Not unlike the rest of Asia, cycling is popular across Japan, ranging from the “Mama Chari” neighborhood bikes that are fitted with a convenient carry basket, to the serious enthusiasts on their road and hybrid frames.
Japanese law does not require the use of helmets, but as in all countries, they are certainly recommended, particularly if you will be riding in the street (while not exactly legal, some of the slower bikers will often opt to share sidewalks with pedestrians).
Bicycles bought in Japan will come with a yellow sticker “bike license” affixed to the frame. This is a theft deterrent and should not be removed. Bicycles brought into Japan can be registered at most neighborhood bike shops to acquire a bike license. While a bike license is not explicitly mandatory, the registration will help prove that you are the owner should you ever be stopped by the police. Bicycle theft is not overly commonplace, but it does happen enough to encourage the use of bike licenses and securing your bike whenever you are leaving it somewhere. In that vein, you should only park your bike in designated areas. Sometimes a designated area won’t be immediately apparent and thus you should exercise your best judgment but know that “illegally” parked bikes can be impounded if let for too long a period of time.
Bike lights and reflectors must be used when riding at night – the police can stop you and cite you if you are not using the proper equipment.
With regard to seeing more of Tokyo by bicycle, there are a number of groups that meet regularly, either for fitness or for touring. Cycle Tokyo (http://cycle-tokyo.cycling.jp/) is a fairly well known “institution” that offers all kinds of information on cycling in Japan. Other options include checking out the classifieds section of Metropolis magazine at http://www.metropolis.co.jp. Cyclists looking to push themselves on open roads might find the area in front of the Imperial Palace in the Marunouchi District of Tokyo a worthwhile spot to visit on Sunday’s when the road is closed. Others that are just looking to explore have made use of their bikes and a handheld GPS system for Geocaching (http://www.geocaching.com/).
Whatever your interest as a cyclist, grocery shopping or training for a triathlon, riders will generally find Tokyo’s streets very friendly, but it’s also important to remember that buses and taxis both make sudden stops, and it’s thus inherently important to always stay alert when riding around the city.
While not a terribly popular method of transportation, Tokyo does have a few ferry terminals worth considering for both local and national travel. Ariake Ferry Terminal is the city’s main port for national ferries, located near the reclaimed island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay. Other ferry ports include Takeshiba and Harumi Terminals. Hinode Pier (located just a few minutes from Hamamatsucho train station) is popular with domestic and expat travelers alike who are looking for a cheap (from roughly US$4.50 per trip per person), rapid, and fun way to reach a variety of local shores (20 to 30 minutes away). And, many of Tokyo’s ferries also allow you to take your bikes aboard for a nominal cost. For more information on Japan’s ferry system, visit: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2355.html.