The essentials: accommodation, bike, and parking it
Why cycle in Tokyo?
Not very long ago, I found myself in Tokyo for 3 months, living in Ota-ku and working in Minato-ku (two of Tokyo’s wards, or ku).
Long story short, after commuting to work for a few weeks I realised that:
- spending over 15 euro a day on commute isn’t all that great for my wallet
- being in an extremely crowded, rush-hour train is not-fun-at-all
- commute of 1.5h one-way in is not very pleasant
- … considering that by bike it came down to… 40 minutes! And for free.
And I think more people might find that way of getting around the city useful!
Who is this article for?
Everyone who wants to explore Tokyo by bike, and has some time.
Bare in mind, though, it is your own responsibility to be safe, and to always follow your own best judgement.
Yet, sometimes it is time to try something different!
Why read, if you don’t plan on cycling in Tokyo?
Sharing the impressions of someone who not only has travelled a certain location – but has also lived there as an expat/international student/volunteer – gives a new dimension and feel to the narrative. If you are interested in another face of Tokyo, read on!
Arrival & first weeks in Tokyo
In some inexplicable way, every time I set out to do most things, my life turns into this unpredictable mess, which I never know how to disentangle. When I organised my move to Tokyo, it did not quite go according to plan either…
For me, hotels were out of the question – nothing was available on short notice in April, high season due to the traditional Japanese cherry-blossom admiring (hanami), causing internationals and locals to travel around Japan.
I needed a place to stay for three months, immediately. Ouch.
If you have heard any of the horror stories about living expenses in Tokyo – you know what I mean.
I can tell you for a fact that sitting alone, with all your belongings just outside a tiny Tokyo train station you visit for the first time, without mobile phone connection or internet, waiting for someone you have never met before, to take you to a room you haven’t seen (nor paid for) yet, can be somewhat unsettling. Yep.
It was a strike of luck that I found a room at all, with 10 or so hours to spare before I land at Narita Airport. The agency I found the room through, was kind to send someone to pick me up from the closest to my (future) house station in Ota-ku, on a Saturday morning, his day off. What a delightful day for the both of us.
What to look for
It is possible to rent a room for at least a month, and for me that was cheaper than any other option (average of around 1500 yen per night), as I was staying for 3 months. No deposit, key money or extra charges, besides a comparatively small agency fee (around 5000 yen). The agencies, which offer similar options, are Oak House and Sakura House, but there are many others. Google it, after a short search you will have the general idea.
Benefits of longer-term accommodation
- Whichever agency you choose, you will have quite the international bunch of flatmates. Contrary to what you might think, there are also many Japanese people staying at those places, and they usually know English. You can probably even practice your Japanese, if you happen to be a fan (like myself)
- If you travel alone, Tokyo can be a very lonely place.
Either way, you meet great people who are open to socialising, exploring the city together, and cooking dinner on those days you really do not want to show your face outside.
I have met amazing people, and what makes this option better than a hostel is that you get to know them better.
It was one of my flatmates, who sparked my interest into getting a bike – cycling is something I honestly considered close to insanity in a city like Tokyo.
Buy the bike
- From a shop
You can find bike surprisingly easily. There are plenty of second-hand bike shops, and you can buy a decent used bike for less than 10 000 yen.
I got mine for 6000 yen, including a lock. Usually you have to pay an additional 500 yen for registering it at the local koban (police) but that might be included in the price of the bike itself. Make sure to ask.
It might seem like a good option to do it yourself but your life will be much easier if the shop does it for you, trust me on that (long story…)
You can find a bike online through Craig’s list or Gaijin Pot “for sale” section (which is where I sold my beloved bike just before I left, to a lovely French girl. She might have thought me weird but I really did not want to part with my two-wheeled friend….)
I recommend the shops
Because you can see what you are buying, get help registering, and set out on your new adventure right away. I bought mine from Kamata station (in Ota-ku). Not even 5min walk from the main entrance. It is a good option – though far – because the used bikes are better and cheaper than other neighbourhoods.
Parking the bike
I was amazed to find out that there are bike parking lots everywhere. Especially that during my first year in Tokyo I did not even realise there are any.
Good choice is in/next to a station. Those are usually paid but cheap. Many shops have bike parking lots – do not ever leave the bike overnight, as it might get confiscated (it will…)
Believe me, I tried other places too – got polite notes that if I leave my bike there again, it will get taken away.
Take-away from all that?
Make sure to arrange everything to do with accommodation well before you embark on your travels (duh!)
In Part II, I will share with you my favourite places to go by bike in and around Tokyo (spoiler: unlimited choices!)