensive car repair in the US was around $1000 dollars. My most expensive bike repair was ¥23,000 and I just bought a new bike. It’s inconvenient but it’s totally manageable.

• Bike rides are a peaceful way to see the landscape: In a car, of course you can see similar things, but riding a bike gives you a chance to stop safely, without having people curse you out, and enjoy the sounds you’re hearing, and the terrain you’re viewing.

• Bike riding is great exercise: You’d be surprised at how bike riding can give you an amazing workout. Just by going where you need to, you’re exercising. It can be a great two-for one deal.

Then what are the disadvantages of riding a bike?

The Disadvantages of Riding a Bike in Japan

• Bikes are fast, but compared to a car, they aren’t that fast: Bikes beat walking, but if the destination is a far away, unless you have lots of time on your hands, it’s still hard to get there…even if you have unlimited leg gasoline.

• Bikes aren’t all that cool. It depends on the type of bike you have, but if you’re riding around on the “Mama Cherry” bikes (a common expression in Japan for an old-fashioned-looking bike that your grandmother might have ridden) complete with the super-cool basket (not really).

• Bikes don’t protect you from the elements: Riding to work during rainy season really sucks sometimes. I often see people riding and holding umbrellas at the same time. It seems like a brilliant idea, but it doesn’t work so well. You still end up half-soaked to say the least. If you wear a rain suit, the danger is in the temperature. If it’s muggy, hot and rainy, you’re going to start roasting in that cheap vinyl suit…but it does beat being all wet. You’re clothes, and during heavy rains…even your underwear, get all soggy and wet. Ahhh, nothing beats teaching in soggy underwear. Or if it’s the hottest summer in 100 years, there’s no air conditioning switch to turn on.

• Bikes are easier to steal than cars: It’s 100 times easier to steal a bike than it is a car. Although most bikes in Japan in have a lock and key, it’s just a reality. In Japan, it’s highly unlikely (depending on your city) that you’ll get your bike stolen; for the most part people in Japan are quite honest. Just something to think about.

I have listed more pros than cons for riding a bike, but I am a bit biased. When getting around, just chose the transportation that suits you best. If you are anti-exercise, a car may be better. But I highly recommend trying a nice bike ride, you might actually enjoy it.

Donald Ash

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • Kayla

    It’s funny, I think those old fashioned bikes with the baskets on them are super cute! Maybe I’m just a sucker for vintage…or maybe I think that basket would come in really handy for grocery shopping. ^_^

    • Donald Ash

      Those baskets are pretty handy, but unfortunately I don’t have one. I thought it’d take away from the “coolness” factor of my bike. But I guess my bike’s too small for me anyway, so it doesn’t look cool in the first place.

  • I wonder how it would differ with something like roller-blades instead of a bike. Obviously you would have to get a pair ordered and shipped for our big foreign feet, but I think you would get more control with them. Which could mean the difference between accidentally hitting someone or something with big metal object versus just your own body. What do you think? Doable? I’m guessing it may take a bit more leg-gasoline than if you are riding a bike though. Can’t really compare since it has been a long time since I’ve done either one. 😛

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