The near miss
On the evening of Sunday, December 7, 2014 I almost witnessed a collision between a pedestrian and a speeding taxi at a local intersection. I was sure the male pedestrian crossing the street against the red light was going to get hit, but he wasn’t. With screeching tires the taxi stopped in time.
I had been out to the local DVD rental shop looking for some home entertainment for the evening. I didn’t find anything interesting and was going home empty-handed. But I did stop by a local drug store to pick up some Diet Cola on the way home. I was waiting at the corner downhill from my apartment, at the intersection of Nakano Dori and Hongo Dori with my shopping bag in hand. Nakano Dori is a main street running north-south from Nakano Station to Shibuya Station. It’s always busy. In our neighborhood Nakano Dori slopes down to the Kanda River and then slopes up again. So the corner where I was standing, near the river, was in a depression at the bottom of two slopes, one going up north towards Nakano, the other going up south towards Shibuya. The geography means that often vehicular traffic approaches the intersection at a pretty good clip, and this is what the taxi was doing. It was coming down off the north slope and into a green light on the flat section before ascending the south slope. I don’t blame the driver for his speed, and it was dark evening time already. I was calmly waiting for my pedestrian light to turn green, even though some pedestrians were scooting across the street here and there the way pedestrians always do. Then I noticed this one guy, dressed in dark clothes slowly start crossing the street, not quickly scooting across like others, like normal people who know they are illegally crossing a busy street. Not paying attention to the road, he was looking straight ahead at the Mosburger fast food restaurant behind me. The opposite direction pedestrian lights had turned red already, so I knew my light would turn green in a matter of seconds. Maybe he saw the same thing and thought the same thing. But the opposite traffic light wasn’t red yet. It was still green and traffic was still moving. Then I noticed a taxi barrelling towards the intersection, keen on catching the green light. The pedestrian was oblivious. He didn’t even stop at the corner to look both ways. He just calmly walked straight into the street. He wasn’t just a jaywalker. He was an über-jaywalker of Nietzchean proportions. I suppose the taxi driver did not see him clearly because he was dressed in dark clothes and it was evening. Suddenly I felt sure the cab could not stop in time and that the pedestrian would get fatally hit without seeing it coming, and I was standing there just a few meters away.
I stepped back and turned my head to avoid being splashed with blood - that’s how close I was. And I brought my free left hand up to cover my ear in order to muffle the thumping sound of the body being hit.
In the movies you see action stars acting with quick reflexes to save the child, or jump out of the way, or escape the danger, or apply the tourniquet to a buddy’s leg, or throw the live grenade out the window before it explodes, etc. But with me watching this scene I almost just froze up. My whole body tensed up. I was sure he was going to get hit, so I stepped back and turned my head to avoid being splashed with blood - that’s how close I was. And I brought my free left hand up to cover my ear in order to muffle the thumping sound of the body being hit.
He wasn’t just a jaywalker. He was an über-jaywalker of Nietzchean proportions.
The taxi driver only saw the guy in the middle of the road after he entered the intersection. That’s when he blew his horn and slammed the brakes. The pedestrian must have been listening to music, however, because he didn’t react at all. He just glanced at the cab after it came to a stop just centimeters from his legs, and then kept on walking leisurely. The driver remained stopped for a moment to glare at the moron before driving off. Incidentally, honking horns is fairly rare in Tokyo. The streets are pretty quiet and horns are only rarely and briefly used. I read that Tokyo traffic used to be as noisy as it is in any big American city, but for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games the government launched a traffic manners campaign encouraging drivers to be quiet, and they were. Ever since then car horn usage here has been extremely conservative. I like that.