Sightseeing on a rental bicycle offers a different kind of fun than exploring on foot, so let's take a look at Japan's traffic rules for bicycles.
In general, bicycles keep to the left.
According to Japanese traffic rules, bicycles are in the same category as cars. With the exception of sidewalks with clear signage of a person and a bicycle together, bicycles generally have to ride on the left side of the road. Please keep in mind that pedestrians always have priority, however.
Road signs to remember: 1. "No Entry"
Road signs on public roads apply not only to cars and motorbikes but also to bicycles. There are no-entry signs with written words and also signs with a symbol in red with a white horizontal line on it - both prohibiting any kind of vehicle to enter the road or area.
Road signs to remember: 2. "One way traffic"
A blue sign with a white arrow means one-way traffic and you are allowed to go in the direction in which the arrow points. When it doesn't apply to bicycles, it says "excluding bicycles" under the sign. Be sure to pay attention to this even in narrow alleys.
Road signs to remember: 3. "Reduce speed"
Reduce speed means you need to proceed at a speed slow enough to be able to immediately come to a halt. To be specific, bicycles have to go at a speed of 4-5 kilometers per hour. When driving on the sidewalk, bicycles must reduce their speed even when there are no signs.
Road signs you need to know: 4. "Stop"
A stop sign has the word "tomare 止まれ" (stop) written on it. For bicycles, this means stopping and putting your foot on the ground. Other places and situations where bicycles also have to stop are red lights and train crossings.
Don't ride in tandem on one bike!
Two bicycles riding side by side and riding tandem on one single bike is prohibited by law. Though regulations slightly differ depending on the prefecture that you're in, you are allowed to have a young child on your bicycle if you have an appropriate infant seat.
"Distracted driving" can cause traffic accidents
Distracted driving, meaning riding a bicycle with earphones or headphones on, or while looking at a map or using a smartphone, is prohibited by law. Riding a bicycle while holding an umbrella on a rainy day also falls under this category as it can easily lead to accidents.
In 2015, the Road Traffic Act was reviewed and the traffic rules for bicycles are revised. Accordingly, the traffic control has become stricter. You need to be extra careful when you ride a bicycle.
*This information is from the time of this article's publication.