Reconditioned Bicycles: The Two-Wheeled Wonders and Where To Find Them

Mine Serizawa

secondhand bicycles tokyo

Cardinal rule #9 of living in Tokyo: buy a used bicycle.

Whether you’re in the downtown area within the ellipse of the Yamanote Line, or in a suburb of apartment buildings interspersed with small farm plots and convenience stores, there’s no more efficient way to do groceries, avoid being stranded by the last train, or maneuver your kids/friends around in semi-illegal balancing acts. There is almost nothing that has not fit, or been made to fit, in the basket of my yellow mama-chari (how does one explain the mama-chari? It’s something of a dignified workhorse of a bicycle, equipped with several or more of the following: basket, child seat, kickstand, built-in lock with a teeny-tiny key of which you might want to make several dozens of duplicates); and little that has not been accomplished in conjunction with riding the mama-chari—smoking, eating, catching up on cellular correspondence, endurance racing. No lie.

secondhand bikes tokyo
Mama-chari Marathon. No, you don’t need to be a superhero to ride one. | Photo by mas_to used under CC

Inherently practical in a city too crowded for cars, bicycles are also incredibly inexpensive to maintain and use, especially in conjunction with the ubiquitous train system. Since train fare is calculated by zone (not to mention train line—simply transferring between JR and Keio and the various subway lines will cost you), it may be cheaper in the long run to park your bicycle at a station that falls in the zone closer to your destination. For example, I would usually pay 460 yen and make two transfers to reach Shibuya from my local train station; whereas the twenty-minute bike ride to Kichijoji and the direct train I can take from there costs me only 190 yen.

In the more concentrated downtown area, using the train seems all but superfluous; the bike ride from Roppongi to Shibuya (a distance of approximately 2 mi) should take no more than fifteen minutes—but costs 260yen by subway.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. While you can purchase your bicycle new at a department store or specialty shop, reconditioned bicycles do the job just as well and much more cheaply; they are also often retailed by “silver jinzai” centers, or state-sponsored senior citizens’ work centers that dispatch the skills of retired folk.

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Suginami-ku Silver Jinzai Center (Suginami Green Cycle)

For three days every month, buyers can pick out impounded bicycles that are assembled by the truckload on a vast lot at the Suginami-ku Silver Jinzai Center (Suginami Green Cycle). Bikes are then fixed up and ready for retrieval within a few days. Prices range from 6,700 yen to 15,500 yen. Opening hours are between 11:00-16:00, but go early to snag the cheaper specimens.

2016 Sale Dates: March 22nd-24th and April 18-20

.used bikes tokyo

used bikes tokyo



Keep an eye on the website for monthly updates on sale times. The Musashino-shi Silver Jinzai Recycling Center in Nakamachi runs a similar service every 4th Saturday of the month from 10:00-16:00, albeit on a much smaller scale. Since only around 20 bikes are reconditioned each month, I’d suggest calling in advance to check the stock. (Closest station: Mitaka)

Recycle Garden Yoyogi

Recycle Garden Yoyogi is a glorified 100 yen store, stocking bizarre jewelry, smokers’ paraphernalia, and a menagerie of fake eyelashes on the second floor, and a purveyor of reconditioned and discounted new bicycles on the first. Bicycle registration is done on-site for 500 yen.used bikes tokyo

used bikes tokyo

New mama-chari cost between 9,500 and 14,900 yen, several thousand yen cheaper than they would be elsewhere, according to the employee I spoke to. Strung from the ceiling are used bicycles—a Trek Belleville and a Trek 7.5 FX that retail for $749.99 and $989.99 new, respectively, but cost 39,800 and 59,800 yen at Recycle Garden.used bikes tokyo



I haven’t personally visited any of their locations, but the Cycly chain stores seem to be a good bet for buying reconditioned bicycles, as does the web store Hashimoto on shopping site Rakuten. Or you might check out the classifieds on Craigslist (where do you suppose I found the best job in Tokyo?!), Gaijinpot, and in various print publications (Tokyo Weekender, Metropolis, etc. etc.)

This guide was originally published in July 27, 2012 and was updated in March 2016.

Location Map:

Name: Suginami-ku Silver Jinzai Center (Suginami Green Cycle)
Pricing info: 6,700 yen - 15,500 yen
Address: 2-1-11 Eifuku, Suginami-ku, Tokyo
Location(s): Eifuku, Musashino, Yoyogi,
Access: 10-minute walk from Shimo-Takaido Station (Keio, Tokyu) or Eifukucho Station (Keio Inokashira)
Web: http://www.sjc.ne.jp/suginami/14dokuji/risaikuru/r...
(Link in Japanese)
Phone: 03-3327-2287 (Japanese only) 03-3327-2287 (Japanese only)
Business hours: 11:00-16:00
Places Mentioned

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19 Responses to “Reconditioned Bicycles: The Two-Wheeled Wonders and Where To Find Them”

  1. Hanlon Razor

    Thanks for the information.  There is one thing I need to add, as a 6’1″ man: to get a used bicycle in Japan you need to be short!  Alright, you need to be average or below.  There are several reasons: Japanese have a shorter average than readers from most of the nations that might read this blog, the market refuses to address the increasing numbers of taller Japanese men, and Japanese of all heights ride bikes too small as they were told in elementary they must be able to sit on the saddle and have feet flat on the ground.  The last not only looks stupid and is mechanically inefficient, but will burn out your quads, too.  If you are not over 6′ you might be able to use a 27″ mamachari with an extended seatpost, but that’s the limit. 

    Almost as hard to get a new bike for us tall people: use the Internet, but not likely to have much luck domestically even if you can read Japanese.

  2. Hanlon Razor

    Thanks for the information.  There is one thing I need to add, as a 6’1″ man: to get a used bicycle in Japan you need to be short!  Alright, you need to be average or below.  There are several reasons: Japanese have a shorter average than readers from most of the nations that might read this blog, the market refuses to address the increasing numbers of taller Japanese men, and Japanese of all heights ride bikes too small as they were told in elementary they must be able to sit on the saddle and have feet flat on the ground.  The last not only looks stupid and is mechanically inefficient, but will burn out your quads, too.  If you are not over 6′ you might be able to use a 27″ mamachari with an extended seatpost, but that’s the limit. 

    Almost as hard to get a new bike for us tall people: use the Internet, but not likely to have much luck domestically even if you can read Japanese.

  3. PaulaWulff

    Thanks so much for the info! I want to get my bike fixed and I intend to get it done for as cheap as possible, do any of these places have a repair service?

    • CheapoGreg

      Hi Paula, I’m not sure about the places in the article, but you can often find bicycle repair places next to large supermarkets. It’s not super cheap though – I paid 900yen for fixing a puncture. Also the problem with Mama-charis is that they are not designed so you can tinker with them – they must be assembled by robots since trying to remove a rear wheel with conventional wrenches/spanners is next to impossible. Therefore you are pretty much beholden to the repair guys. Also if it’s a more major repair you might be better off getting a new (used) bike.

  4. Hey, thanks so much for writing such a thorough post! I was in great need of a bike, Craigslist/Gaijinpot results weren’t looking so good … and had no idea about the Recycle Center — I checked it out yesterday (found it right away thanks to your map) and found a brand new bike for 8000. Appreciate it!

  5. So I need a bike too, lloks like the Suginami green center is cheaper… How to get there? I can just buy my bike and leave with it, or i have to do registration?

  6. Hi guys, I’ve just bought a bike at Suginami. They gave me a list of the following dates when people can buy reconditioned bikes there: 17.-19.11., 15.-17.12. 2014 + 19.-21.1., 16.-18.2., 16.-18.3. 2015.

    • CheapoGreg

      Hi Zdenka, Thanks so much for this – this is really helpful! I’m going to add it to the body of the article.

  7. Hi Just FYI the dates above for December should read 15th-17th. I found out that they closed yesterday after a trek to Suginami. will be visiting Yoyogi tomorrow, keep up the good work.

  8. Maxim Geeroms

    I was there one hour early, only to discover I was 55th in the waiting line. When I entered, almost all bikes were taken except for a pink mamachari. I was among 200 people who had waited in line and were staring disappointedly at the leftovers. I went to an American boy who entered as 3rd and was testing his red bike. As soon as he found out the bike was too tall for him, I grabbed it and it was mine. 30 minutes after the opening, all bikes were sold and re-registered on the name of the new owners. There was no further sale that day, neither Tuesday nor Wednesday.

    • CheapoGreg

      Thanks for the report. It’s obviously become quite popular.

  9. Not much on used bicycle shops? Searching on 中古自転車 produces a lot of hits, but the related webpages are at the high end of my Japanese capability, so it seems best to visit the closest one and find out what they have and how much they cost compared to the new ones…

    Not sure if it is worth much by way of adding interest, but I’ll summarize my prior experiences… My first bike was bought used from a foreign friend who was leaving Japan, but when I loaned it back to him on a visit, he managed to get it impounded. My second bike was new (around 17,000 yen), and also wound up impounded.

    So let me put in an unkind word for the Tokyu Department stores, where I have never shopped since that impoundment. Insofar as people with cars don’t need such department stores, harassing bike riders seems like a really bad business plan. Yeah, it was my own fault, but that doesn’t make me feel any more kindly towards Tokyu, and I still remember and hate them for it after 10 years or so.

    • What does the Tokyu department store have to do with the impoundment?

      • Tokyu impounded my bike. I have reread the comment, and it seems unclear what you could have found unclear…

        Anyway, I’m mostly replying to update what I’ve learned about the topic of used bicycles… The bicycle registration system is pretty strict, apparently to deter bike theft. The problem it creates for used bikes is the transfer of registration. At least some of the time the original owner’s involvement is required before the bike can be registered to the new owner, and it can be awkward even in a direct sale.

        Most interesting source seems to be some clubs of retired people who essentially rebuild a smaller number of good bikes from larger numbers of impounded bikes. It seems that these bikes are about 1/3 the price of regular new bikes, but the sales are hard to catch and sell out quickly.

        • What I found unclear was the lack of a logical link between purchase and impoundment. You noted that you bought at Tokyu and that the bike was later impounded. The link between the two was never made, and there are many reasons and situations in which a bike might be impounded. For what reason did Tokyu impound the bike? Not being snarky, just trying to understand the situation.


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