Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Periodically we hear news of accidents involving trains, cars and bicycles on the one hand and slow-moving pedestrians - especially elderly pedestrians - on the other hand. More often than not they are occurring at street level railroad crossings and street intersections, often due to insufficient time to safely cross the line of traffic. With that in mind, and in anticipation of joining their ranks one day, over the years I have observed with increasing concern a growing number of comparable incidents in my neighborhood - a perfectly normal Japanese urban neighborhood - of elderly people slooowwwwwwwly crossing the street at corners, knowing they will not be able to reach the other side before the light turns red. I admire that they can still get around independently at their age, but still feel somewhat annoyed by the danger they represent to themselves and to others, all the while captivated by the dramatic spectacle of it. Will the light turn red before they reach the mid-way point? Will they live long enough to reach the other side safely? Will the facing motorists see them and patiently wait for a clear path? Will the seniors be able to negotiate the slight rise in the curb at the far sidewalk without stumbling? My concern is partly my wholesome concern for society, partly a depraved voyeuristic fetish, and partly self-interest as I speed like a bullet train towards old age.
Considering Japan’s aging population, I think there may come a time - sooner rather than later - when common sense must force local or federal governments here to re-program traffic and pedestrian lights nationwide to give people more time to safely cross streets.
Published on Sunday, September 12, 2010 as “Caution: slower-moving era ahead.”
I originally sent this letter to The Daily Yomiuri in September 2009 but it was not printed. I saved it and this year tweaked it a little before submitting it to The Japan Times. This letter is a milestone in that it is my 100th letter printed in The Japan Times. I was surprised that it was printed so fast, just a few days after I sent it. I was hoping that if the letter was printed then it would appear on Sunday, September 19th, the day before the“keiro no hi,” or Respect for the Elderly holiday on Monday 20th.
In hindsight I suppose I would fix the split infinitive in the last sentence - “more time to safely cross streets” - and turn it into “more time safely to cross streets,” or “more time to cross streets safely.” Also, I might add bicyclists to pedestrians as an example of people at risk on the street level rail crossings and at intersections.
My motivation for this letter comes from my wife’s father who, several years ago after suffering a stroke decided that he wanted to walk to the local drugstore to get his own adult diaper pants. He had to cross a busy road to do it, using a crosswalk with a pedestrian light. It is a chore that would have taken me only twenty minutes there and back. But after several hours grandpa had not returned and grandma waited all that time before calling my wife to solicit help. My wife and mother-in-law went out searching for grandpa as it was getting dark and found him across the street from their apartment. I can’t imagine how he got across the street on his way to the drugstore to begin with at his slow gait, but he did it. But the entire trip (500 meters to the store and back again, for 1,000 meters) took so much energy out of him that he didn’t have the strength to cross the street on the way back. So he sat to rest on a low brick wall by the sidewalk - either to gather his strength or to wait for help. Well, my mother-in-law and wife found him and helped him home, and that was his last independent excursion outside the home.
There is a general hospital near my apartment. Often I see people in their pajamas standing on the sidewalk, smoking. Some are still connected to intra-venous drips. What is really startling, and a little annoying, is to see elderly men and women out in their pajamas walking on the sidewalk, trailing an oxygen tank for assisted breathing, and smoking. Such a sight compromises any respect I might have for their age or compassion I might feel for their condition.