Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I have noticed that the idea of sharing a sidewalk is not well-developed in Tokyo. I am sure someone would say that this is because sidewalks here tend to be narrow, but even in areas with wide sidewalks folks tend to spread out and take up the entire sidewalk if possible, or at least walk down the middle crowding everyone else. Several years ago a guy told me that he recognized yakuza because, among other things, they would walk down the middle of the sidewalk and force others into the gutter. I wondered then if everyone in Tokyo wasn't in the yakuza.

Arrows on the sidewalks designating which side to walk on are ignored. You can notice this especially on stairs in train stations, and it doesn't have to be during a crowded rush hour either. People walk willy-nilly where ever they want, usually without watching where they are going. Folks will perhaps yield to someone coming the other way at the very last minute just before colliding head on.It sort of looks like something out of a Three Stooges movie, both dancing left and right trying to decide which way to go as there are no general rules which are regularly followed that I can see. (You have to be goofy to follow the arrows on stairs anyway. They may switch sides themselves, like they do in parts of Shibuya station. If people followed them, they'd be running into one another more than they do now. Fujiwara may be right about logic in Japan, at least as far as the arrow painters are concerned.)

Nobody seems to care about this. It is just the way it is. I once was talking to a guy who had returned from New York after his first trip and he remarked about what a "good system" it was that people tended to stick to the right side of the sidewalk. And he generally disliked anything about the US. (Ex-school teacher. In the past in Japan the counterpart of a right wing nutjob. A left wing loonybird. The loonybird teacher's union now has been properly tamed by the nutjobs. The union was a much-needed balance. Too bad the nutjobs have it so easy now.)

I was walking in the rain several months ago on a narrow sidewalk near Shibuya. A middle-aged guy with a couple of middle-aged women was coming the other way. They were spread out blocking the entire sidewalk and showed no signs of moving to one side to let me by. I guess I was supposed to walk into traffic to avoid inconveniencing them. Being a rude, ill-mannered foreigner I didn't. I just stopped directly in front of them and finally, after a bit of shock and confusion, they were kind and polite enough to move over and let me have a portion of the sidewalk. I was so impressed with such traditional Japanese good manners, that I now often do this in similar situations.

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