Jaywalking in Japan: A Cautionary Tale

by Mitchell on December 16, 2011

Ever since the warnings of my parents to “wait for the light” and “look both ways” faded I have been an avid jaywalker. It saves time and there is something mildly exciting about crossing the road before you are supposed to.

For those of you who don’t know about jaywalking it’s simply the practice of walking across the street when there is no crosswalk or before the pedestrian light tells you to go. It is illegal in some places and practiced frequently in others.
Naturally, when I moved to Tokyo (a city filled with crosswalks, lights, and queues) I continued the practice of walking the jay. Unfortunately the results weren’t quite what I expected.

What I expected:
- a faster commute

What Happened:
- Fellow pedestrians risking life and limb

For some reason, hardly anyone jaywalks in Japan (or at least Tokyo). Maybe they are too polite or are just way more patient than me. Either way, as soon as I start jaywalking invariably a few other people start walking as well. Now usually this is fine and is known as a jay-walking train (yes i just made that up) with me as the conductor. Unfortunately these people aren’t aware that they are jaywalking.They assume that because i am walking the light has turned and they can also walk. They aren’t very aware of their surroundings (ipods etc.) and as a result I have witnessed some pretty close calls. This morning a woman had a close encounter with a bike and a few days ago a man had to be awoken from his stupor by a car honking and swerving to avoid him. Of course I feel bad (and would feel even worse if something happened) but there’s not a lot I can do other than stopping and waiting patiently like everyone else.  So, if you ever find yourself in Tokyo, consider yourself warned. Jaywalk at your fellow pedestrians risk!

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