Exploration of Kyoto by Bicycle

August 16, 2005

by Kie Yokochi, Kumiko Watanabe, and Naomi Watanabe

Do you tend to eat too much when you travel? Do you want to see a different side of Kyoto? Do you want to save the earth? Do you want to save time and money? If you can say ‘yes!’ to more than one of these questions, we think the bicycle is the best form of transport for you to explore Kyoto. The city of Kyoto is very small and many people live in it, so traffic jams are fairly normal. You sometimes have to wait for a very long time for a bus, but when it comes, it is often full. The bicycle, however, is faster and more versatile than the bus and much cheaper than taxis. There are many good roads and courses for cycling in Kyoto, so there are a number of rental bicycle shops to be found. But you should be careful!! Japanese cycling rules might be different from your home country, so please check this before you get in the saddle.

Bicycle Traffic Rules in Japan

Japanese law requires all vehicles which have wheels to give way to pedestrians. Even unicycles are considered vehicles. Basically bicycles follow almost the same rules as cars, so you need to obey the same traffic signs and signals.

Where to ride

  • Cyclists must ride on the left side of the road.
  • If on a sidewalk with this sign, you can ride on the right side slowly, taking care to avoid pedestrians.
  • Don’t ride side by side with others.

  • How to Cross at Signals

    • You can’t cross when the signal is red even if there are no cars.
    • Cyclists must obey the signal for pedestrians, if there is this sign. If there is no such sign, you should obey the signal for cars.
    • Cyclists must ride on the area that bears the bicycle motif. If there is no bicycle motif next to the pedestrian crossing, you should dismount and push your bicycle across.

    Other Important Points

  • Stop, and look left and right at this sign.
  • Don’t ride a bicycle two-up

    A Nice Cycling Route of Kyoto

    Starting Point
    Kitano tenmangu shrine Open: 5:00 ~ 18:00 Entrance fee: \ free
    ↓ Built in 947, this shrine is famous for its approximately 2000 plum
    trees. A giant market, “tenjin-san”, is held here on the 25th of every month.
    Awamochidokoro-Sawaya   < Japanese sweet shop >  Open: 9:00 ~17:00
    ↓ This restaurant offers delicious millet rice cake.
    Machiya de ho < art gallery > Open: 11:00 ~ 18:00 Entrance fee: \ free
    ↓ This gallery is housed in an old style Japanese house “machiya”. The works here
         are quite unique, and offer artwork that combines calligraphy (kanji characters) 
    with figures and images.

    ☆ Go east straight down Imadegawa Street. ☆

    Ginkakuji temple (jishoji) Open: 8:30 ~17:00 Entrance fee: ¥500
    ↓ One of Japan’s most famous temples, Ginkakuji was built by Ashikaga shogun, Yoshimasa, in 1482.
    The path of philosophy
    ↓ The scene of cherry blossoms, like pink snow, falling on the water of the canal along the path are a Japanese symbol of spring’s passing.
    Nanzenji temple Open: 8:40 ~ 17:00 Entrance fee: ¥500
    ↓ In autumn, the grounds of the temple are carpeted with crimson maple leaves.
    ☆ pass by Heian Shrine and cycle down Nijo Street to the west. ☆
    Ippodo tea co. < Japanese tea shop > Open: 9:00 ~ 19:00
    ↓ There are various kinds of green tea sold here, like powdered green tea, or gyokuro, toasted tea.
    Kamiji kakimoto < Japanese paper shop > Open: 9:00 ~ 18:00
    ↓ This shop was established in 1845, and there are many kinds of Japanese paper to look at and buy
    ☆ follow Nijo-Street to the west. ☆
    Nijo castle Open: 8:45 ~17:00 ¥600
    The castle was built by order of the first Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Construction began in 1603 and the castle was finished in 1626.
    This course is about 12 km in length, and takes about 5 hours to complete.

    Rent-a-cycle in Kyoto

    There are many rent-a-cycle shops in Kyoto, and some of them offer special services such as delivery of cycles to hotels or stations. Below are details of one such rent-a-cycle shop in Gion, Kyoto.

    Rent-a Cycle Kyoto Kenbunroku

    Open Mon, Tue, Thu & Fri: 8:00am-8:00pm
    Sun, Sat & holidays 8:00am-8:00pm
    Closed Wednesdays
    Address 570-51 Minamigawa Gion-machi Higashiyama-Ku Kyoto
    Contact phone: 075-551-8447 or 090-7117-0410
    FAX: 075-551-8447
    Homepage: http://www2.odn.ne.jp/kyoto/

    How to Make a Reservation

    In person: Pick up your bicycle yourself
    By phone: 075-551-8447 or 90-7117-0410 and tell them where and when you want to pick up your bicycle.


    You do not have to pay a cancellation fee, even if it starts raining right before you are due to pick up the bicycle.
    How to Hire a Bicycle
    You can hire a bicycle at the shop or it can be delivered to the place where you wish to start cycling. It can also be delivered to where you are staying, such as a hotel or guest house. You will need to pay the hiring fee in advance when you wish to hire a bicycle, but you will not need to pay a deposit.


    There are so-called “city cycles” for hire here, which are easy to ride, even for women wearing a skirt. These cycles have either 24 or 26 inches wheels and the height of the saddle is adjustable. They also have a three speed gearbox, which will make it easier to go up some of the steeper hills in Kyoto. If you want to enjoy cycling with your children, you can ask for a baby seat to be fitted to the bicycle.

    How to Return a Bicycle

    You can return the bicycle to the shop or leave it locked at your hotel, accommodation or at a station. You then call them and tell where you have left the bicycle so they can pick it up. In this case, you will need to send the key in an envelope to the store.


    Hire Charge: ¥1,000 per day
    Delivery Charge: ¥200
    Pick up Charge:¥300

    Cycle Shop Owner’s Comments:

    “I really recommend that visitors go to not only famous temples and shrines on the main streets but also those areas where there are some smaller shops and beautiful scenery to discover,” the owner said. He knows some good cycling courses in the city and you are sure to get some useful information from him. Also there is a café in the same place as the rent-a-cycle shop. You can take a nice break there before or after cycling.

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