Street Signs

January 25th, 2007

I thought I’d share a few things I’ve spotted on the streets as I go to work every day.


This first one is a view I get while coming up Meiji Boulevard. That “OMEN” sign stands out a bit ominously. In fact, it’s the Marui Men’s store; the “O” is really an “OI” (pronounced “Maru-i” in Japanese) with the “I” hidden behind other signs on the right side. With the “MEN’ sign below, it produces the creepy effect. I always find myself thinking, “is that a good omen or a bad one?”

Next is a label I started seeing on taxis a few months back:


And a close-up, from a different taxi:


Literally, the sticker reads: “CAUTION! MOTORBIKES — Two-wheeled-vehicle Accidents! Repeatedly Occur (Police Headquarters – Tokyo Passenger Vehicle Association)”

Though it’s a bit cryptic, the essence is pretty clear–the sticker warns people on motorbikes that they cause accidents frequently. I say that because it certainly doesn’t seem to be blaming the taxis, as taxis are not even directly mentioned. And if taxis were to blame, the sign would read something like “Caution — this vehicle makes sudden stops” or something like that.

Now, should a regular car bear such a sticker, I could see the justification–many bike riders do get out of hand. But for taxis to be bearing these is like a murderer calling a jaywalker “hard-bitten.” Taxis are dangerous sunzabitches. They constantly weave in and out of traffic–as bikers do–but then they also, often and without signal or warning, merge suddenly and/or hit their brakes and pull over to pick up or drop off passengers.

They also have a tendency to hog the road; on two-lane streets, they will straddle the center line, slowly weaving a bit right and a bit left, so they can command both lanes while driving leisurely, something which probably causes many of the aforementioned bike accidents. Bikers have enough room to pass on either side, and the taxi will often at the same time suddenly decide to choose one lane over the other–of course, without signaling or other warning–thus causing the biker to brake suddenly or veer off dangerously.

For that and other reasons, taxis and motorbikes are often natural enemies on the road. A further frustration for bikers is that taxis get a free pass from traffic police, who will instead over-prosecute bikers. I have seen literally hundreds of bikers pulled over for tickets, but only once in more than a decade have I seen a taxi driver given a citation. Same thing with truckers, who also (though less frequently) pull dangerous crap on the roads. I think the police cut a lot of slack to anyone whose driving is also their livelihood.

So to see so many taxis sport signs more or less accusing the bikers of causing accidents–especially when bikers are the ones who get hurt in the collisions–is a tad galling. Now, maybe I’ve got it wrong and the signs are not meant to be accusatory–but frankly, I doubt that.

But on to a lighter subject: the Construction Sign of Doom! (Sorry, Sean, I ripped that moniker off from your satchel.) This is the one I mentioned last week, and I got it on film this time.


It’s a bit different from what I recalled an hour after having seen it for only ten seconds or so, but my recollection mostly holds true. The big, dull red arrow at bottom was pulsing; the orangish smear above the green-backed construction signs was an electronic scrolling text sign; the three yellow arrows were flashing on and off from left to right; above them, those yellow lights were the flashing roller lights, and above those, the pizza-slice rotaters, with flashing green lights at their centers.

Sadly, the guy with the light baton was absent tonight (I guess they figured out how irrelevant he was), but if you can picture it in your mind, he was only tall enough so that his construction-site helmet only reached the bottom of the big, pulsing arrow near the bottom of the sign.

This has to be the most outrageous warning sign array I’ve seen on Japanese roads. Now that I’m aware of them, I have noticed that other signs use the exact same elements of this one, except they only use half as many parts at most–like the pulsing red arrow and the green-backed warning signs only, or some other combination of bits and pieces that make up the sign. Maybe on this one, someone got too enthusiastic and just threw in everything but the kitchen sink.

Categories: Focus on Japan Miscellaneous Tags: by
  1. January 26th, 2007 at 04:34 | #1

    *laugh* steal away…I stole it SOD from other blogs:D

    That sign…wow. That has to be the most insane thing ever. I like how the two spinners at the top look like eyes though, like it’s the big FRIENDLY Construction Sign of Doom:-p

  2. Andrew
    January 28th, 2007 at 19:30 | #2

    That CAUTION MOTORBIKES signs sends me into a flying rage every time I see it. Admittedly, it does not directly state that bikes are the cause of the accidents — perhaps because the taxi drivers themselves know this is usually not the case. But it clearly implies that bikes are to blame, and that taxis are virtuous citizens working hard for traffic safety, and generously sharing their car surface with the community-minded Passenger Vehicle Association (read: self-interested Taxi Drivers’ Association). In reality, a very large percentage of taxis that I come across in my driving, in addition to the weaving and hogging you described, go out of their way to prevent me and other bikers from the perfectly legal manuever of advancing between lanes of stalled traffic. I assume they’re jealous of bikers’ ability to advance more quickly through city traffic, or angry that bikers don’t seem to realize that taxi drivers are the sanctified sovereigns of the roadway, but whatever their motivation, it always amazes me the amount of extra pedalwork and steering-wheel effort they will go to in order to obstruct or harass anybody on two wheels.

    Taxis commit the great majority of traffic violations and yet, as you mention, you would never know that by looking at the statistics of actual citations issued by the cops. It would be a great service to public safety if some objective third party would do a citywide traffic observation, count all observed infractions, include taxis as a category, and then report their information to the police department and the news media. The results would surely overturn a few stereotypes fed by misinformation such as that supplied by the sanctimonious sticker.

    If we had a two-wheelers’ association, we could then demand to see future stats from the police indicating that the percentage of citations issued to taxis has been brought more closely into line with the percentage of their infractions as observed by the third party. If it hasn’t, then back to the news media to hound the cops again for not addressing the primary threat to roadway safety in Tokyo.

    I wouldn’t mind so much if the taxis displayed a sticker that said “Goddammit you biker, I work these streets for a living and they are mine and I am going to do everything I can do, before you finally pass me, to block you, slow you down, pin you against a parked car, or send you clear off the road, so you better hell watch out!” At least it wouldn’t be hypocritical.

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