Yesterday I saw two Japanese people crash right into each other on a busy sidewalk in Meguro. They were walking towards each other and looking at their phones. I was following one of them on my bike and I could have predicted the disaster. Both of them were not walking in a straight line or paying attention to anything around them. Frankly, they are lucky that they bumped into each other and not a pole or something, which would have done some serious damage.
Not to be mean or anything, but I was almost glad to see it happen. I had been going along thinking that the problem was me – people didn’t get out of the way for just me, or didn’t pay attention to me personally – either because I’m a woman or because I’m a foreigner. It turns out that I am completely wrong. Japanese are not considerate pedestrians with anyone.
The amount of cell phone reading on the Tokyo streets has reached epic proportions. But there’s more to it than that. People read and walk – books, newspapers, magazines, you name it, they read and walk. Because of that, the pace is unpredictable, as is the path, so often people are all over the sidewalk. It is hard to walk or bike behind people who are reading.
People also walk, or even bike, two or three abreast, both on the road and on the sidewalk so that no one can pass from the opposite direction, either by bike, on foot, or even in a car. I can’t tell you how many times I have approached groups who do not move and I have to step off the sidewalk to accommodate them. But all of a sudden, I realized that groups make other Japanese people do this, not just me Once in a group it seems that the group does not step into single file to accommodate traffic – foot or otherwise – approaching from the opposite direction.
There are big signs, particularly in Meguro, about which side of the sidewalk is for bikes and which side is for pedestrians, but no one pays attention to the signs. I do my best to stay in the designated areas and to stay to the left, and I cycle – or walk – generally very slowly so as not to cause or be involved in an accident, but I sometimes feel like I’m the only one.
Truly, I thought the problem was me, but it is not. The two Japanese people I witnessed in the minor accident yesterday were both fine. They were both knocked of balance for a moment, and out of their respective reveries, but were otherwise unharmed. They bowed to each other and went on their way – both of them back to their reading. I guess it’s just the Japanese way, something else at which to shake my head in this quirky country I call home.
To be selfishly honest, though, I’m glad it’s not just me.