Japan, like its Asian neighbors of China and Korea, is seemingly infested with bicycles. In each of the main cities, bicycles by the millions are found everywhere. They are are ridden or walked through the shopping malls and arcades, causing havoc for pedestrian shoppers. Japanese traffic laws permit bicycles to be ridden on the sidewalks, as it is dangerous to ride on the side of the road. This causes many small or major accidents on a daily basis. The sidewalks are already jammed with pedestrians – bicycles only add to the congestion. Personally I find riding on the road a whole lot safer than the sidewalk.
Japanese bicycle riders, for the most part, are not safe. Many will ride at night without a light on the front and rear. Many ignore traffic lights and will, at times, shoot out in front of oncoming cars. Almost no one wears a helmet – considered too troublesome to wear. Old, retired men are nothing short of hopeless riding a bicycle. They are not balanced well and tend to do stupid things. Often these senior members of society will stop without any kind of warning in the middle of the sidewalk causing anyone following to have crank on the brake or slam into them. They also don’t think about others when turning or coming out from a side street. I always wonder why the death toll for old men on bicycles, isn’t through the roof. On the other hand old women, unlike their male counterparts, are generally skilled cyclists and have a much better understanding of how to ride and the road rules.
Oceans of bicycles parked in various positions – sometimes precariously – can be found outside the city’s train and subway stations. Once a month city workers arrive in a large truck and clear away bicycles parked illegally. There is a two thousand yen fine and the owner has to travel to the other side of the city to pick up their bike and pay the fine. Needless to say, many don’t bother to retrieve their wheels, preferring to buy a new one than give the city of Osaka money.
The “Mama-chari” (Osaka dialect for a bicycle fitted with a child’s seat) are popular around the suburbs of Osaka. Mother’s shunt children to kindergarten, elementary school and daycare centers, on the back or front. Many a wise mother makes sure the kid has a helmet – others don’t, either think about it or can’t be bothered.