Our family just got back from a two week vacation trip to Japan. We've been there before and a couple of things always catch my eye, and I thought it would be interesting to share. We were in 4 cities on this trip (Nagoya/Ichinomiya, Kyoto, Osaka & Hiroshima), so this is a city & predominately flatlands report.
To begin with, gas equates to about $5 a gallon (Y145/liter), so cycling is hot as an everyday mode of transportation. Two types of basic, inexpensive bicycle made up about 90% of what is commonly seen.
I stopped in to two bike shops, and the term they used for the most common is 'school bike' - sort of like what I rode in the late '60's - an 'English Racer' (?). 26"x1-3/8" tires, basic shaped steel frame, fenders, 3 speed internal hub & handbrakes. Interestingly, the front brake was a rim type, but the rear was a 3-4" diameter 'band' brake outside of the spokes on the hub opposite the sprocket. It is a small drum with a surrounding band of steel fixed at one end, and drawn tight with the cable at the other end. They sell for around Y17,000, or about $150. Generator lights are found on most.
The other common unit was the folding bike: 12"-18" wheels, 5-6 speed Shimano Tourney derailleur, selling for Y20,000 - Y35,000 depending on materials ($175-$300).
A few flat bar roads, almost no drop bar roads. A small number of mountain or hybrids with 18/21/24 speeds, round out the population. There was some more expensive stuff for sale in the shops (up to $1000), but I never saw anything high end on the streets.
Now for the really amazing part - I took pics and video of this, and have shown it to cycling friends since returning. A street edge with 50 bikes on a retail block. A parking lot near a train station with maybe 500 bikes neatly lined up. What do they have in common? Some had the most simple frame mounted real wheel lock, many with none. No bikes chained up to anything! It is a society with nearly zero theft!
Quite a difference from America.