Flashing Lights in my Rear-View Mirror
A standard Japanese police car
Standard Japanese Police Car

This evening while driving in Kyoto, I looked in my rear-view mirror and noticed a police car coming up behind me with its lights a'flashing. It pulled up right behind me.

I then did something that would probably freak out most Americans: I ignored it.

I didn't pull over to let it get around (or to stop and talk to me). I didn't speed up, but I didn't stop, either. I just ignored it.

When traffic caused me to stop at an intersection, he just stopped behind me. I listened to music on my iPod (I think it was Céline Dion's “O Holy Night,” which must be the best rendition of any Christmas song, ever.) When the light turned green, I went ahead and the police car (with lights flashing) turned to a side street.

It still takes some getting used to, but police in Japan often leave their flashing lights on while doing their normal patrols — it's only the siren that means “pull over” or “get out of the way.”

In America, the flashing red lights of an emergency vehicle (e.g. fire truck, ambulance, police car) or the flashing blue lights of a law-enforcement vehicle are piercing sights that immediately grab the attention (especially if first seen in the rear-view mirror!). Lights have no such special meaning here. Heck, you can mount a red flashing light on your car or motorcycle if you want. I've seen plenty of motorcycles that at first glance seem indistinguishable from a police motorcycle... I have to really look at the rider (e.g. for gun-shaped holster) to know whether it's a police officer (so I know whether to slow down 🙂 )

Also freaky, at least for an American, is that garbage trucks here tend to have blue flashing lights, exactly the same color as an American police car's. I've not yet been pulled over by a garbage truck, though.

One comment so far...

So I listened to Celine Dion’s “Oh Holy Night”:

— comment by Anne on September 2nd, 2012 at 4:40pm JST (9 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink
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