Japan Road Laws


Just a wee post here for the archives, in case anyone needs info about the road laws in Japan regarding skateboarding (longboarding) on the roads or footpaths.

Section 76 of the Japanese Road and Traffic Law mentions “roller-skates” (ローラー・スケート, which is a noun that essentially encompasses all roller-based small-wheeled free-wheeling vehicles) in the following way:

日本道路交通法第76条4.3
Japan Road and Traffic Law, Section 76, Article 4, Comment 3

4. 何人も、次の各号に掲げる行為は、してはならない。

(3) 交通のひんぱんな道路において、球戯をし、ローラー・スケートをし、又はこれらに類する行為をすること。

4. Nobody is to partake in any of the following outlined activities.

(3) Activities such as playing with balls, skating, or anything similar to these activities, on highly-trafficked roads.

So basically, it is very similar to many cases of town bylaws prohibiting skating in highly congested areas (central shopping areas etc). It is up to the discretion of the officer as to whether one should be skating in any particular area or not. Most distance skaters, I am sure, would rather be on a nice quiet road somewhere away from traffic and people anyway, but there’s the law for you. Also note that there is no mention of outright prohibition of skating on the road or footpath.

The reason I write this up here, is because of an encounter I had today on my 12km commute to university:

It just so happened that today, that certain area which I was thinking was a little too congested for skating, was having a “Traffic Safety Awareness Day”. As I approached an intersection with a police box, I was waved down to stop. …”You’re not allowed to skate on the road,” I was told. So I got off the road and put my longboard down on the sidewalk, but was told “No, you’re not allowed to skate on the sidewalk either.” I asked where I was allowed to skate. “Because a skateboard is classed as a toy, you’re only allowed to use it in playgrounds and parks.” At that point, I asked to see the rule book.

After quite a few phone calls, and about 20 minutes later, the nice police officer and I had found the correct article in the Japanese Traffic and Roads Law book. Section 76, Article 4, Number 3 states: “道交法第76条4.1:何人も、次の各号に掲げる行為は、してはならない・・・4.交通のひんぱんな道路において、球戯をし、ローラー・スケートをし、又はこれらに類する行為をすること。” (No one is to partake in any of the following actions… 4. Playing with balls or roller-skating or any such activity on a high-trafficked road). You can check it out here: http://www.houko.com/00/01/S35/105.HTM#s5

Notice the mention of “high-trafficked road”. First of all, the officer, perhaps to try to cover his original assertion that I was not allowed to skate anywhere on public roads or footpaths, skimmed over the part that mentioned “high-trafficked roads”. Unfortunately, I can read Japanese, and brought this to his attention.

In other words, it is up to the judgment of the police officer concerned as to whether or not a longboader is allowed on the road. I conceded that where I was skating (inside the small shoulder of a fairly busy road), anyone with any ounce of common sense would, according the law, deem my actions unlawful. I disliked that part of my 12km commute anyway, and had, just yesterday, spent about 30 minutes out of my way to try to find an alternate route.

If I had, however, just taken the officer’s word that I was not allowed to skate anywhere on any public road or footpath, I would have had to essentially hung my board up and stopped skating all together. About 2km of my current 12km commute is on what I would call high-trafficked roads or footpaths. So basically I’ll just be looking for a better route…which I wanted to anyway…good to get the law sorted out 🙂

Here is the current route: http://tiny.cc/commute_rob

Here is the problem part of the commute: http://tiny.cc/problem_area

UPDATE (2014/11/17): The definition of ‘highly trafficked’ is apparently rather subjective. However, apparently a court case in 1959 in Nagoya has set a precedent by stating that 「1時間あたり,原付30台,自転車30台,歩行者20名程度(つまり4輪や自動2輪は来ないということ)の場合は,交通のひんぱんな場所とはいえない」 (approximately 30 mopeds, 30 bicycles, and 20  pedestrians per hour (that is, no 4-wheeled automobiles or 2-wheel motobikes), cannot be considered ‘highly trafficked’). Also, someone mentioned they asked the traffic department at their city hall and was told ‘5 to 6 cars per minute’ is ‘highly trafficked’ ‘(see http://detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1071248255 for these comments).


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13 thoughts on “Japan Road Laws

  • Rob Thomson Post author

    Thanks for that Kirk. And yes, that's more or less where I have changed the route to. It only adds about 500m to the entire route, so no worries.

  • Kamil

    Thanks a lot for this!
    Just had a similar experience yesterday, told that everywhere but skateparks are off limits.
    Good to know that if it happens again I have something to back myself up.

  • Holly

    Hey, thanks for the info but the link to the traffic law doesn’t work. Can you upload a different link, please? I’m going to Japan soon and I want to be able to show it to a police officer in case he tries to pull one on me. Thanks.

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      Hey Holly, thank you for the comment! I’ve updated the link, so it should work now. I’ve also made an update at the end of the post about the definition of ‘highly trafficked’. Just remember that it is up to the discretion of the officer as to whether they think the road or sidewalk you’re on is ‘highly trafficked’ or not…but at least by the looks of the responses I’ve seen on the net (two referred to in the blog post update), you’ve got a fair bit of leeway.

  • Jérôme

    Hello,
    I have a similar probleme with a “skouta” (scooter)
    This scooter is a town scooter, make to use it in road or foothpath and it’s not to play.
    I explains them, and ask why bycicle can road in the foothpath and they tell me, it’s because they’are break.
    I didn’t know how say this word in japanese, so today i see them and said there is break on the scooter.
    It was another person and tell me is forbid as well.
    It’s less dangerous than bycicle and it’s forbidden, it’s nonsense.
    How can found law text about this law, for the reason why?
    Thank, i should find another way to go at school.

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      Hey Jerome,

      It is unlikely that the reason that you are not allowed to use your scooter is because it has a brake.

      The reason you’re not allowed to use your scooter on highly trafficked roads and footpaths is because it is categorized as ‘play equipment’ (yuugu/遊具). Just the same as a skateboard. A skateboard is also categorized by law as “yuugu“. Apparatus that are categorized as yuugu are not allowed on ‘highly trafficked roads’ (koutsuu-ryou ga ooi dooro/交通量が多い道路) or ‘highly trafficked’ footpaths (koutsuu-ryou ga ooi hodou/交通量が多い歩道). As for what constitutes a ‘highly trafficked road’, there is no definite definition. It depends on the time of day, the width of the road, number of blind corners etc. That said, some prefectures have definitions of ‘highly trafficked’. Although, see below, in my blog post.

      UPDATE (2014/11/17): The definition of ‘highly trafficked’ is apparently rather subjective. However, apparently a court case in 1959 in Nagoya has set a precedent by stating that 「1時間あたり,原付30台,自転車30台,歩行者20名程度(つまり4輪や自動2輪は来ないということ)の場合は,交通のひんぱんな場所とはいえない」 (approximately 30 mopeds, 30 bicycles, and 20 pedestrians per hour (that is, no 4-wheeled automobiles or 2-wheel motobikes), cannot be considered ‘highly trafficked’). Also, someone mentioned they asked the traffic department at their city hall and was told ‘5 to 6 cars per minute’ is ‘highly trafficked’ ‘(see http://detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1071248255 for these comments).

      Long story short, you can still skate to school on your scooter, but you’ll probably need to find a less busy route. Also next time you get told off by police, you should try to ask where in the area there are less trafficked roads.

      • Dave

        Thanks a lot Rob, this is very, very helpful. I agree with you that the easiest solution is to find less-trafficked roads. I sometimes commute in the center of Tokyo on a longboard that has a brake, and I wonder—just for an academic argument—is there any room to argue that a skateboard (or scooter) with a brake is not classified as a ‘play equipment,” but more like a bicycle as it is not free wheeling? I once asked a policeman why it was illegal to ride the board after I was stopped, and he kindly explained it was due to the lack of a brake on the board (before I put one on.)

  • Skebo

    Thank you. I always wondered if there were laws that prohibited skateboard in a country where cycling on footpath is not frowned upon!