Thursday, May 29, 2014

Japan Trivia : Why do cars drive on the left in Japan?

As you know, cars drive on the right in the United States and nearly all countries in Europe. Only in a few countries - the United Kingdom, Australia, India, Malaysia - do cars drive on the left as in Japan.

Australia used to be a British colony, as was India, so it's easy to understand why those countries drive on the left: they were imitating Britain. But why does Japan also stick to the left?

When Japan was Westernizing, it used Britain as a model for its railroads and many other things. You might think that automobile driving was copied as well, but in that case you would be wrong.

The keep-to-the-left tradition in Japan dates back even earlier than the Meiji period. There were no automobiles then, so the roads were used only by horse-drawn carts, palanquins, and pedestrians. The latter group included samurai who strutted along arrogantly, always keeping to the left, just as students at driving schools are taught to do today.

The samurai had a reason for walking on the left. The swords they wore at their waists usually hung to the left, so they had to walk on the left side of the road in order to be able to draw their swords quickly.

To avoid bumping into samurai and making them angry, the carts and other passersby followed the samurai and kept to the left. Following this tradition, it was decided in 1900 that both pedestrians and vehicles should keep to the left.

In 1950, the rule was changed and required only cars to stay on the left. As automobile use began to grow, pedestrians were shifted to the right. Although lip service is paid to putting pedestrians first, in today's car-obsessed Japan everyone knows that cars, like samurai of old, barge down the roads and force others to get out their way.
Credit:Japan Trivia-Simple Questions Research Association

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