Thursday, November 02, 2006

Since the Police Have Nothing Better to Do

I've been reading in several different blogs about a general crackdown on cyclists who violate the rules in the smallest way and being fined as much as 50,000 yen (a little less than $500). These stories mainly revolve around drunken riding but also include having two people ride on the same bike, using a cell phone while riding, and riding without a light at night. The only one of these things I'm at risk for is riding without a light.

It's not that I have a problem with using the little friction-powered headlight that came with my bike. In fact, I'd be very happy to use it. The problem is that mine appears to have been improperly installed and won't work. The strange thing is that my husband has the same model bike and his is installed in the same non-functioning fashion. Since we both bought our cheap, houswife model bikes from Seiyu, the same person probably put each together.

In the past, I had an experience which led me to believe that the police target foreigners specifically when it comes to bicycles. My husband and I were riding to the local library in a perfectly normal fashion when a policeman in front of a police box waved his hands in such a way that he made it clear that he wanted us to stop. We stopped, of course. The policeman proceeded to question us in broken English about our bikes. He asked us where we got our bikes and if we could prove that we actually owned them. We told him where we bought them and said we had receipts but we had them at home. The way he continued to question and react to our replies, one would think that we were the strange ones for not carrying a receipt for our bikes with us at all times. At the time, I was pretty angry because I asked if he only stopped foreigners and asked if they were riding stolen bikes and he said that only foreigners were targeted.

Given that the police are inclined to stop foreigners on bikes anyway, I wanted to be extra cautious about this point. The last thing I want to do is pay some ridiculous fine over my non-functioning headlight. I figure, based on the prejudice I experienced before, that this may be an issue where a Japanese person might be given a warning and cut some slack but a foreigner may not.

So, I bought a cheap headlight from the local 100 yen shop and installed it. It's not a bad light in some ways. You install a little bracket on the bike and then slip the light on and off of it using a click-lock on the underside (pictured below).

The reason you have to be able to remove it is that it can't be left out in the rain or it'll stop functioning. It uses 4 AA battries and can also function as a nice flashlight if you need one in a pinch. I've decided to remove and attach mine as needed despite the hassle of doing so. My husband had me tie a plastic bag around his to protect it. We'll see if his gives out. We'll also see if someone steals mine next time I go into a grocery store and leave it attached. People in Tokyo will steal anything, no matter how low the value of that item is, so long as they think they won't be seen.

As a somewhat related aside, this truck was parked outside my apartment building. Because of the crackdown on illegal parking in Tokyo, it has a special permit displayed in the window so the fellow working on the building across from ours doesn't get fined while he does his job.

I realize that there are problems both with illegal parking and cyclists in Tokyo but I think the police have got to have better things to do with their time than deal with relatively benign situations like these.


Luis said...

Argh. I hate this stuff. I recall years ago, when I was riding my bike home from the station in Koganei (I had a regular bicycle back then), it was night time. I was riding in the street near the curb. There was practically no traffic, and it was very safe.

A cop stopped me, and demanded that I ride on the sidewalk. He stressed the safety. I pointed out that the sidewalk was under foliage and had no lighting; the street was more open and well-lit. The cop insisted. So I went on the sidewalk... and about two blocks later, my tire hit something obscured in the dark, I fell off the bike, and hurt myself while ruining a pair of work slacks.

In Japan, they also tend to get fascist about parking, too. I've been going to Nishi-Shinjuku every other week recently, sometimes for lunch with Sachi, and sometimes for doctor's visits. They have recently ratcheted up the parking policy, so that in practically all of Nishi-Shinjuku, bike/scooter parking everywhere is only allowed for people who pay monthly fees and get permit stickers. Which sucks if you go there infrequently--you have to park a mile away or risk getting ticketed.

The thing is, before they did this, there was never a huge problem with the bikes--there was always a place to park, and things didn't look too crowded.

I know that you can probably park for an hour or more and only risk a warning, but there's no guarantee. I parked near the NS Building a month or so to have lunch with Sachi, and had to scramble back to re-park, as a team of parking enforcers were slapping official tickets on every parked bike on the street, headed towrd my bike. And if I park anywhere in the area when one of those retired old guys they get to enforce the rules, they insist I park elsewhere--usually in paid parking lots hundreds of meters away, which always are full and refusing new vehicles anyway.

Roy said...

If you ride a shopping bike the cops will stop you. I was stopped all the time in the past and I don't even look visibly foreign. But if you wear a helmet and cycling gear and ride a mountain bike and anything that's not a shopping bike, the cops won't even look at you.

When I lived in the gaijin house, almost everyone there stole gomi bikes and almost everyone got caught by the cops.

I'm all for the police cracking down on drunk bicyclers or people talking on the phone while on a bike. It's so dangerous for pedestrians and driver's cause they are so unpredictable.

Shari said...

Luis: I'm not sure what motivated all the parking policy changes. Since I'm not a driver, I don't know if there were a lot of people obstructing cars or walkways but it seems as though the range of parking possibilities for everything has been shrinking steadily.

Your brother tells me that he discussed this with students and they told him that, previously, the chances of being caught were low enough that the cost of tickets in total was lower than the cost of paid parking. That probably had something to do with the crackdown. It's just unfortunate that people like you get screwed over by people who willfully violated rules because they could.

In our area, they keep expanding the no parking zone around the stations for bikes and there are no legal parking areas aside from limited 100 yen a day places about 6 minutes from JR station (and none near the subway). I think it's all part of a racket to put more money in someone's hands. :-p

Roy: I agree about the drunkenness and cells phones but the double-riding seems less dangerous that the mothers with a kid in the front and a kid in the back. Also, the bike lighting thing is just absurd, particularly in a well-lit city. While I think they should encourage people to use their lights, I can't see fining them for it.

I wasn't aware that a lot of people stole "gomi" bikes though I don't know how you can "steal" something which is garbarge? Also, what happens to people who get caught "stealing" those bikes? Fines? Jail? Beaten into submission? ;-)

While I'd like to buy a more expensive bike and wear cyclist gear to keep cops from treating me like a criminal because I ride a housewife (shopping) bike, I can't really see it as worth the money or hassle just so I can tool around my local area doing errands. Of course, in my case, the cop actually said he only stopped foreigners so I know it was about my nationality, not my bike. I haven't been stopped except for that one incident and that was awhile ago.

Bigwaaagh said...

Here in the netherlands the police mostly like to trouble the highschool students. They'll stand in front of the gates and check every bike for working lights and such.
I only used my bike to get to school one year, and only encountered one police blockade which I simply bypassed by using the sidewalk, eventhough there was nothing wrong with my bike.

Illegal parking can be a big problem though, but it seems you'll only get fined in one of the bigger cities...

Shari said...

Don't people ride in the streets with cars in the Netherlands? That'd require a higher level of safety compared to Japan where people ride on the sidewalks.

Bigwaaagh said...

Most of the larger and more "bicycled" routes do have seperate lanes for cyclists these days. Some of these lanes are just reserved portions of the carlane though, and can be used by cars when there are no cyclists on the road.

The more rural areas and older cities like Amsterdam don't have a lot of these seperate lanes (called a "fietspad" btw) which calls for more safety if you don't want to end up in some kind of nasty waterway.

It is in fact forbidden to drive your bike on the sidewalk here, this is because of the pedestrian safety...