Have you ever wondered, why does Japan have blue traffic lights? One thing that will catch your attention while you are traveling around the country is their traffic lights. We always notice that in our own country, the red light means “stop”, the yellow light means “wait”, and the green light means “go”. In Japan, it is very different.
Aside from having the opposite right-way of direction, Japan having blue traffic lights has a rich history within. In this post, we will unveil the reasons why they use blue traffic lights without having to go against the traffic law. While we’re at it, we can also learn small details about the Japanese language because of this topic.
Linguistic Quirk: Four Basic Colors of the Japanese Language
Hundreds of years ago, Japanese people only used four basic colors. They use black(Kuro, 黒、くろ)for black color. They use white(Shiroi, しろい、白い)for white color. They use red(aka, 赤, あか)for warm hues. They use blue(ao, 青, あお)for cold hues.
Because of this, the many colors we used to know such as orange, violet, and pink will be distinguished as red or blue depending on the closest shade of the color. For example, green(Midori, 緑、みどり、sprout) will be called blue(ao, 青、あお、blue) because it has a shade closest to the blue, not red.
It is not the wiring, it is the way they call the color. So when a vendor says “ao Ringo(あお リンゴ)”、blue apple, it means green apple. This rule will also apply to “ao yasai (青 やさい)”, or “ao nori(青のり)” (green vegetable and green seaweed respectively). On the contrary, foreign people originally say “it’s a go” when the green light appears, but Japanese people say, “It’s a go” when blue light appears.
Calling the color green blue was used as of 794-1185 of the Late Heian Period. To sum up, green plus blue will be called “grue” or “bleen”.
Using Blue Traffic Lights Abiding International Traffic Law
Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, which is an international treaty about traffic laws, specifies that traffic lights must be red, amber or yellow, and green. Japan(along with the US) which is one of the countries that hasn’t signed with the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, preserve their language, arts, and history while following the international law about traffic lights.
In the 1930s, traffic lights were introduced in Japan, specifically at Hibiya Crossing. This time, using green lights in traffic is a common practice. However, as a first-world country who cherishes history, they must also put a solution to the conflict between linguists’ ideas and international traffic laws, satisfying both parties.
Did you know?
In Japan, they use the color green on the pedestrian signal. This signal on traffic has a light image of a green person walking. Along with this is a quack sound like that of a duck. This indicates that pedestrian can proceed to cross the street, according to Traffic Safety Guidelines for Pedestrians and Cyclists 歩行者と自転車のための日本における交通安全ガイド.
Japanese Government Solution Regarding Usage Of Green Traffic Lights
How did they ace it? Japan uses the bluest shade of green traffic lights legally possible. This way, the Japanese history of calling green blue will continue(Japanese culture and language) while abiding by the rules of using green traffic lights worldwide.
Even though foreigners are used to seeing green traffic lights for “go signal” as green, what foreign visitors see while in Japan is blue, teal, turquoise or aqua. But for the Japanese people, it is the bluest shade of green(grue or bleen according to linguists), calling it “ao” or blue.
Vision Test on getting a driver’s license includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue- not green, according to Atlas Obscura.
Because the color green doesn’t exist in the country before the 8th century, Japan uses blue traffic lights today. Instead of using green, they use the bluest shade of green as legally as possible. Instead of calling it green as foreign visitors do, Japanese people call it blue or “ao”.
To learn more about the Japanese language, we recommend you study in Japan and also use the must-have language apps for first-time visitors in Japan. This way, you will not only learn the reasons why Japan has blue traffic lights, you will also enjoy traveling Japan while learning their language.
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