10.17.2006

Cycling in Japan

There are a few things about Japan that are different from back home...you may have noticed if you read this blog on a regular basis. Cycling is one of them.

Many people ride bikes. The bikes that they ride are very generic bikes that look like the bike your mom rode in the 60`s.

Many people also ride scooters or other small motorbikes. Anyone with a Japanese driver`s liscence can drive one of these little machines of death, as long as they are under 50 cc.

What I have noticed is that drivers here are very accustomed to passing bikes and scooters on the road and they are generally very polite about it. Drivers know that they will have to pass slow, two-wheeled transportation devices and they make the appropriate allowances. This is true even when there is no discernible shoulder or bike lane.

Another difference is that while bikes are technically vehicles, almost everyone rides on the sidewalk, including the scooters. They will also pass cars that are stopped at a red light. Cyclists and motorcyclists do this and I have never seen a driver complain. Everyday, I see people on motorbikes travelling between lanes of traffic to get to the front of the line of cars.

I have been here for 15 months now and have yet to see any indication of road rage that is so common on the roads back home. Many of you cyclists will appreciate my stories of having various items thrown at me from passing cars, people screaming at me with the deliberate intention to scare the crap out of me (and often succeeding) and generally being treated poorly while riding. As we were driving home from Karate last night, I mentioned to Kelly that I had not seem any evidence of road rage here...she corrected me. I have a habit of using my headlights during the day. When I do so, I will often have people flash their lights at me in obvious concern that my lights are on during the day. These Japanese are pretty violent.

I think the main reason for the difference in driver behaviour here and at home is that the Japanese are brought up with the very strong belief that they are part of a whole. This is reflected in their word for `myself`...jibun. It literally means `part of the whole`. People will go out of their own way to make sure that traffic doesn`t get held up. Back home, the prevailing mentality is one of militant individualism. People try to get ahead of everybody else so that they can be first in line at the next stop light. If someone is percieved to be getting in the way of that goal, all hell breaks loose.

3 comments:

Rachel Z said...

I felt something akin to that militant individualism yesterday when I experienced particularly lazy customer service at McDonald's. Do I need to lower my expectations? How is customer service in Japan?

Vertigo said...

Customer service is excellent in Japan. As soon as you enter a store, you are greeted with the equivalent of `Welcome here!` Sometimes, if you are gaijin, you will get to witness the staff scrambling to get away from you so they don`t have to speak English...comical to say the least.

Yes, there are still jerks here, but at least the jerks are generally polite...

Linea said...

It's true, road rage is hard to detect here, especially in the rural areas.

Driving or riding a bicycle is always an adventure.

It's very typical where I live to be driving down a 'main' stree and have to slow down for an octogenarian pushing her cart full of vegetables down the middle of the road.

And it took me a while to figure out why there were so many traffic lights (and uncensored ones at that) in places where I saw no need for them -they were slowing me down!! I realized that was the whole point...