Riding Electric Suitcase Gets Japan Resident Prosecuted

Riding Electric Suitcase Gets Japan Resident Prosecuted

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Electric Suitcase
Picture: Canva
A Chinese resident of Osaka learned the hard way recently that, in Japan, you can't ride your luggage on the sidewalk.

Getting around large cities in Japan can take a lot of time and energy. So it’s no surprise that people are always looking for ways to shave some commute times off. However, a Chinese woman in Osaka found out the hard way recently that one time-saving device can get you in trouble with local authorities.

The above image shows a young girl riding an electric suitcase through Haneda Airport. However, the airport has asked that people not ride them inside the terminal in order to prevent accidents. (Picture: ANN News (via YouTube))

According to TBS News Dig and other outlets, a Chinese exchange student in her 30s is facing charges for riding an electric suitcase without a license in Osaka’s Konohana ward in March of this year. It’s the first known case in which police have filed charges with prosecutors for using the unique devices.

Electric suitcases are becoming popular in China, where social media users there have been posting videos of themselves and their kids riding the convenient devices. Achieving top speeds of up to 13kph (8.07mph), the suitcases not only alleviate the burden of carrying your luggage – they get you from point A to point B at speeds comparable to a motorized scooter.

Their popularity in China has led to the scooters being cited in Japan as well. Chinese tourists account for around half a million of Japan’s three million tourists a month, making it the country’s third largest source of tourism behind South Korea and Taiwan.

Japan’s detailed motor vehicle laws

However, Japan has very detailed motor vehicle laws that require users have a license for any motorized vehicle that can travel a certain speed. Police determined that the suitcase, at 13km, met the same threshold as an electric scooter. In Japan, an electric scooter is any two-wheeled vehicle with a motor under 50cc.

Additionally, the woman was riding her suitcase on the sidewalk. That’s also against the law, as sidewalks are restricted to travel of 6kph or less. That generally means only pedestrians and cyclists are allowed on sidewalks.

For her part, the woman didn’t think the suitcase constituted a vehicle and thus didn’t think she’d need a license. She bought the equipment from a Chinese site and had it shipped to Japan. The vehicular luggage costs around 100,000 yen (USD $621).

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Media reports don’t say what penalties the woman possibly faces. In general, riding a vehicle without a license in Japan can carry a three year prison and a fine up to 500,000 yen (USD $3,108). Additionally, riding without a license earns you a 25 point demerit in Japan’s license points system. 15 points is generally the threshold at which first-time offenders have their license suspended or revoked.

So why don’t scooters require a license?!

Picture: LUUP official picture

The incident raised questions in Japanese media about why seemingly similar devices don’t require a license. For example, the company LUUP has operated an electric kickboard rental service for a while now. And just as this news about the electric suitcases broke, it announced it was adding a new device to its lineup. The “electric seatboard” provides a seat so that user who can’t stand for long periods of time can still get around town.

So why don’t these require a license? The reason is that a revision to Japanese law in July 2023 carved out a special place for “special small-form motorized vehicles (特定小型原動機付自転車; tokutei kogata gendoukitsuki jitensha). These vehicles are restricted to maximum speeds of 20kph (12.4mph), require number plates on them, and (technically) require users to wear a helmet. However, for anyone 16 years of age and older, they don’t require a two-wheeled motorized vehicle permit.

LUUP and similar scooter products also have to obey Japanese laws around the size and speed of their vehicles. Electric suitcases would also need a number plate as well as features such as a headlamp to confirm to Japanese law.

Getting around Japanese cities legally

Comments on YouTube and social media from Japanese residents expressed anger over the suitcases. Some wondered why airlines let people bring the devices in the first place. However, it’s hard to say how much of this anger is actual anger at the devices and how much it reflects prejudice against Chinese tourists and residents.

At any rate, the law is the law, so if you were considering bringing your electric suitcase to Japan…don’t. Instead, stick to the legal methods for getting around the country. Both Docomo and Luup provide a multi-lingual app that foreign visitors and residents can use to rent electric bicycles, kickboards, and seatboards legally.

However, if you do rent a bike or a scooter, make sure you read all the rules before riding and stick to them. For example, bicycles have special rules regarding situations such as turning right (you have to cross straight and then right on the crosswalks – you can’t enter the right-turn lane used by cars). Meanwhile, you must ride kickboards and seatboards on the road – using them on sidewalks is strictly forbidden.

What to read next

Sources

電動スーツケースは「原付き」扱い でも、公道を走ると違法 なぜ? Asahi Shimbun

【独自】『電動スーツケース』で歩道走行…中国籍の女性を書類送検 電動スーツケース摘発は全国初 保安基準を満たしておらず. TBS News Dig

なぜLUUPは無免許運転できるのに、電動スーツケースはダメなのか. ASCII

無免許運転とはどんな犯罪、・・(^。^)y-.。o○。。. BikeBros

交通違反の点数一覧表. Tokyo Metropolitan Police

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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