I got my lovely new bike this week, shipped straight from Budnitz Bicycles in Burlington. All titanium and super-beautiful, with a belt drive, disk brakes, and neat new bells and whistles. I’m excited to begin riding to work as I did in Beijing, and since this will be a longer ride, it’s a reasonable workout, too. All good.
But first, since this is Tokyo, there is bureaucracy to be satisfied, even for a bicycle. That means two registrations: One in order to park in our building’s bike-parking room, and one to ride legally in Tokyo, or more realistically so that I can prove the bike is mine in case I’m ever stopped by the cops.
Foreshadowing was provided by the first registration. I told our building’s FDL (front desk lady) what I wanted to do, she said it would take some time to prepare, and could I come back tomorrow? Sure, and when Patty picked up my sticker the next day, it had been prepared all right - the number 34 had been written on it in marker. Hmm.
Okay, off to figure out how to register with the police. A great deal of internet later, it emerged that if you buy a bike in Tokyo, it’s the dealer’s responsibility to register it, as the excellent and amazing Tokyu Hands did for Patty a few weeks ago when she bought one there. But if you bring your bike from overseas, or god forbid actually buy it online and have it shipped, one must go to the police oneself and do the registration directly with them. This requirement was repeated many time on sites both official and informal.
So I found the required form online, and some little while with Google Translate later, did duly complete each little box with the particulars of seller, buyer, color, serial number, etc. Then together with every piece of information, proof, and collateral I could find about my new bike (the bureaucracy feeds on paper) I went to the local koban (police box) and explained my situation and intent.
There’s this sound that Japanese people sometimes make when surprised or confused, kind of a verbal “WTF,” that starts as a grunt but gets very high very fast, ending in a question mark. All three officers at the koban made this noise in succession, looking at my (perfectly completed!) registration form, then squinting at me and my bike before conferring in rapid Japanese than finally telling me to go to the bike store. I told them I didn’t buy the bike there, I brought it from the US. No matter, Tokyu Hands, they said, right down the street. One officer even offered to show me the way, so happy he was to be rid of me.
The man at TH also looked at me suspiciously when I told him my intent. Do you have all the paperwork we’ll need, he asked, as well as your passport, gaijin card, etc etc? He said he was sorry, but the process is rather involved if I didn’t buy the bike there. I confidently claimed to have it all. So he told me to bring in the bike, and that’s when I knew I had him. No senior bike mechanic will be able to resist the chance to check out an all-Ti Budnitz beauty (belt drive! eccentric bottom bracket!) once he sees it. And sure enough, I wheeled it in and - just to play up the drama a bit - said “I think you’re going to like my bike.”
Holy smokes, did he! I didn’t think we were ever going to get to the registration, what with all the questions and comments about the design and outfit. But eventually we did, whereupon I proudly produced the completed form, receipt, and everything else I knew was needed. But they (he was now joined by a woman, the better to tackle the challenging bike-registration process I supposed, or perhaps an apprentice just learning to befuddle) studied my form in detail, conferred with each other, and pointed to the second box. Here, he said, here you have put the name first, but the address goes there, with the name below it. My heart sank.
I pointed to the box above, every prompt of which I had translated, with which they had no issue. So this one is wrong too? No, he said, that one is name-first, only this other one is address-first. I took a deep breath and calmly said “Surely that cannot matter for a form like this, the information is so simple and easy? Even a child would get the meaning.”
They conferred and finally decided that this problem could be solved by completing one of the forms used when selling a bike, which they pushed at me and asked me to fill out. But an appreciation of my poor Japanese reading comprehension and pity for the stupid gaijin seemed to take hold now, and they completed the form for me, him dictating my lovely form to her. Just ¥500 later I had a sticker. None of the documentation, receipts, warranties, gaijin card, or passport were ever glanced at. Because his hands were dirty, he let me apply it myself, which he’s not supposed to do. Of course, I got it crooked.
And that’s how you register your Budnitz or other foreign bike in Tokyo.