How to store your bike in a Japanese long-term parking lot

Biking is everything in Japan. Even if someone were to hand me the keys to a brand new shiny Volvo, I wouldn’t take it. Or I would, but then I would sell the car and buy a bike.
A couple weeks ago, I was in a mild bike accident. I say mild, because I didn’t actually get hit by a car, and how horrible can a bike accident be without crashing into a wall or car. I did go to the hospital the next day, though. Just, for some reason, the words “severe bike accident” just sound silly.
In any case, in Japan, biking is a little bit different than America. I can write pages on that, but for now, I just want to concentrate on one, specific, difference: Parking.
My first month or so, I would illegally park my bike alongside all the other illegally parked bikes near Musashi Sakai train station every time I went into Tokyo. Then, one day, I found a “notice” stapled to the back of my seat saying if I illegally parked my bike again, they would tow it.
I just laughed. Who tows a bike?
Apparently they were serious, though, and if they towed my bike, I would have to go down to the lot, apologize, and pay something like $40 to get my bike back. I go to the International Christian University (ICU) in Mitaka – in the suburbs of Tokyo… and as important as biking is, no one ever sat us down and explained where you can and cannot park your bike.
So I started looking for ways to legally park my bike when I go on trips. I got a lot of help from friends. I personally like the “One Coin” lot – free to store your bike at a massive lot near the station – pay about a dollar to get your bike back. It is especially useful, because now when I go on overnight or weekend trips, I can leave my bike by the station and don’t have to take the bus back to campus (Even when I was parking it illegally, I heard that they come by at 5AM and tow all remaining bikes, so I never parked overnight).

So here is a step-by-step guide on how to store your bike at a “One Coin” lot.

1.  Find a parking lot. I’ve seen these kinds of lots near subway/train stations all the time, mine is about a four minute walk away.
2. Walk your bike through the gate. You don’t have to pay to get in (only to get out). For instance, it might look something like this:
The guy in front of me, walking his bike through the gate.

3.  Find a spot. Once you are inside the gate, walk down the rows of bikes until you find an “open space” to park your bike. 

An “Open Space” means whatever you want it to mean. For example, when I first started using this lot, I would look for a space kind of like this… 
The pretty blue bike is my bike.
But I would also have to walk to nearly the end of the lot (about five minutes) to find such an open spot like this. Now, I’m a lot less picky… and I guess a lot more rude. I look for the closes “space” – shove the rest of the bikes to the side, and cram mine in there. It sometimes cuts as much as ten minutes off my time. Often my bike will be sticking out into the isle as I shuffle off before anyone sees me.
There are at least three parking spots in this picture. Can you find them?
I don’t feel too bad, though, because every hour or so, the parking lot attendant goes through all the bikes, moving them to the side, aligning them all perfectly parallel with the baskets facing the left, and closing all gaps.
Every time I park my bike horribly, I come back and it is perfectly aligned with all the other bikes…
So maybe everyone else also does a horrible job parking and the parking attendant fixes everything.
4. Leave the parking lot. Most lots have a gate that looks kind of like this… so you can walk out, but there is absolutely NO way for you to get a bike out. It’s kind of ingenious. Note- you never have to pay to get out. I’ve made that mistake before…
5. When you come back and get your bike, ride/walk it to the front entrance and pay. 
Follow the arrows. It’s pretty self-explanatory, even if you can’t read Japanese. Once you and your bike are positioned over the yellow arrow, insert a ¥100 coin (like $1.20) into the slot, and quickly walk your bike through, before the gate closes again.
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5 responses to “How to store your bike in a Japanese long-term parking lot

  1. Pingback: 20 Things I wish I had known about ICU before I arrived « gracebuchele·

  2. This sounds a lot like the A&M campus! …except we don't have to pay to get our bikes back. All of the convenient bike 'lots' look like your second picture. Except now, we have a bike rental company on campus and they've filled up a couple of the best 'lots' on campus with their unused bikes… :-/

  3. Sadly, I haven't gotten around to trying that yet.I did by a nice, external lock (bikes all come with a built in lock around the back tire to the bike) – but haven't gotten around to using it yet. It can't be anything good, though, because they record my bike number. Apparently after 3 "warnings" (or if they just get bored) they bring around the tow truck and take your bike…

  4. Nice post Grace. I saw these bike lots as I walked around and wondered, what kind a fool would use a bike parking lot when you could just lock it and leave it. Apparently fools that don't want their bike towed. Seriously are there bike tow trucks? What happens if you lock your bike with to something with a big heavy lock?

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