Charge is the first of its kind in Japan.

It is often said that when visiting another country it’s important to get acquainted with the laws of the land to avoid serious trouble. Although it’s good advice, it can be really hard to know all the legal ins and outs of another country, especially one with traffic laws as subtle and minute as Japan’s. Unfortunately, this resulted in some legal troubles for one woman who took her suitcase out for a spin.

The incident occurred on 31 March when the woman, a Chinese national studying in Japan, was caught riding her suitcase on the sidewalk in Fukushima Ward, Osaka City. Her suitcase was equipped with wheels and an electric motor, allowing her to reach speeds of up to 13 kilometers per hour (8 miles per hour).

▼ Seems like it’d be really heavy if it conked out on you though.

The woman is denying the charges and told police: “I didn’t think of it as a vehicle so I didn’t think I needed a license.” While declaring you didn’t know the law you broke was a law isn’t much of a legal defense, it’s easy to sympathize with her situation. Even Japanese people struggle with understanding the laws regarding which small vehicles such as these require a license to operate and which ones don’t.

Traditionally, the main factor governing the classification of vehicles is engine size. Vehicles with engine displacements of 50 cubic centimeters or less are classified as Type 1 Gendokitsuki Jitensha. “Gendokitsuki Jitensha” can be roughly translated to “moped” but, it covers a wider range than that. For example, those go-karts that zoom around Tokyo are Type 1 Gendokitsuki Jitensha.

▼ This is probably what most people think of when they hear “Gendokitsuki Jitensha,” or “Gentsuki” for short.

A few decades ago, this was all pretty straightforward and helped to distinguish things like a dirt bike or a scooter from a Harley. But in recent years, matters have been complicated with the advent of electric power-assisted bicycles and kick-scooters… and suitcases now too, apparently. Since their various shapes, sizes, and weights can make displacement and power output poor indicators of actual speed and acceleration, revisions have been made to regulations regarding their use, with the vehicle’s top speed now taken into consideration. One general rule of thumb in Japan is that a vehicle with a maximum speed of six kilometers per hour (3.7 miles per hour) is treated as a pedestrian rather than a vehicle. That’s why old folks on mobility scooters don’t get busted for operating what are technically Gendokitsuki Jitensha vehicles.

In the case of the woman’s suitcase, it is said to be capable of 13 kilometers per hour and thus categorized as a Gendokitsuki Jitensha vehicle, which requires a license. It’s important to note that she didn’t even have to be traveling that speed to be charged. The vehicle itself must be limited to a top speed of six kilometers per hour, or in some cases have a functioning alert light that shows when that speed has been reached.

The only other possible way for her to get around it is to have her suitcase classified as a Specified Small Motorized Bicycle (Tokutei Kogata Gendokitsuki Jitensha) – not to be confused with a Special Specified Small Motorized Bicycle (Tokurei Tokutei Kogata Gendokitsuki Jitensha). This new category is usually reserved for powered kick-scooters and can go as fast as 20 kilometers per hour without requiring a license. However, they do require additional equipment like a headlight and license plate, two things I’m assuming this suitcase didn’t have.

▼ The kick-scooter on the left is a Tokutei Kogata Gendokitsuki Jitensha so it has a license plate. The bike next to it is a power-assisted bike and therefore not a Gendokitsuki Jitensha at all. Neither requires a license to operate.

It’s all pretty convoluted stuff, but the bottom line is that while in Japan, if you’re planning on riding a suitcase or whatever else they come up with that’s ridable, either make sure you have a license or make sure it can’t go faster than six kilometers per hour.

Source:, Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department,
Featured image: Pakutaso
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