Different Cultures, Different Approaches

Chris Wyatt, Kobe, September 30th, 2019


For those of us from abroad, we may have heard many things about Japanese culture over the years.  But experiencing it up close and firsthand is quite different than movies, books or popular culture.  Immersed in the culture, with everything Japanese around you, one can quickly begin to reassess their thoughts. Yes, I’ll confess, I have now resorted to buying a few Hello Kitty themed items and other things myself (and I gave in quickly too!).

But it is not just cuisine and Hello Kitty that take you by surprise.  I find myself constantly wondering what the yellow dividing lines are virtually everywhere; in the subways, in the train stations, and on sidewalks. I can quickly surmise that they are in transportation points to keep people away from the tracks.  But why are they on the sidewalks?  You might point out that is so one can stay to one side or the other. On that point, I might agree, initially anyway. But experience has now made it clear that although the direction of travel for pedestrians is supposed to be on the left, few Japanese seem to follow that rule.  I thought I might be wrong in my assumption.  But in the station after station, the yellow lines separate direction of pedestrian flow.  But the thing is, it is never consistent.  One time the signage will tell you to be on the right, the next the left.  I certainly understand the need for this in stations.  But why on the city sidewalks?

 The pedestrians walk on both sides, constantly disrupting the flow.  Add in the plethora of bicyclists on the sidewalks (rather than in the streets) and walking with luggage can become an annoyance rather quickly. 

So why the yellow lines?  Well, it’s actually a very simple answer.  Those dividing yellow pavements dividers are for the visually impaired.  Now, how interesting is that?  Very, I would say.  It is a simple, yet elegant technique.  It has nothing at all to do with directing all pedestrians.

And speaking of walking on the left-hand side…. One more interesting observation is how the visitor can easily get confused about which side of the sidewalk, street or escalator to walk on. This may sound like an obvious point but believe me in the Tokyo-Yokohama corridor folks walk on the left and pass on the right.  But elsewhere it is the opposite.  It seems that walking on the left in the Tokyo and Yokohama region is the norm (many entrance ways to subway stations notwithstanding).  But just to keep you on your toes, when you arrive on Kobe, folks go on the opposite side!  Talk about the confused tourist.

On the subway one can also come across interesting signage too.  The “women-only” pink signs presumably are there to afford women some protection or privacy from males on the subway.  Assuming I am correct, this makes a lot of sense.  When occupancy is low in a carriage, one can feel a little vulnerable on any metro or subway line around the world.

You likely noticed that Japan defeated Ireland 19-12 in a massive upset victory many of us are already dubbing the “Stunner in Shizuoka.” Elsewhere, if for instance, this were soccer, or in the U.S. the Super Bowl and Final Four outcome, there would be mass jubilation, dancing in the streets, endless parties and constant celebrations when a minnow slays a giant.  But here in Japan, while the victory was greeted with excitement and joy, what happens elsewhere seems to have passed the land of the rising sun by.  The news media have covered the event, and everyone was all “high fives” after the massive win over Ireland.  But it’s almost back to business as usual here now.  Perhaps it is the stereotype of the Japanese being sedate that is playing out.  Or then again, I may just be missing the obvious since I don’t speak Japanese.

Like I said: “Different cultures, different approaches”….

Photos By Chris Wyatt

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Chris Wyatt is a guest journalist for DJCoil Rugby who is attending the 2019 Rugby World Cup. His periodic articles will provide another perspective for matches attended.

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