The trusty \u2018shopping bicycle\u2019 is ubiquitous in Japan. It\u2019s used for the daily commute to school and work, carrying kids across town, lugging groceries, and taking in the local landscape. You might be familiar with its nickname, mama-chari. Here\u2019s what you need to know about the 2-wheeler; how shopping bicycles came about, as well as handy tips for purchasing, riding and parking. What is a mama-chari? A brief overview Mama-chari or \u2018mom\u2019s bike\u2019 is essentially an everyday utility bicycle, characterized by a comfortably low-positioned frame (usually double looped L or U shape), easy-hold handles, a kickstand stopper, and a basket. With the right fitted seating, it can also accommodate 1 to 2 children. These days, the bicycle usually comes with an in-built lock and key, and friction-powered light. Why is it called a mama-chari though? There\u2019s a bit to unpack behind the friendly yet stereotypical colloquialism. Although bicycles were introduced to Japan in the late Edo period (1603\u20131868), it wasn\u2019t socially acceptable for women to ride bicycles until nearly a century later. Since bicycles were intended for men, they used to be large, heavy, and relatively expensive. During the Sh\u014dwa period (1926\u20131989), in the 1950s, bicycle manufacturers needed to pivot as the demand for traditional bicycles dwindled. Finally, it was time for a bicycle to be designed for the needs of women. The light frame and low center of gravity of shopping bicycles made it easy for women to hop on and off, as well as ride with stability, even with groceries or children piled onto the front or back. So, the first mama-chari models were really a means to empower women in their daily lives. As the convenient and practical shopping bicycle gained popularity across Japan, it has also evolved from being just a mama-chari to becoming the common mode of transport for many Japanese. Today, the shopping bicycle is just as much for mothers as it is for fathers, youngsters, and elderly, in Japan and even overseas. Types and Costs When looking for shopping bicycles, you\u2019ll probably see them categorized as \u2018city bicycles\u2019. We\u2019ve got a list of some of the best shops for buying a new bicycle in Tokyo, as well as great spots for reconditioned bicycles. If you\u2019re here for a short visit or only need the occasional ride, you can also rent bicycles. Tips for buying: Since you can\u2019t take bicycles on the train (unless they\u2019re foldable) you\u2019ll want to consider getting one near where you live. Make sure to check out the upcycled, second-hand section available in most stores. At a relatively low cost (determined by which bike you buy), membership options at bicycle stores often include registration, warranty, and free servicing. Spruce up your ride with a rear-end basket and a cover to keep your bike rust-free. Classic shopping bicycle Simple, reliable, and everything you need for your city ride. Cost range (new): \u2013 (expect \u2013 for manual child-seater bicycles) Example: Shopping bicycles by Cycle Base Asahi Electric shopping bicycles A notch up from the classic shopping bicycle. The extra yen might be worth it if you\u2019ve got a lot of up-hill or kids to shuttle across town. Cost range (new): \u2013 (prices generally increase with battery size and number of passenger seats) Examples: Electric shopping bicycles by Daiwa Cycle Electric child-seater bicycles by Cycle Spot If you\u2019re after something more sporty or suited to longer distances, you can check out road bikes or cross bikes, too. And don\u2019t forget foldable bicycles; they\u2019re handy if your usual route requires you to take your bike on the train. Know the rules As they say, rules are rules, and for good reason. Although on the decline, there were still 67,673 bicycle-related incidents in Japan (according to a 2019 survey by the National Police Agency). So while you might notice that not everyone will abide by them, it\u2019s important to be aware of the rules and do our best to keep ourselves and others safe. Here are a few special mentions and tips: Keep left on the road: Considering the \u2018road\u2019 is often a narrow lane shared with oncoming traffic, cyclists and pedestrians, this can be easier said than done. In reality, you\u2019ll find locals riding on the pavement, but beware: disturbing pedestrians can give you up to of grief. Wear a helmet: Although recommended for all, it\u2019s only compulsory for children under 13. Many Japanese don\u2019t wear helmets, especially when using shopping bicycles for short distances, but don\u2019t let that sway the common sense out of you! No umbrella-holding: For those days where you don\u2019t want to get soaked while cycling\u2026 use a rain poncho instead. No two-person riding: Unless your best mate is a child under six, don\u2019t put them in the passenger seat. Don\u2019t drink and cycle: A definite no-no, with the punitive measure being up to five years in prison or up to \u00a51,000,000 in fines. Yikes. You can read more on bike rules at this page on the Japanese Government website (in Japanese). Park like a pro Space always proves to be a challenge in Tokyo, but there are a range of solutions when it comes to parking your bike. Bicycle parking can be free or paid, outside or covered, multi-storied or underground. Generally located where you need them; look out near the train station, outside the supermarket, or at the rear of buildings. You can also find bicycle parking near you using Churin or Navitime (in Japanese). For innovative solutions, you can check out robotic underground bicycle storage such as those by Eco-Cycle and Cycle Tree. Some important parking terms to look out for: \u81ea\u8ee2\u8eca jitensha bicycle \u81ea\u8ee2\u8eca\u7f6e\u304d\u5834 jitensha okiba bicycle parking space \u99d0\u8f2a\u5834 ch\u016brinj\u014d, bicycle parking, in comparison to \u99d0\u8eca\u5834 chuusha, car park \u99d0\u8f2a\u7981\u6b62 ch\u016brin kinshi bicycle parking not permitted \u7121\u6599 mury\u014d free \u7cbe\u7b97\u6a5f seisanki ticket machine Tips for parking: Paid parks can be between to , give or take every few hours. Take care to avoid the domino effect! This can and does happen when one parked bicycle goes down taking down all its neighbors with it. (I may have been the sorry culprit of such an incident\u2026) If you\u2019ve parked at a bike rack, it will only be released via the ticket machine and\/or upon payment. So make sure you select the right number for your parking spot, otherwise you\u2019ll end up doing a great favor for your neighbor. Look for signs to confirm if you need to pay or not. If you\u2019re using a service e.g. visiting a caf\u00e9 or game center, there will generally be free parking, or they might offer a discount for your paid parking. Get insured At under \u00a55,000 for the year, insurance can be a worthwhile investment, to protect yourself from being sued by the person you run over on your grocery-laden bike. Between insurance marketplace websites Hoken Ichiba and Hoken Kakaku.com, here are a few of the most popular options: Provider PriceAnnual\/Monthly Total private compensation Death disability benefit\/ premium Hospital benefit\/ premium Surgery benefit\/ premium Other compensation eCycle by Tokio Marine Group \/ Unlimited None None Court negotiation service Cycle Assist by Rakuten \/ NA \u2013 Court negotiation service Bycle by Au \/ \u2013 Court negotiation service and road service @Cycle by Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance \/ NA \u2013 Court negotiation service There are also couples and family insurance plans. Interestingly, while bike insurance isn\u2019t yet compulsory in Tokyo, some prefectures and towns have made the move to mandate it, including Saitama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Kagoshima. Whether the shopping bicycle has won your heart or not, you might have a new appreciation for this staple of transport in Japan. While you\u2019re at it, make sure to check out some awesome routes for exploring Tokyo by bike.