The Small Print
Faces & Places
The Goods
Tech Know
Cars & Bikes
Arts & Entertainment
Japan Beat
The Agenda
Dining Out
Table Talk
Local Flavors
International Dining
Restaurant Review
Bar Review
The Last Word
Photo of the Week
About Us
Distribution Points

775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ainít Easy Being Green
769: íTwas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Letís Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: Iíll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes íRí Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japanís Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters ďRĒ Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthingís Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Cafť Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Childís play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged
By Mike Lloret

Head out on the Highway

After 40 years, Japan is letting motorcyclists carry passengers

Mike Lloret works in HR for a large Japanese electronics group, has lived in Japan since 1970, and has been riding motorcycles since 1964

This spring, motorcyclists in Japan
have once again begun to enjoy riding on expressways with a passenger in tandem. Yes, there are qualifiers. Nevertheless, I and most of my fellow bikers are extremely happy even with this limited victory. We’ve been waiting for a long time.

The first of Japan’s highways to be completed was the Meishin Expressway linking Nagoya to Kobe in 1965. In 1969, the Tomei Expressway, joining Nagoya and Tokyo, was finished. (Old-timers might say that the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway was done first, but by 1965 only parts of it were in use, and it wasn’t linked to the Tomei until late 1971. It’s still a work in progress, actually.) For motorcyclists wanting to carry a passenger, however, riding on the expressways was no longer an option after the 1965 Road Traffic Law was revised because of so many fatal accidents involving tandem riding on these roads.

Since the prohibition, Japan’s network of expressways has expanded dramatically, bringing many areas of the country into practical range of motorists. But for us bike riders, it has been—for nearly 40 years—a solitary ride. If you wanted to carry a passenger along on a motorcycle trip, you got a sidecar-equipped bike or you traveled the congested, stop-light-festooned ordinary roads. Now, thanks to at least a decade of pressure from foreign governments and motorcycle manufacturers both foreign and domestic, that has changed…somewhat.

The Japanese government announced late last year that, as part of the revised Road Traffic Law enacted in June, motorcyclists aged 20 or older who have held a license for more than three years would be allowed to ride double on certain expressways starting April 1. It did indeed happen: Television news carried interviews with several happy motorcyclists that evening.

That’s the good news, and for me and many or most of my fellow bikers, it’s very good news indeed. The bad—or at least not good—news is that prefectural public safety commissions can, for safety reasons, ban motorcyclists carrying passengers on certain expressways. Some of these commissions are still considering whether to allow tandem riding on “their” expressways.

Some reasons that they might use in favor of the ban are that it is more difficult to balance while tandem riding; that driving continuously at high speed on expressways increases the danger of carrying passengers; and that the conditions of Japanese expressways are different from those in the US or Europe, since they have many curves, limited visibility, narrow lanes and minimal shoulders.

The arguments against the long-standing ban have been, among others, that it forced motorcyclists off expressways and onto more hazardous ordinary roads; that drivers tend to drive more safely and carefully when riding tandem; that motorcycles have vastly improved since the ’60s and ’70s and are now built to run safely at high speed on expressways; that age, occupation, education and income level statistics indicate Japanese owners of large motorcycles are socially aware and responsible; that the prohibition was not in line with international standards; and that the National Police Agency had failed to show any objective proof regarding safety. The ban, according to opponents, not only limited sales of large motorcycles in the Japanese market, but actually lowered the overall safety of Japanese expressways.

I’m not sure whether I buy into the last argument. To make a significant safety difference, it seems that many of the erstwhile solo riders would have to become tandem riders and that they would have to become more careful riders because of it. That’s possible, but I wouldn’t place any large bets on it. I’m of the opinion, shared by many of my biker friends, that motorcyclist deaths—both of drivers and passengers—might very well decrease because, in general, it’s safer riding a bike on the expressway than on ordinary roads. This is especially true for long distance trips.

I’ve been a very careful rider for over 40 years—the last 35 in Japan—and I regularly ride on both expressways and ordinary roads. For a long run with or without a passenger, I’d choose the expressway without hesitation. A trip from my office in Mita to Yokohama, for instance, could very easily take two or three times as long on the Daichi Keihin/Route 15 as it would using the Metropolitan Expressway. And it would involve countless encounters with illegally parked vehicles taking up a lane of traffic, intersections with poor visibility, taxis pulling into traffic without signaling, drivers running red lights, innumerable stops, pedestrians, and bicyclists. That’s not to mention the overall miserable condition of the road surface, from a combination of badly finished construction jobs to overly heavy vehicles turning the ride into a long succession of bumps, gullies and potholes.

I’m really looking forward to riding faster, and safer.

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.