Home > Focus on Japan 2004 > The Streets of Tokyo

The Streets of Tokyo

August 17th, 2004

Believe it or not, the street you see at right is a two-way street. Go ahead. Look at it. See if you can figure it out. And for perspective, that white truck parked in the back on the right, it’s a mini-truck, no wider than an American postal jeep. And even two of those would have a hard time passing each other on this street–and yet, I saw a good deal of opposing traffic pass here.

Every twenty or thirty meters, there is an indentation in the street (you can see it at left in this photo, behind the parked scooters; the orange posts mark it). When cars come from opposite directions, the car most conveniently placed to get into the indentation does so, while the car from the other direction squeezes by. I know, but somehow they do it. No wonder you don’t see Winnebagos in this country. Once I rented a truck to move my stuff from one apartment to another–and got stuck on a street wider than this one. When he saw the trouble I was having, the driver of the car going the other way actually got out and volunteered to drive the truck down the street for me while his friend maneuvered his car. Embarrassing, but I couldn’t have made it otherwise–it takes real driving talent.

You might also notice the slight crook in the street in the photo here. Japanese streets are, more often than not, go in all directions; it is less common for them to be laid out in grids. And even those grids are more often than not irregular, with greatly differing block lengths, and tons of T-intersections, one-way streets, and dead-ends. But most streets seem to tilt and angle without any hint of planning or design, like they just grew there. And with no street names (except for large boulevards), no street signs (except for major intersections), and a confusing jumble of block numbers and area names, navigation can be extremely confusing. Take, for example, the sign shown at left. That’s what the intersection looked like, honestly.

Add to that the fact that some neighborhoods are designed with one-way streets and prohibited turns such that it is impossible to exit save by one labyrinthine path; that streets are rarely more than two lanes in one direction, and usually not that; that sidewalks are sparse and properties have six-foot walls along the street, creating blind corners galore; and despite the expenses and difficulties of driving, multitudes seem to have cars, creating traffic jams all over; and top it off with scant parking, some pay parking lots charging a few dollars an hour… I am constantly amazed that people drive cars in Japan.

Oh, and gas runs about $4 per gallon.

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  1. August 18th, 2004 at 17:21 | #1

    A good follow up to this piece? Talk about the big circular mirrors at some of those blind corners. While USA corners are better, I sometimes wish we had those!

  2. August 18th, 2004 at 20:35 | #2

    I heard that much of the streets in Tokyo were designed to make invasion next to impossible.

  3. August 19th, 2004 at 01:41 | #3

    I am constantly amazed that people drive cars in Japan.

    And, folks, he’s just barely even skimmed the surface. I’m amazed that people in Japan think cars are worth the hassle–or the expense.

  4. Pat
    August 19th, 2004 at 15:21 | #4

    You forgot to mention all the other hassles of car ownership: the ‘shakken’ inspection permits that get so expensive as your car gets older; having to get a certificate that shows you have a parking space; REALLY high toll fees if you go any distance…but still, my husband owns a car. And 3 motorcycles. (Has to carry his camera gear–he’s a photographer.)

  5. Anonymous
    January 20th, 2005 at 09:30 | #5

    i need a street name in tokyo for a report ASAP!

  6. Anonymous
    January 20th, 2005 at 09:30 | #6

    i need a street name in tokyo for a report ASAP!

  7. Luis
    January 20th, 2005 at 15:37 | #7

    Some street names in Tokyo:

    Koshu Kaido
    Ome Kaido
    Yasukuni Dori
    Kan-nana Dori
    Kam-pachi Dori
    Meiji Dori
    Yamate Dori

  8. Troy
    August 17th, 2012 at 14:02 | #8
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