The roads and road rules of Japan have been observed and shared by Belinda Cassidy who has recently returned from Japan.

I have recently returned from three weeks in Japan. One week was spent hiking along a part of the old Imperial Highway between Tokyo and Kyoto (120 kms of the old Nakasendo Way) through forests and Japanese towns and villages. This was followed by two weeks in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. I last visited Japan in 1985 as the recipient of a Japan Airlines Scholarship which involved me attending a summer school at Tokyo University. I regret that it has been 34 years since that trip and plan to return to do the next great Japanese walk, the Kumano Kodo.

All drivers in Japan must have third party insurance and carry the documentation in the glove compartment when driving. Interestingly, tourists must carry their passport with them at all times.

In the rural areas and country villages the roads were incredibly narrow and most of the cars were tiny. In Japan they have the kei car, a car with an engine output below 660cc which attracts certain exemptions, registration and insurance savings and one third of new car sales involve these k-cars. They are cute and can park in the smallest of spaces.

The rural areas and country villages generally have footpaths which are narrow (30 – 60 cm wide) and flush with the road but these footpaths are painted if they are within a kilometre of child care facilities or schools which enhances road safety.

Speed limits tend to be lower in Japan usually 80-110 km/h on expressways, 50 to 60 km/h on out-of-town national roads and 30-40 km/h in urban areas.

There is a zero tolerance to drinking and driving, that is you cannot drink at all if you are going to drive.

Readers may recall a blog from earlier this year about mobile phones and driver distraction – I caught several taxis with TV screens on the back of the headrest and many more with a TV screen mounted on the dash between the driver and the front seat passenger. While I was in Japan, the government introduced new road rules and steeper fines (¥25,000) for those driving whilst on their mobile phones as a reaction to an increasing number of road fatalities caused by drivers on their phones.

Japan appears to have a lower road fatality rate than Australia (4.1 vs 5.6 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants and 5.7 vs 7.4 death per 100,000 vehicles).[1] In 2018, the Japanese road toll fell by 162 or 4.4% to 3,532 hitting the lowest level since records commenced in 1948.[2]

One of the things I remembered from Japan in 1985 that is still present today is the incredible politeness of the Japanese people. I noticed there was not a lot of tooting of horns. I also fell in love again with the high speed trains (oh for a Shinkansen to link Sydney with Newcastle, Wollongong and Orange) and marvelled at the cleanliness of public lavatories (although I will never, ever get used to the whizz bang gadgetry of the toilets).

[1]Statistics from 2016 published on Wikipedia

[2] https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/01/05/national/japan-traffic-deaths-hit-record-low-2018/#.XajwmC1L1Yc

Written by Belinda Cassidy

Belinda Cassidy holds the position of Special Counsel at Stacks Goudkamp. She had previously held the position of Principal Claims Assessor at the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) for 18 years, and currently holds an appointment as a Claims Assessor under the Motor Accidents Compensation Act.