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In Japan, how are bicycles supposed to turn right?

Apparently, new rules have been decided in 2015, and there is a specific way to turn to the right at a crossroad, depending whether there are traffic lights or not.

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According to this Tokyo Metro Police Department (警視庁 Keishichō) web page on bicycle rules, the pet peeve of the authorities in Japan with regard to right turning cyclists is the practice of just going like cars through the turn.

Three cases are specified, which all share the common theme that the cyclist, second class creature that it is, must turn right by crossing the intersection twice, like a lowly pedestrian, and not like a vehicle.

enter image description here

The diagrams are self-explanatory.

  1. At an intersection with no signals, look both ways, and proceed straight through. As you approach the other side, then turn right and cross again.

  2. At an intersection with signals, but no pedestrian/cyclist signals, proceed through the intersection (and swerve a bit toward the pedestrian crossing, according to the diagram). The accompanying text says you should walk your bicycle if the crossing is busy with pedestrians. Then wait, on the road, for the signal to change for the second crossing and then proceed, similarly to a vehicle (away from pedestrians).

  3. At an intersection with pedestrian/cyclist signals, cyclists are expected to similarly cross twice, obeying those special signals, sticking to the bicycle section of the crossing. The main difference is that waiting for the second crossing is done off-road, and then the crossing is carried like the first, with the pedestrians.

It's not clear whether the page incorporates any 2015 changes in rules, but it was modified in April 2015.

The very last diagram makes it clear that bicycles are not to behave like motor vehicles. They should stick to the left. Even if there is a left-turning lane and they wish to go straight through the intersection, they must do so from that left-turning lane, and not from the adjacent lane which goes straight. Likewise, they must not occupy the right lane (from which it would be possible to turn right like a motor vehicle).

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  • What a way to treat cyclists! No wonder there is almost no cycling culture building there.
    – Willeke
    May 22 '15 at 12:57
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    @Willeke - huh? Have you ever visited Japan? Seen the throngs of moms on their bikes going to supermarkets or the train stations?
    – RoboKaren
    Dec 20 '16 at 7:51
  • Added image from wikimedia / wikipedia to clarify. OP - feel free to delete.
    – RoboKaren
    Dec 20 '16 at 7:54
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    @RoboKaren, I have been in Japan, if back in 1994. Cycling was very minor compared to my home country, the Netherlands, and only during the school run you would see mothers and kids on bikes. What I have learned from good websites is that Japan (outside a few rare areas) is still almost non-cycling compared to the better European countries.
    – Willeke
    Dec 20 '16 at 14:03
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    @Willeke Cycling in Japan seems to be just to get to the train station and local errands. Most bikes are crappy bicycle shaped objects that cost the equivalent of 200 dollars new or less. You hardly see serious distance commuters riding anything I'd consider worthwhile equipment.
    – Kaz
    Dec 20 '16 at 14:48
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As a regular cyclist in Japan here is my advice.

Note that I used a blue circle instead of a green one, because the green doesnt exist. For what it matters, japanese refer to green lights are blue anyway (even tho they are clearly green).

You often encounter this kind of crossings in big cities:

Intersection

> 3 lanes perpendicular roads with turn right only rightmost lane.

    |  |  |  |
    |  |  |  |
    |🔵|🔵|🔴|
----------------------
     🚗 🚗
----------------------
    |🚗|🚗|🚗|
    |🚲|🚗|🚗|
    |⬆️|⬆️|➡️|

In this case:

  • It is dangerous to turn right: Japanese drivers don't expect you do to do this (remember: they don't expect you to be on the road anyway; and they have a terrible kill rate)
  • It is illegal to do so (I've been scolded very harshly by a policeman once).

My advise is to stop on the left, before the intersection, then wait for the right turn line to turn green and merge with it.

Step 1

Go straight lane remains green while turn right is red

    |  |  |  |
    |  |  |  |
    |🔵|🔵|🔴|
----------------------
     🚗 🚗
----------------------
  🚲|🚗|🚗|🚗|
    |🚗|🚗|🚗|
    |⬆️|⬆️|➡️|

Step 2

Turn right lane only turns green once go straight pass red

    |  |  |  |
    |  |  |  |
    |🔴|🔴|🔵|
----------------------
       🚲   🚗
----------------------
    |🚗|🚗|🚗|
    |🚗|🚗|🚗|
    |⬆️|⬆️|➡️|

This will usually save you some time since the opposite pedestrian passage is still red on step 2.

Some crossings (like the famous one in shibuya) are either car only or pedestrian only. You can easily mingle with the pedestrians on your bicycle (usually I do it right at the beginning or at then end; else it is too crowded).

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    The unicode things don't show up too well for me - what are they supposed to be ? Consider using [v] [^] [<] and [>] for a car which shows its direction
    – Criggie
    Dec 20 '16 at 6:38
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    @Criggie then it causes spacing issues because of the flexible width font used. I'll edit the text explanation to be more specific
    – Antzi
    Dec 20 '16 at 6:42

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