Living in the United States, I see many American pedestrians ignore crosswalk signals regardless of their ages. Even if a signal shows red, they do not stop walking and cross an intersection, whereas the average Japanese stops until the sign turns no matter if there is a car. Furthermore, quite a few people cross the road when they are not in a crosswalk. This is one cultural shock many Japanese experience in other countries.
Are Americans risk-takers?
Some Japanese might think that Americans lack common sense.
While I contemplated this phenomenon, several reasons came to mind.
Firstly, everyone should know that obeying rules is generally safer than breaking them. Most Japanese people abhor needless risks. If I recognize that there is 0.1% chance of danger, I will not take a risk unless there is a worthwhile benefit. (But actually I will categorize myself as a risk-taker.) Japanese people believe in the proverb, “More haste, less speed.” We know that only one mistake can wreck our lives. Be conservative and stay safe. It is true that the Japanese are more conservative than others, but I do not think this is the only reason why we embrace such strict adherence to rules.
Secondly, if you do not obey signals in Japan, you will be blamed for violating conformity. Ignoring a road signal is seen as a kind of a petty offense even for a pedestrian. We have been repeatedly taught to obey rules, including road signals, by parents and teachers since we were young. Keep up with ethics. A moral hazard can be so susceptible that it ruins the entire society. Such social pressure makes people stay obedient, and actually I feel ashamed when I go against a red light in Japan. In the US, on the other hand, no one except a honking driver blames you when you cross the road during a red light.
Some Americans say, “Drivers are watching us, so we are safe.” What? Are you a child? What a selfish idea! I believe that Japanese people always try not make others upset. This will eventually help keep you out of trouble. When you offend another person, you might be offended as well, which is not a good strategy to survive in an enclosed community such as Japan. A driver is no different. We obey road rules because we do not want to offend drivers, too. As a consequence, drivers trust pedestrians, and a society becomes more orderly.
A final perspective is that God is always watching you. Do I believe in God? I do not know, and I do not have a specific religion. But we have to admit that we are confined in these sort of beliefs. For instance, before and after eating, we always thank nature and living creatures. We admire the elderly and pray for ancestors. We visit temples and shrines. We never depreciate “penny” coins, as some Americans do so, because it will incur divine punishment. We, therefore, may think that ignoring crossroad signals is an immoral behavior, which might make God unhappy. This kind of belief implicitly affects our daily life. In other words, it is a relief in Japan that we obey this rule and persevere the unwilling red-signaled time at a crosswalk.
Do you stop at a red light?