Why do Japanese people obey traffic laws? Chinese students give their opinion

By Paula Gerhold

On Aug 11, Record China published an article based on essays written by Chinese students after their first visit to Japan. The piece, titled “How Japanese People Interpret Laws,” mainly focused on the students’ impressions of Japanese roadway rules and regulations and how strictly they are followed.”

Those readers who have had the chance to experience Japanese motorways might not have found the streets very safe at all. Narrow roads often mean narrow escapes from clogged intersections as pedestrians weave in-between eco-delivery bicyclists and taxi cabs. But compared to the hustle and bustle of mainland China, where the rules of the road mean every man for himself, Japan may very well seem an extremely tame, if not complacent, environment.

Though the walking speed of Tokyoite salarymen during their morning rush came as a bit of a surprise, the Chinese school children were even more shocked to see how Japanese people followed traffic laws so faithfully. Even when there were no cars present, pedestrians remained in their proper place at the edge of the sidewalk and waited for their light to turn green.

But why do they wait their turn to cross when there is no present danger? While living and working in Japan, it’s a common sight to see young Japanese children heavily policed when crossing the road, whether by parents or teachers. In fact, it’s cute to see the little ones listen to their teachers’ advice and raise their hands when crossing any street so as to be more noticeable to drivers. But though traffic safety is indeed taught at a very early age in Japan, the same principles are taught to young Chinese children, as well. And yet, as they grow older, people in China ignore the crosswalk directions and go whenever and wherever they can find a space.

It’s not the traffic laws themselves, but rather the attitude toward and consciousness of rules in Japan that differs so distinctly from China. The Record China report explained that Japanese people think of laws as things that are guided and enforced by the people, more so than even the government. They take it upon themselves to ensure that the rule of law is followed and take personal offense when someone violates that self-imposed responsibility. This sense of society, while impressive and truly inspiring in some ways, can also lead to tremendous pressure on the individual.

There’s a stereotype that Japanese people are incredibly humble and overly-apologetic. Sadly, there are definite, documented cases where this is true. During an incident a while back, a young Japanese traveler was kidnapped by terrorists in Iraq and killed. In the video that the terrorists recorded, the kidnapped boy apologized for “causing trouble.” Despite the horrific circumstances, the boy’s family was even publicly censured in Japan for their failure to take proper precautions and follow the laws set in place for their protection. In effect, the victims were pressured into apologizing for the incident due to the rigid sense of communal righteousness.

Nowadays, Japan firmly believes that citizens who do not uphold the law of the land are tantamount to criminals themselves, according to the Chinese news source. Though the commentary might sound a bit harsh, it does bring up a valid point about Japanese society. Even as a foreigner living overseas, there are times when you can feel the watchful gaze of the people checking to see if you’re doing things in the correct and proper way. This tremendous social and mental pressure instilled within the Japanese populace and extended throughout all the people who live within its island borders, keeps people in line and on the sidewalk.

Source: Yahoo! News Japan

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Chinese Perspective: Some of the Most Surprising Cultural Differences upon Coming to Japan -- Saudi Arabian Reporter Floored by Things Japanese Take for Granted -- Japan Gets Tough on Cyclists Violating Traffic Laws

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Is the writer complaining about the "tremendous social pressure"? Several Chinese I know who have settled in Japan say that the Japanese "social dicipline" that makes an orderly society is exactly what they like about Japan. People from less orderly societies may not like it, but I like it.

19 ( +21 / -2 )

Who the heck wrote this article? If Japanese drivers are good and discliplined, follow the rules, then I can't even dream what China is like in my wildest imagination.

2 ( +14 / -12 )

... there are times when you can feel the watchful gaze of the people checking to see if you’re doing things in the correct and proper way.

I think this sentence is very telling. I've noticed that people in Japan tend to behave very, very differently depending upon whether they are being observed or not.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Most Japanese people like very much the way like everybody essentially follows for good life. It seems that Japanese like rules and they feel safe or okay as long as following the some kind of rule. Japanese government also love international rules of some kind of organizations like IWC rule,,,,.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

It's one of the great things about Japan, in my opinion.

The Chinese government, on the other hand, and undertaking programs to educate their populace to behave with more manners when travelling overseas, due to their appalling manners and growing reputation as some of the rudest people on the planet.

5 ( +11 / -6 ) Japanese people followed traffic laws so faithfully

What a load of nonsense. Every day I see people here j-walk, ride motorcycles without helmets or smoking while riding. How many times have we seen articles here on Japan Today about dreadful traffic accidents. Didn't we just see a several stories about people with epilepsy driving and then having a fit and end up killing people? People drink driving and killing people? The list goes on and on. It's a news piece that is just stereotyping without any factual evidence.

1 ( +8 / -7 )

I've had Chinese people tell me the traffic in Italy is very orderly, which it is, compared to PRC.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

this is news to me. I have yet to see a driver here let pedestrians pass before going through crosswalks. They always speed up, nearly killed me several times

4 ( +9 / -5 )

@bass4funk & GetReal Of course, there are rulebreakers in every society, but I think the Chinese are speaking in relative terms here.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I only read the title before the choking fit started. How bad is China then?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

cuz is common sense

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Yeah, I get your point, well taken.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Chinese just drive like you expect in a country badly affected by endemic corruption- terrible. The Iraqi do the same by all reports they drive the wrong way done one way streets, down pedestrian paths. You can't judge them badly if the other guy who has contacts with the local communist committee can get away with almost anything- traffic police who write infringements for connected individuals end up with their careers destroyed.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I'm not sure what is being proposed here. Does the author think that not obeying the rules would be better? Healthier? Safer? That Chinese people are undisciplined? Disorderly? Freer? Happier?

I'm not sure if the observations are consistent, either. Certainly, on any drive on the Tomei, it would be unusual to find many people strictly obeying the speed limit, though perhaps most don't exceed it dangerously.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It helps when you have traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. Many developing countries don't have any specified crossing so you kind of zigzag your way through traffic and hope the car racing towards you will slow down. As for those who ignore traffic lights, well perhaps a penalty would help.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

One of my first times in Tokyo I observed a half dozen police officers hustling to respond to some sort of incident and was astounded to see them stop and wait at a traffic signal on a "street" (with no vehicles in sight) that couldn't have been more than 10 feet/3.5 meters across. Couldn't believe my eyes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese people can drive me crazy at times with their tendency to follow rules or systems to the letter. Some of the trivial, inflexible jobsworth nonsense I see at work and outside can drive me to distraction. That said, this attitude is much better when it comes to issues like road safety. I've spent time in China and as pointed out above, Italian motorists look disciplined in comparison. I'd put Vietnam top of the wacky races out of the countries I've visited. Just ridiculous.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Since when do Chinese people have the authority to give opinions on how to behave in public? Oh, of course, because they are so polite. Any short visit to China or Hong Kong will teach us that. The article might as well be titled "Why don't Chinese people obey local customs abroad, display common courtesy or any common sense in public places? Entire world gives its opinion".

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The article is right about one thing: Japan as a 'self-policing' society. If I were doing anything even the least bit illegal, I'd never confide in a Japanese person. With their healthy, indoctrinated respect for authority, they'll turn you in for sure.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Since when do Chinese people have the authority to give opinions

Everybody is entitled to have an opinion. Even yourself.

How bad is China then ?

Average. Like a whole country full of Parisian drivers permanently at rush hour.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

This article is generalizing, of course. Go to any rural place or suburb and you can see people jaywalking constantly, not to mention cars running through reds and what not. As for the notion that in Japan it's the social norm to follow the rules or be shunned, that doesn't fly these days. For the EXACT reason that everyone expects everyone else to obey the laws, there is often little enforcement of them when someone does not, and those people know they will receive no punishment. I'd definitely agree it's better than in China -- at least from what I've experienced -- but it's by no means perfect.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

I have seen in Japan they work hard to educate the people by imparting knowledge of road safety through various ways either through TV shows or at college level traffic police trained young people to follow traffic rules strictly.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

My personal feelings on why the Japanese obey the rules is from my 26 years of observation - it feels like a fear of social retribution - society acts like "god" and people seem to obey because they are afraid of the humiliation of getting caught - the fear of being cast out - the fear of your image being tainted... not just because they were taught it's wrong,like most people are taught. Life in Japan feels too closed and sometimes suffocating with all the rules. As a foreigner I feel even more pressure to not J-walk or sit on the silver seat on the train - I feel I stick out more and people will get the impression that "all" foreigners are law breakers. I always look around at a crosswalk before J-walking - is someone watching me...? I always feel someone is - so I usually don't.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Part of the issue is that 30 years ago, very few Chinese could afford a car. Within that 30 years, the a significant portion of the population has gained the means to be able to drive, but not having grown up with a car culture, they are not very good drivers. Add this to huge numbers of taxi drivers in the big cities who have come from the countryside, never driving before arriving, and they cannot drive well either. So China-Japan driving comparison is somewhat apples and oranges.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I couldn't get past the title I was laughing so hard.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I saw videos of ordinary life of Chinese people on TV. Chinese think they don't have to obey the rules/laws if no strict penalties. A warning is absolutely nothing. it is very natural that mothers should let children poop in trains or buses if there is a space and also they piss in streets / at world heritage sites overseas and besides they are making stupid doodles all over sightseeing places. First of all they try not line at door/entrance of trains and buses, ATM, in Bank no matter where it is. It is very understandable that "Why Chinese don't obey the traffic law".

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Thanks, Record China, for an unbiased report of observations from your "school children".

If you are instilled rules, you will realize that, that is how and why somethings work. You know that the "knight" will not shoot off like a "rook" when playing chess. You get to know when you are safe. Sadly, when you get older, you become "smarter".

If the populace in the foreign country you are visiting behave differently on the road, maybe you don't really know the traffic laws of that country well enough.

It is true that raising your arm and signaling with your hand will get a Japanese driver to halt for you at a crosswalk (not always). And if you give a slight bow to thank the driver before your first step like a good Japanese, and if you look obviously like a foreigner, they will sht. Entertain.

When you feel that someone is watching you, when you break a rule, it is you. Yourself.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's because Japanese are afraid to stick out. Quite often I find that they will cross against the light if someone else does it first. But most don't want to be that first one.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Chinese culture is one of me, me, me while Japanese culture is one of community in harmony. Japanese avoid 'rocking the boat' while Chinese aren't concerned about the waves or wake they create. I remember coming back home to Tokyo after being on holidays and my neighbours came out to welcome me back. A few of them apologized for the damage to my bike. I was a bit taken back thinking I had parked it in a my usual spot as to avoid neighbour traffic but was amused to find that the damage was minor and was from my bike falling over during the typhoon that had hit while I was away. They felt bad because they could have done something if they had only been home when the winds whipped up.

While in Vancouver on that above mentioned holiday I was treated to Mainland Chinese culture first hand and was shocked to find that 'Hongers' as the Hong Kong immigrants in the Vancouver area refer to themselves were vocally pissed off at with the me, me, me behavior being displayed by these Mainland Chinese. In traffic the mainlanders as they're called had no concept of the four way stop or merging traffic, yielding to traffic, amber lights changing to red, traffic lights being out because of a power cut or damage. It was just a free for all that EVERY TIME lead to near misses and I witness over half a dozen stupid crashes that would never have happened in Japan let along in Canada had the driver not been a mainland Chinese person fresh off the plane (ok, well less than a year since they arrived).

The most shocking was watching Chinese drivers going through intersections at full speed day and night where the traffic lights had completely failed and were out due to a power cut. Some of the crashes were unbelievable. I overheard the argument at one of those crashes because I was trying to cross the street and saw the whole thing. The Chinese driver freaked out because he claimed that his route had more traffic so they had the right of way. The law in Canada and I'm pretty sure in most first world countries is that if the traffic lights (signals) fail then it becomes a all directions stop intersection going clockwise. When driving in Japan that's how I saw it being exercised so one must wonder what the hell they do in China?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

there are times when you can feel the watchful gaze of the people checking to see if you’re doing things in the correct and proper way.

This is what Britain used to be like years ago when the neighbours used to twitch at their net curtains to see what you were up to. Then everyone became an individual with lots of rights and now we have chavs. Public censure is restrictive, but at the same time it contributes to a safe-ish society. There's no perfect answer.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the question would be, why do China and Korea complaint to much about Japan???

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I would've figured that they just don't want to be hit by a car. I know I wouldn't want to be hit by a car.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Why in the world was this article written? Following traffic laws is pretty important especially for Japan considering it is a crowded city and massive traffic in some locations I presume. It's not a bad thing either, even if there is not any cars roaming by it doesn't mean you should just run across the street because you never know if a car is just going to come out of nowhere.

I live in the United States and even I stand and wait till the "Walk Sign" is on even if there is no traffic because its the right thing to do and police will give you a ticket if you did the wrong thing. Follow the law is the best thing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

those chineses really should come to Osaka someday!

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Over a decade in Germany I observed the same thing. The Germans are very disciplined - Ordunung muss sein - one has to follow the rules. It is amazing that the Germans and Japanese live in different continents and have different backgrounds yet mostly behave the same way.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Is it on a par with Britain? Yeah I reckon so.

I don't know which Britain you're referring to, but in the one I know, most drivers stop at zebra crossings to let people cross. This has only happened to me ONCE in Japan, and I'm not talking about situations where I'm already in the middle of the street (although one nasty Japanese driver actually tried to drive round me when I had already walked half-way cross).

There is no doubt that the traffic is safer in Japan compared to China, but to say that the driving is on par with the UK or even US is bull. In the US, maybe it's the threat of a lawsuit that keeps drivers in check. The times I've visited the US, drivers keep a distance from me when they're turning. And here? They miss you by a few inches - they always seem to be in a rush.

Perhaps the fact that police actually enforce the law also helps - in the UK, drivers who tailgate and commit other offences will face even stiffer punishments. I've also seen police stop drivers for using mobile phones. And not once have I seen UK or US drivers carry a child on their lap or let kids stick their heads out of the window.

while Japanese culture is one of community in harmony.

Yeah sure, that's why Japanese drivers are always stopping to let pedestrians use pedestrian crossings. I've seen too many go through red lights too - only yesterday one drove right through despite the lights having turned red 10 seconds beforehand! He was lucky it was a T-junction and that no other car came along.

How bad is China then ?

No worse than India or other developing countries.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@Thunderbird "those chineses really should come to Osaka someday!"

I was thinking exactly the same. :-)

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Japan is a clean, safe and well-mannered society - the opposite of China.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Japan is a clean, safe and well-mannered society - the opposite of China.

For traffic rules, social manner, customer service there is no doubt that Japan is a champion. However I noticed that female travellers on the train were used to gropped by male travellers unlike China. Japanese male lost the control when there is an opportunity.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I have a question; Why do SO many people die from road accidents in Japan each year, about 4800 per year???

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

You call that many vs the population?

Your country does better in percentage?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

This article praises japanese populace too much. If Japanese can follow the discipline, there would not be a nuclear disaster.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Like I said; If Japan is so safe why 4914 road fatalities in 2012??

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

@Offwithyour arrogance

Unfortunately road fatalities occur around the world.

To get an idea of how safe Japan is, take a look at this.

Japan is ranked 189th out of 192 countries for death rates per 100,000 for road traffic accidents. Data from WHO 2011.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Time and again I am reminded of my mistake, of not having settled in Japan all those years ago--when I had the chance. I so love the society and its people. It is clearly the most civilized on on Earth.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

wipeout: well have a look

That seems to be a relatively quiet intersection near a hotel in a smaller city. There's lots worse.

Chinese drivers are much better than most of us. You'd have to be to drive in that traffic. Even the informal rules differ between cities.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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