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Should you drive through a red traffic light like this in Japan? Confusing road rule explained

34 Comments
By Oona McGee, SoraNews24

A lot of road traffic rules are pretty straightforward in Japan, but one situation that could make you freeze for a moment is when you come across a traffic light at an intersection that has a big red stoplight on it, but green arrows in all directions underneath.

▼ When you approach a red light while driving, your first instinct is to hit the brakes, so what are you meant to do at this intersection?

Screenshot-2024-01-29-at-11.03.37.png

Well, in a nutshell, this is a sign to proceed through the intersection in all directions that are green.

▼ So why not just use a green light, and what’s the purpose of the red?

Screenshot-2024-01-29-at-11.03.45.png

The reason why the red light is shown is because it signals that oncoming traffic is currently stopped at a red light. Unlike regular traffic lights, which simply display green to drivers and pedestrians travelling in both directions along the same stretch of road, these special traffic lights run on a differentiated system, whereby one lot of traffic is given right of way for set periods.

These types of lights are generally installed to prevent congestion at intersections where there are more right-turning vehicles than usual. This system assists these drivers by ensuring that oncoming traffic has stopped and pedestrian signals are red, therefore making it safe to proceed with right turns without having to slow down as much as they would otherwise.

▼ At this moment, all pedestrian signs at the intersection are red and the lights for traffic heading across the intersection from left, right, and straight ahead are red as well.

Screenshot-2024-01-29-at-11.03.54.png

As long as the light above the green arrows remains red, the light for everyone else crossing the intersection remains red. So when their lights change, these lights do too, making things potentially more confusing for first-timers.

Japan-traffic-rules-lights-red-arrows-green-driving-3.gif

As the lights are generally aimed at drivers turning right, the amber light in the sequence above lets these drivers know that oncoming traffic is about to stop. When it hits red, the right arrow turns green, giving them the go-ahead to turn right.

So how do you know when to stop at these traffic lights? Well, all lights will switch off and the amber light will be shown, followed by…

Japan-traffic-rules-lights-red-arrows-green-driving-4.gif

▼…the red stoplight on its own.

Japan-traffic-rules-lights-red-arrows-green-driving-5.gif

The solitary red light is the signal for traffic to stop, until the green directional arrows appear again. Whenever these green arrows are visible, it’s safe to proceed in the directions shown, regardless of whether or not there’s a red light next to them, although it’s important to remain cautious in case pedestrians and cars don’t abide by the signals.

So what might initially be a confusing, head-scratcher of a system is actually a pretty ingenious one designed to keep things running smoothly while safeguarding drivers and pedestrians.

Photos © SoraNews24

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© SoraNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

34 Comments
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Tokyo has too many traffic lights. Especially on the ring roads.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Whoever thought of this at the traffic bureau was DUI.

13 ( +15 / -2 )

It seems confusing, as my reflexes tell me to hit the brakes or rapidly slow down when confronted head-on with a red light. Still, it is good to know that oncoming traffic is already stopped for you to clear the intersection.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

How did everyone here in Japan get their Japanese driver’s licenses? Would you pay ¥200,000 for your child to go to driving school.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

This explanation I didn't know, but I have always followed the arrows, and never slammed the breaks. Very informative though. Even driving schools in Japan haven't upgraded to explain these. They still have 1970's manuals and videos.

A few more simple traffic lights situations could include the flashing red light or at an intersection traffic lights can be red on all sides at the same, you might start moving thinking its gonna be green immediately etc etc

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Quercetum, if you have a valid driving license in your home country and drove for more than 9 months, you can change it to a Japanese license, upon taking some tests (including driving test, except a few countries). If you don't, in principle you don't have to go to school to take the exam, but you will fail many many times... By the way, I did pay the school.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Maybe if they used a bright orange like, or pink, or black light, or white instead of red the idea might be more useful.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Would you pay ¥200,000 for your child to go to driving school.

I got my J license donkeys ago. I paid more than that but can't recall the cost (maybe mid to high 300s) and did the manual car test. I did an English course and did the paper test in English. Passed first time. The cost was a real incentive to pass and the course was very well structured.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

These lights always make me sweat. I still have to ask my wife whether I should go or stop.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I miss roundabouts like back in the UK. They keep traffic moving.

I realize that they wouldn't work in Japan though. Almost every Japanese person I speak to about the merits of roundabouts replies that they are "scary".

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Roundabouts! Bring in some roundabouts. Nothing so stupid, ridiculous, frustrating,annoying is waiting at junction, no traffic for miles and miles but you gotta wait cause the red light timer came on.

Those red lights are too confusing. In this case We don’t need to know what the others drivers have, all we need is RED light we stop! Green we can go.

red and green together are dangerous. Also they keep putting traffic lights too close together so sometimes I see a light change to green, only to realize .ooooops, it’s no MY light. The planner clearly think HIS stupid comments sense is the same as everyone else’s.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

David BrentToday  10:26 am JST

I miss roundabouts like back in the UK. They keep traffic moving.

I realize that they wouldn't work in Japan though. Almost every Japanese person I speak to about the merits of roundabouts replies that they are "scary".

There are a few roundabouts in Japan. So they people do understand them.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Quercetum, if you have a valid driving license in your home country and drove for more than 9 months, you can change it to a Japanese license, upon taking some tests (including driving test, except a few countries). If you don't, in principle you don't have to go to school to take the exam, but you will fail many many times... By the way, I did pay the school.

I live in Japan and got my license in the same way as you did. I sent my kids to the countryside (Iwate) where the Gasshuku intensive driving school was cheaper by about ¥120,000 compared to Tokyo.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

There are a few roundabouts in Japan. So they people do understand them.

Indeed. I've seen a few in the very rare times I venture outside Tokyo (no curry houses outside big cities apparently).

In the United Kingdom, the Japanese ones I've seen they would be called "mini roundabouts".

But like most things the British do roundabouts best:

Rights of Way on a Roundabout

https://www.apass4u.co.uk/blog/2013/11/rights-of-way-on-a-roundabout/

2 ( +4 / -2 )

David BrentToday  10:26 am JST

I miss roundabouts like back in the UK. They keep traffic moving.

I realize that they wouldn't work in Japan though. Almost every Japanese person I speak to about the merits of roundabouts replies that they are "scary".

I like roundabouts too, but often in the places here where they'd be useful, there's not enough space to build them.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

My first use of a roundabout in Japan was a few months ago.

It was made in a developing suburban area about 3-4 years ago, and is still the only one in the prefecture.

I used it to do a U-turn.

No other cars were on the roundabout and as I was heading to exit a large 4wd entered on my left completely oblivious to me. I wasn't about to brake and stop on a roundabout as I had total right of way, so I gave a quick blast of the horn.

The guy nearly jumped out of his seat as he came to a screeching halt.

He tried to glare me down, but I just shook my head in a No, No, No manner.

Can't imagine what it's like there at busy times.

I don't think they'll ever be common here - not because of narrow roads and space - just you need to re-train/update millions of drivers, with many of them aging.

Not an easy call.

But reducing the number of mind-numbing redlights at minor intersections in my city/suburbs would be welcome.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I am always nervous about roundabouts when I go back to Europe. But it may also have something to do with driving on the other side of the road, using manual transmission. But I think roundabouts could be practical in small cities or less crowded suburbs in Japan, but less practical for the heavy traffic in central Tokyo for example. Plus they take more space, which is a precious commodity in central Tokyo, and they also need crossings for pedestrians, which require traffic lights, otherwise mayhem occurs.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

But reducing the number of mind-numbing redlights at minor intersections in my city/suburbs would be welcome.

Indeed. Around my manor, route 12 that leads to 武蔵境通り bound for 調布 has more traffic lights than you can shake a stick at.

Traffic in Tokyo is governed by regulated stopping and starting, rather than a continuous steady flow. I hope this changes.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I miss roundabouts like back in the UK. They keep traffic moving. I realize that they wouldn't work in Japan though. Almost every Japanese person I speak to about the merits of roundabouts replies that they are "scary".

Spot on, this. I love roundabouts too but can just imagine that with so many indecisive drivers here afraid to enter them it would be a nightmare.

So what might initially be a confusing, head-scratcher of a system is actually a pretty ingenious one...

Nah, sorry , still disagree.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Glad I don't drive a motor. Don't need one in the city, walking cycling or public transport shall suffice.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I love roundabouts too

It depends. There is one outside Lisburn in Northern Ireland that has three lanes and a few sets of traffic lights. I kid you not. It was a nightmare

Glad I don't drive a motor.

You said it. The hassle and the expense. 車検 and then parking rental if your abode doesn't have a parking space. It really is a palaver especially if you have know imagination on using it often. Expensive too.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If people live in a city why have a car unless it's for work?

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

My last car was in 1979, 45 years ago. I manage without one.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Lived in many cities without a car. Good public transport systems. If I need to move stuff I pay someone to do it. Still cheaper than owning a car and a lot less stressful.

I don't need to ever think about red lights.

Like in NY, the subway is quicker than a car/taxi.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Spot on, this. I love roundabouts too but can just imagine that with so many indecisive drivers here afraid to enter them it would be a nightmare.

A poster here last year raised some good points about why they aren't very suitable for Japan.

Firstly, they prevent pedestrians from crossing the road safely. Crossing the road at the exit of a roundabout would be quite dangerous. Secondly, they create a 'dead space' in the centre, making them difficult to incorporate into tight streets. And the bigger the roundabout, the more dead space there is.

And lastly, drivers in Japan aren't trained to use them. It's not intuitive for them and they'd have to add a module to the driving test.

As for the sign above, I don't see the fuss. It's just like a right turn green arrow that indicates that oncoming traffic has a red light.

That said. I always see drivers stop on the short red light and then don't notice that they have turned green again. Why is the driver at the front of the queue always the most hopeless driver?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Maybe if they used a bright orange like, or pink, or black light, or white instead of red the idea might be more useful.

Agreed. Pick three completely different colors and use red, yellow, and green for "stop, caution go" and the other three for "the cars perpendicular to you are in the stop/caution/go state".

1 ( +1 / -0 )

No need for the full red, when you have the arrows. You should only be given a green turn arrow, if the oncoming traffic has a red. No need to make things complicated with additional, unnecessary signals.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I guess if one grows up with these lights, they make sense.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It's interesting because in Europe, afaik only left or right arrows are being used. When either is lit it means a right of way through the intersection – usually for cars turning left to exit the intersection (when driving on the right side). When an arrow is lit in a combination with a red signal (usually the right arrow), it means one can proceed in turning but has to yield to traffic coming in the cross direction. So the case presented in this article is a bit weird to me.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I would have thought that only having the arrow already tells you that all other traffic heading in your path (including pedestrians) has a red light? I know of many traffic lights in the Kansai area that DON'T have the right hand green arrow signal, and you can't physically see whether the traffic coming from the opposite direction have a red light or not while you're waiting to turn right. This is quite confusing. A simple green arrow would make traffic light turning safer.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Roundabouts won’t work in this country because people will stop and gesture dozo dozo and the other driver will do the same. This defeats the purpose of a roundabout. Cars behind will start honking. Then the driver will bow and push the hazard lights to thank the person for letting him in.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

h0nz4

It's interesting because in Europe, afaik only left or right arrows are being used. When either is lit it means a right of way through the intersection – usually for cars turning left to exit the intersection (when driving on the right side). When an arrow is lit in a combination with a red signal (usually the right arrow), it means one can proceed in turning but has to yield to traffic coming in the cross direction. So the case presented in this article is a bit weird to me.

It's the same everywhere I've driven in the US. But, as you have probably realized by now, almost everything that is simple everywhere else, is more complicated here.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

quercetum

Roundabouts won’t work in this country because people will stop and gesture dozo dozo and the other driver will do the same.

You have obviously never driven in Kansai.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I like the roundabouts they have in the UK, but I did once come across one which had traffic going different ways around it.........at the same time. That was just so confusing, but I managed to beat it. The only bad thing in the UK is roundabouts with traffic lights on them, it defeat the purpose of keeping the traffic of moving on.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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