Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-023
About “Reckless cyclists face crackdown” (October 26), I don’t see that stricter enforcement of existing bicycle safety laws, or levying fines, or even banning bicycles from sidewalks altogether necessarily effectively address the problem of accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians. The main problem is that Japanese - pedestrians, cyclists, or motor vehicle drivers - do not habitually pay much attention to their surroundings, or to what they are doing. Maybe it is the cultural feature of “amae,” or indulgence at work. If everyone indulges each other and looks out for their fellows no matter what stupid things we do on the streets, then such a system appears to have built-in safety, and works. But it only appears that way, nothing more. Japanese streets are like a giant pachinko pinball game where uncontrolled pieces practically bounce off each other, unawares. Unawares, mind you! The level of individual responsibility it would take to ensure that most people pay attention to themselves and what they are doing and to their surroundings would require a cultural revolution here that isn’t about to happen. So that leaves authorities only with appeals to greater politeness and consideration by cyclists, motorists and pedestrians for each other, with threats of fines.
I don’t look forward to being forced to ride my bicycle on the street with vehicular traffic. That feels more dangerous even than the threat of cyclists to pedestrians on the sidewalk, and I worry lest we see it proved true.
Published on Thursday, November 3rd, 2011 - Culture Day, “bunka no hi”national public holiday - as “Culture shift to make cycling safer.”
I first submitted this letter to The Daily Yomiuri newspaper for its monthly Readers Forum page, printed on Saturday, October 29th on the topic of banning bicycles from sidewalks in the light of recent upsurge in the number of bicycle-pedestrian collisions. My letter was not chosen - perhaps because my writing appeared in both the August and September Readers Forum pages - so I re-tooled it and submitted it to The Japan Times. Some letters on this topic appeared in the last Japan Times Readers in Council page, on Sunday, October 30th. Today one other letter appeared on the bicycle topic, “Bike, car, pedestrian can coexist” by Chihiro Suzuki of Nagoya, plus a short editorial, “Schooling for cyclists.”
Peaceful co-existence is a very Japanese appeal. It’s a manifestation of the cultural aversion to confrontation. I think one thing that contributed to the decision to print both our letters today was Suzuki’s statement that “What the government should do is encourage each person to pay more attention to cycling so that bicycle riders, pedestrians and drivers can coexist on the road.” I don’t know why she imagines that this is the government’s job, but because it echoes my appeal to attention as a fatal flaw in the Japanese public it makes for some kind of congruity. My position is that no one pays attention and that to increase safety everyone must pay attention to themselves and their surroundings, while Suzuki seems to task only cyclists with that
Brett Gross of Osaka wrote in a reply titled “Danger from other cyclists” (Sunday, November 6, 2011) “Grant Piper seems to say that he would fear cars were he to ride his bike in the street instead of on the sidewalk.” His letter was devoted to the dangerous folly of cyclists, and the advantages of educating people, especially children, in bicycle safety. But I was annoyed by his observation that what I seemed to be saying was that riding on the street with cars is so dangerous. Yes, I said it in the close of my letter. But the whole point of my letter was that Japanese DO NOT PAY ATTENTION, and as such are dangerous. When I read his letter I thought that Gross likewise pays no attention. Or, his reception of my letter is a classic case of people seeing only what they want to see. I’m guilty of that too, of course, but when I do it I know that I am doing it.