Somewhere in Japan

Dispatch № 114: Reflections on Narrow Streets

They’re everywhere you would expect them to be—in bathrooms, fitting rooms, and all the other usual places. But they also watch over intersections and stand guard at the ends of driveways. Sometimes in hallways, too, up by where the wall and ceiling meet.

While I have no way of proving it, my suspicion is that Japan has more of these, per capita, than any other country on the planet: mirrors.

In particular, it’s the profusion of convex mirrors used for safety purposes that really gets the overall number up.

In a country with so many blind corners and tight intersections on narrow roads, these help people avoid collisions. Visibility is also further reduced at many intersections because, in many neighborhoods, there are no sidewalks. Garden walls sit right at the property line. Compared to areas with sidewalks, lines of sight are more restricted, for which the mirrors help compensate.

Similarly, they help people safely exit their narrow driveways and, when used in busy train stations and office buildings, reduce the incidence of humans running headlong into one another as they rush from place to place.

They are so common that their ubiquity leads to them blending into the landscape. You don’t really realize just how many there are unless you specifically pay attention to them.

For example: I went for a short photo walk after work last night. I covered about one kilometer. In that distance, I passed at least a dozen of these mirrors. I say at least because I almost certainly missed at least one or two. But even if I didn’t miss any, it works out to one mirror about every eighty meters.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot, but they add up. In my city alone, there are thousands of them.

But for all their numbers, and despite their capacity to help improve safety, some people don’t appear to pay any attention to them, wildly rounding corners on bicycles and merging with traffic without a thought about what may be headed their way. And it is, unfortunately, mostly people on bicycles (which I, as a cyclist, hate to admit).

Oh well. Regardless of how well drivers and others utilize them, it remains that they are a major feature along Japanese roads, and something that differentiates this place from everywhere else I have lived.

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