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Are Traffic Lights Always Green?

When driving in Japan, be sure to stop when the traffic light turns red, and continue driving when the light turns blue. Blue? Well, it’s sort of complicated, but basically the word for "green" in Japanese didn’t exist before the 8th century. Blue and green were considered variations of the same color, known as ao (青). The "go" traffic light is still known as "aoshingō," maintaining the blue connection. Historically, shades of both blue and green were considered, in the language, to be “blue,” and the nuance hasn't been fully integrated into life there-- even though today, there is a word for green. It’s midori (緑). Today, Japan’s traffic lights are actually the bluest shade of green legally permissible.

Blue with envy?

  • Japan is one of the few countries that hasn’t signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals.
  • Linguists believe that words for different colors were slow to evolve in many languages. Words originated to distinguish between dark and light, becoming variations of “black” and “white.” Red usually came next.
  • Driving in Japan is definitely a challenge. Narrow, crooked streets sometimes end without warning. Which driver has the right-of-way is often unclear, and the Japanese seem to have an affinity for reverse parking.
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