Video Series “Only in Japan”: Part 4 – Where’s Your Helmet?

Only in Japan: Where's Your Helmet!?Here we are again, with the fourth installment in the Stippy “Only in Japan” Video series. This time we will explore a mysterious trait of Japanese cyclists – the fact that they fail to see the safety benefits of using bicycle helmets!

Note: If you have only tuned in to this series on stippy.com recently, you really need to catch up on the first, second and third parts also. Check them all out, they are well worth the laugh..!

In many countries around the world, cyclists are obliged (sometimes forced by the law) to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. Throughout South East Asia it is common to see people without helmets, but this can be attributed to a lower level of safety consciousness than in more developed nations. Japan on the other hand has no excuse to not be more helmet aware, and through this video, we hope to bring the current state of helmet wearing in Japan to the surface! (The video does provide for a good chuckle also..). Even though proposals to make helmets mandatory for children to some local and prefectural governments have been made by various community action groups for some strange reason these have historically been rejected in early stages, long before votes are taken by local parliaments to enforce them as law.

Bicycle helmets are 85 to 88 percent effective in mitigating head and brain injuries, making the use of helmets the single most effective way to reduce head injuries and fatalities resulting from bicycle crashes. Despite the fact that nearly 70 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries, it is very difficult to find bicyclists that wear helmets here in Japan.

One article on asahi.com (Asahi Newspaper) dated 22nd Dec 2004 titled, “Working to get Helmets on Kids while Riding with Mum” (ママチャリ乗せるなら子にヘルメット 広がる普及の動き) showed the reason why mothers of kindergarten children refuse to even use a helmet on their kids. The following mother’s example was a representative of most other parents that were interviewed:

4歳の長男を乗せていた主婦(33)はヘルメットを持っているが、使っていないという。「幼稚園の送迎時に使ったら、まだ珍しいから、ほかの親に『何でかぶせているの?』という目で見られた。もっと普及すれば使いやすいんですが」(Translation: One mother who had her 4 year old son with her on the bike said that she does have a helmet for her child, but never uses it. “When I take him to kindergarten, a helmet would deviate from the norm, and other mother’s would look at me, as if to say, ‘what is that on his head!?’. It is embarrassing so I don’t use it. If only it would become more common to wear helmets..”)

It seems that the Japanese are so concerned with how they appear to others, that they are willing to risk the safety of themselves, and more worrying their children, by continuing to repel the practice of wearing bicycle helmets.

Simon Adams and Andrew Johnson decided to find out why, by hitting the streets of Tokyo and asking, “Where’s your Helmet?”. Enjoy the video, and send it on to some friends!

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17 thoughts on “Video Series “Only in Japan”: Part 4 – Where’s Your Helmet?”

  1. Relative to distance travelled pedestrians are more likely to be invovled in an accident with a car than cyclists are. In addition, while helmets for cyclists are “85 to 88 percent effective in mitigating head and brain injuries,” they are even more effective for pedestrians due to their nasty habbit of being pulled under the bumper in a collision.

    There is no logical reason for someone to wear a helmet when they’re on a bike but not when they go out for a stroll. Except, you know, for not wanting to look like a complete tool. I guess people are “so concerned with how they appear to others, that they are willing to risk the safety of themselves.” Maybe we should have a helmet law for pedestrians as well. Yay for the nanny state.

  2. It’s not quite the same, but the other day one of my friends started teasing the driver of our car when I put my seat belt on (I was sitting in the back seat). Apparently it was a sign that I didn’t trust his driving and he should feel ashamed that I was wearing a seat belt. Which bit don’t they get about the phrases “head injury” and “easily prevented”? My friend was saying that even seat belts in the front seat weren’t compulsory until a little while ago in Japan.

  3. What made this video so funny is the very last scene, after the “credits” have finished.

    “Do you have any bikes, other than girl’s bikes…?” What a classic comment!!

    Japan is full of bikes, but yes, they are all “girls bikes”. Anyone know why this is? They have the hottest and sexiest motorbikes in the world, but ride around on girl’s push-bikes. Just doesn’t make sense.

  4. You reckon its similar to most of the umbrellas in Japan being those cheap plastic jobs? If you lose it, you can just flog another and no-one would even know…

    Has anyone seen those small fold-up titanium pushbikes? I used to know a Russian dude, who used to ride it into the bar in the evenings, then would through it in the back of the taxi he took home. Kind of defeated the point of biking I thought. Pretty cool bikes though.

  5. I think I was the only parent who bicycled his kid to the hoikuen wearing a helmet – him, not me. I should have been wearing one, too.
    The reaction from everyone was funny. They thought it was just play or fashion.
    I can’t believe parents don’t put helmets on little kids. If the bike goes over the parents can reach out and break their fall. Little kids are strapped in and the fall is relatively higher, compared to the child’s body size.
    Just my thoughts.

  6. Of all the 8 years living in Japan, I have never thought of taking my helmet off during a bike ride. That might be due to the fact that I stayed in the States too long when I was a kid.. or.. who knows?

    I even wear one when I ride those girly bikes (mama-chari). Hey, safety doesn’t change when you switch bikes! Duh.

    Most of my friends think it’s funny for me to wear a helmet. They always ask me “Why do you wear a helmet? Bicycles are safe!” Niet niet, Bicycles are D-A-N-G-E-R-O-U-S. Not Safe! What kind of education did they receive in grade school anyway? This is off topic, but they don’t teach you the dangers of drug abuse either. (Not that schools don’t teach you, but only for a few pages and one lesson at maximum)

    After all these years, not one of my friends are convinced to wear a helmet. They still say things like “Mendokusai” “Hazukashiii”.

    I am Japanese by the way, but I don’t understand how people prioritize their appearance over safety.

  7. Speed kills, and I think the same goes for cyclists. However, when you think about the fact that most cyclists in Japan ride on the footpaths, and most of those cheap ‘girly’ bikes are single-geared, those factors combined together make it quite impossible for bikes to be travelling at more than 20 kph. Therefore, less chance for you to be involved in a serious prang, and youre likely to stop in time to avoid danger. (unless of course, you’re texting your mate while riding! That is more dangerous than not wearing a helmet, if you ask me)

    Those on faster road bikes ride on the road, and they generally wear helmets.

  8. There is no reliable research proving the helmet effectiveness and this topic is ver controversal. The research wich show that “bicycle helmets are 85 to 88 percent effective in mitigating head and brain injuries” is a Thompson, Rivara, Thompson study, wich have a lot of criticism, including different control groups with different risks. On the other hand, there is this text http://www.irishhealth.com/article.html?id=15193.

    Plus, there is studies showing that people usually take more risks when wearing helmets.

    I started to cycle in Japan 3 years ago. I never used a helmet there, riding on sidewalks or in avenues between cars. This kind of sense that is natural use a bicycle helmet is much common in North America (maybe the AMERICAS,) where there is no a bicycle culture. But if you take a look where there is a massive cycling such as Netherlands, Denmark or Germany, nobody use helmets. Japan and China(s) is the same. It is not about poor country or rich country but where people usually cycle or not.

    Helmet is part of this sporty bicycle culture in Americas, with the spandex shorts, fancy expensive bicycles and high tech gears. But none of this is part of bicycle culture in Japan.

    John B. – Using girl bicycle or mama-charis make sense since they are reliable, cheap and very convenient. They have basket, essencial when you go to a grocery store, or to carry your briefcase. They are almost maintenance free, ’cause they are simple. And they very, very cool and elegant…

    Take a look in this blog (http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com) + this tag (http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com/search/label/japanese%20cycle%20chic)

    Ps. Sorry for my poor English

  9. 日本にいるのでしたら日本語で質問したらいかがですか?
    ここは貴方の国ではありませんよ。
    それに大きなお世話です。日本には日本の習慣があり、貴方たちには貴方たちの習慣がある。
    それでいいじゃないですか?西洋人特有の上から目線はお断りしたいですね。

  10. And this ↑ (comment above) friends is the mentality that is the root cause of why Japanese people can’t speak English. Japanese are just so hard done by aren’t they. Can’t have a good laugh at themselves (especially when it’s initiated by a guygin). The few Japanese who step out of their shell are very sucessful and respected, even outside of Japan. But most have their head so far up their arse (see above comment) that they cant see the world as it is for their highbrowed nationalism in front of their nose. “Thats pride, fukin wit ya”.

    If you come to Japan, you have to be Japanese, remember that.. mmmkay? You’re not allowed to laugh at what you find funny here.. mmmkay? Remember, Japan isn’t your country.. mmmkay? (Even though you are likely to be earning a higher annual salary than your Japanese colleagues, and paying more tax than the average Japanese).

  11. In Japan, people on bikes get hit by cars and even by other people on bikes simply because the roads are so narrow and there’s so much traffic congestion. Everyday I see young mothers and middle-aged obasans rushing to the supermarket without a care in the world for what’s going on around them or who’s directly in front of them. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going. Even on a slow mama-chari you can still get seriously hurt. Last year, a student of mine was in a coma for weeks after being hit while riding her bike to school. Needless to say, she wasn’t wearing a helmet.

  12. Really? You’re MUCH MORE LIKELY to be involved in a head trauma in a car with all that glass and pillars and higher speeds around you, why don’t people wear helmets in cars?

    The truth is: In areas of the world where people ride bikes in large numbers for transportation like Japan, Scandanavia, the Netherlands, Denmark, China, and Germany, very few people wear helmets. Studies have shown that forcing people to put a usually ungainly, mostly useless piece of styrofoam on their heads actually reduces ridership and dehumanizes the rider.

    Yet, in the US, we’ve succumbed to Helmet Hysteria. Helmets are mentioned whenever there’s a fatality or an injury even when it had NOTHING to do with accident. People are given social pressure to wear a helmet, as if it was the only thing that makes for safer riding.

    Now, I wear a helmet. But that’s because I ride fast by myself a lot in L.A. There’s also the social pressure, as mentioned before. I’m pretty realistic about what it’s for: it MAY do some good in a tiny instance of cases. But my helmet does not make me safe. It’s no substitute for safe, predictable riding or motorists understanding the rights of cyclists and respecting slower traffic. It’s no substitute for better city planning and smartly designed streets that are safer for every user, whether cyclist, pedestrian, or motorist.

    If you care about safety, make a big deal out of the above issues and relegate the helmet to what it is: a small measure of protection for a very minute number of accidents that’s pretty inconsequential overall to safe riding.

  13. In addition I dispute your numbers. NO WAY do 70 percent of bike accidents involve head trauma. Cyclists usually land on wrists or shoulder. Very rarely is there head contact.

    Look, I’m not disputing that in a very select number of accidents a helmet is better than no helmet. But to extrapolate this statement out of seeing Japanese helmet use is ridiculous:

    “It seems that the Japanese are so concerned with how they appear to others, that they are willing to risk the safety of themselves, and more worrying their children, by continuing to repel the practice of wearing bicycle helmets.”

    How many people die in bike accidents in Japan vs. the US, and consider that the Japanese log far more transportation miles on bike than Americans? How do the numbers compare for the US vs. Denmark or the Netherlands? Cycling is much safer in these countries because there are simply more cyclists and cycling is more respected by city planners as a means of transport.

    The No. 1 way to make bikes safer is simply to have more bikes on the road, period. Helmets are a red herring.

    Until we stop building every city street to be 45 mph and actually plan decent bike ways in our cities, the helmetless Japanese will be much safer on bike that will are.

  14. It’s far more important that cyclists claim their spot on the road and that they make sure that they are visible. Start a ‘critical mass event’ in your city if you really want to make the roads safer for cyclists.

    The effect of helmets is seriously overrated and stems mostly from one flawed study which has gotten far more attention than it deserves.

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