The Daily Yomiuri,
Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-8243
I think bicycles do not have to be totally banned from public sidewalks. The problem of the increasing number of accidents involving cyclists is more than a problem of ignorance or flaunting of the law by cyclists. Stricter enforcement of the existing Road Traffic Law, amending the law, or enacting new, stricter laws will not solve the problem of pedestrian fear or reduce the frequency of dangerous cycling because the real problem is that people here too often don’t pay attention to what they are doing. It is a chronic condition in Japanese and other Asian cultures where people ignore their surroundings and blithely behave dangerously in public confident that others will watch out for them and indulge their folly.
Walking down a sidewalk in Tokyocan be a spine-chilling, culture shocking experience for foreigners because it is like running a deliberately hazardous obstacle course. Japanese cities are like big pachinko machines, where humans ricochet off each other in contented chaos. The Japanese cultural principle of “amae” may roughly translate into exactly the kind of indulgence I mean. So people are trained by conditioning notto pay attention to themselves and their surroundings. On many other social fronts, as well, they are trained to expect indulgence that sometimes borders on lifelong infantile coddling. So laws, which are taken more as recommendations than prohibitions, will not significantly improve the situation.
If everyone indulges their fellows and looks out for each other then such a system appears to work. But not really. It only appears that way, hence accidents. But appearances are too often taken at face value here. In more individualistic cultures people largely (but not entirely) assume responsibility for looking out for themselves. But that level of individual responsibility here would require a cultural revolution.
I was disappointed that The Daily Yomiuri did not print this letter on Saturday, October 29th when the Reader’s Forum page was published, because I think my point about Japanese habitually NOT paying attention to what they are doing is a legitimate and real observation. None of the Con letters that were printed made the point. Instead, some readers predictably wrote about cyclists, pedestrians and motorists showing courtesy to each other. That seems like a very Japanese, soft approach that doesn’t say or mean a lot. Most of all, it doesn’t say or mean what people might think it does.