Getting around Japan can be easy what with the local transportation and the Japan-Railpass that is offered to us foreigners. The idea that Japan is easy to navigate can be found all over the internet and the truth be told that as a foreigner from an English speaking country I never found it difficult finding my way around. The signs and even some of the announcements are followed up in English and most recently in the last few years a number of other languages have been added. So there is no need to worry if you can’t read the Japanese signs or understand the announcements.
But what is not written or explained is the street smarts that are needed to get around especially when you have been costumed to your own countries ways. I’m not talking about the random good morning or hello to the strangers we meet on our strolls.
Walking around Japan can be a very enjoyable experience as you get to see all the sights and wonderful architecture but as I’ve written in a past post Japan doesn’t have many pavements and when they do have them they are usually in the center of the city or in random places that start and finish before you’ve realised you are on one.
As you walk around you have to literally grow an eye in the back of your head as you’ll need to be in 360 degree vision mode so you can keep an eye out for other walkers, bikers and drivers.
The trouble I have had in Japan with walking is that a majority of Japanese will walk like they are in a bubble. They won’t even shoulder slide to let you pass if you’re walking down a narrow path. Also I have noticed that when there is a group of people walking towards you and there is only enough room to walk in single file they don’t bother moving out the way and you end up having to pin yourself up against the wall of just walk into them.
Now when I talk about street smarts I’m talking about the 360 degree vision as you will have people looking down at their phones not pay attention. Most likely they will walk into you and if you’re like me you’ll just walk around them but you will have to pay attention to other walkers, cyclists and even cars.
When I use the word rider I’m including motorcyclist and your normal cyclists. To start I’ll talk about cyclists as riding a bike in Japan can also be as difficult as driving a car. Japan has a strong bicycle culture and you will find it’s easier to get around with a bike than it is by car but most of the riders here have no common curtsy and have a lack of road safety that they will cut you up, dart by weaving in and out like they are on race track.
In my eight years living here I have been hit twice and nearly been in involved in a number of near misses and again most riders seem to think they are in some kind of bubble and believe it’s you, the walker, that has to move for them. I have had cyclist cut me up without a care in the world and even stop dead in front of me so they can park up to go into the bank or post office. Even pulling out bikes from the parking areas is dangerous for walkers as nearly all riders don’t bother looking around to see if it is clear or not before they pall their bikes out.
Japan has a great bike that is called a mamachari, a bike that has two child seats; one on the back and one on the front. These bikes are very useful and the state of the art ones have proper child seats like you can find in cars. Now my problem with these is that most of the parents, mothers, that I see riding them race around without a care in the world and a few times I seen near misses with cars. They don’t seem to understand that the speeds they do would kill any child they are caring, plus I have never seen a child wear a helmet.
Motorbikes are as common here as they are back home and the majority of Japanese riders love to ride the American Harley Davidson. Yes, there are sports bikes, mopeds and even the nasty bosozoku custom bikes that I will leave for another post as it would make this one into a novel. The one thing I find strange is how the bikers will filter through traffic on the left side of the road and they don’t even stay in the center when they are a head as they like to cling to the left. As I used to ride a bike in the UK I remember my instructor telling me that you filter on the right so the driver can see and hear you coming. Now as Japan has the wheel on the right side of the car I thought perhaps this rule would be the same here but as of yet I haven’t found out and I question this as I have seen police riders do the same which leaves me confused.
Driving in Japan is great and I drive as much as I can and lucky for me the Japanese drive on the left side of the road so my transition from driving in England to Japan was smooth.
There isn’t much of a problem when it comes to driving in Japan part from there being no pavements so you have to keep an eye out for pedestrians walking in the middle of the road and bikers coming at you from all angles but in essence it’s really enjoyable. The only problem I have is that cyclists ride against traffic which makes it very dangerous as they swerve out in the road without checking. This can be even scarier when they are riding towards you and suddenly swerve out which leads you swerving as well or slamming your brakes on. Now it’s illegal to ride towards traffic but this law is never enforced and most of the Japanese people don’t even know about it.
As for other drivers the only problems I’ve noticed is that they like to tailgate, change lanes without signalling and nine out of ten times never give way. As someone who has learned to drive to and from work in London most of the driving habits of the Japanese don’t really shock me.
Conclusion; well the above information is my opinion based on my experience and is no way a jab at the Japanese. It’s just an observation that I would like to share with you and most of the problems can be found in my home country.