Section 76 of the Japanese Road and Traffic Law mentions “roller-skates” (ローラー・スケート, which is a noun that essentially encompasses all roller-based small-wheeled free-wheeling vehicles) in the following way:
Japan Road and Traffic Law, Section 76, Article 4, Comment 3
4. Nobody is to partake in any of the following outlined activities.
(3) Activities such as playing with balls, skating, or anything similar to these activities, on highly-trafficked roads.
So basically, it is very similar to many cases of town bylaws prohibiting skating in highly congested areas (central shopping areas etc). It is up to the discretion of the officer as to whether one should be skating in any particular area or not. Most distance skaters, I am sure, would rather be on a nice quiet road somewhere away from traffic and people anyway, but there’s the law for you. Also note that there is no mention of outright prohibition of skating on the road or footpath.
The reason I write this up here, is because of an encounter I had today on my 12km commute to university:
It just so happened that today, that certain area which I was thinking was a little too congested for skating, was having a “Traffic Safety Awareness Day”. As I approached an intersection with a police box, I was waved down to stop. …”You’re not allowed to skate on the road,” I was told. So I got off the road and put my longboard down on the sidewalk, but was told “No, you’re not allowed to skate on the sidewalk either.” I asked where I was allowed to skate. “Because a skateboard is classed as a toy, you’re only allowed to use it in playgrounds and parks.” At that point, I asked to see the rule book.
After quite a few phone calls, and about 20 minutes later, the nice police officer and I had found the correct article in the Japanese Traffic and Roads Law book. Section 76, Article 4, Number 3 states: “道交法第７６条４．１：何人も、次の各号に掲げる行為は、してはならない・・・４．交通のひんぱんな道路において、球戯をし、ローラー・スケートをし、又はこれらに類する行為をすること。” (No one is to partake in any of the following actions… 4. Playing with balls or roller-skating or any such activity on a high-trafficked road). You can check it out here: http://www.houko.com/00/01/S35/105.HTM#s5
Notice the mention of “high-trafficked road”. First of all, the officer, perhaps to try to cover his original assertion that I was not allowed to skate anywhere on public roads or footpaths, skimmed over the part that mentioned “high-trafficked roads”. Unfortunately, I can read Japanese, and brought this to his attention.
In other words, it is up to the judgment of the police officer concerned as to whether or not a longboader is allowed on the road. I conceded that where I was skating (inside the small shoulder of a fairly busy road), anyone with any ounce of common sense would, according the law, deem my actions unlawful. I disliked that part of my 12km commute anyway, and had, just yesterday, spent about 30 minutes out of my way to try to find an alternate route.
If I had, however, just taken the officer’s word that I was not allowed to skate anywhere on any public road or footpath, I would have had to essentially hung my board up and stopped skating all together. About 2km of my current 12km commute is on what I would call high-trafficked roads or footpaths. So basically I’ll just be looking for a better route…which I wanted to anyway…good to get the law sorted out 🙂
Here is the current route: http://tiny.cc/commute_rob
Here is the problem part of the commute: http://tiny.cc/problem_area
UPDATE (2014/11/17): The definition of ‘highly trafficked’ is apparently rather subjective. However, apparently a court case in 1959 in Nagoya has set a precedent by stating that 「1時間あたり，原付30台，自転車30台，歩行者20名程度（つまり4輪や自動2輪は来ないということ）の場合は，交通のひんぱんな場所とはいえない」 (approximately 30 mopeds, 30 bicycles, and 20 pedestrians per hour (that is, no 4-wheeled automobiles or 2-wheel motobikes), cannot be considered ‘highly trafficked’). Also, someone mentioned they asked the traffic department at their city hall and was told ‘5 to 6 cars per minute’ is ‘highly trafficked’ ‘(see http://detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1071248255 for these comments).