Four things struck me as I returned from a trip to Japan. The first was a car, well nearly. I was crossing the street between Plaza Indonesia and Kempinski on a zebra crossing and it never entered my mind that a car, in clear sight of me, would not stop, having spent a week under the magical spell of the exceptionally disciplined drivers in Tokyo and Kyoto. But he didn’t. In fact, he accelerated and nearly took off my legs. And the following car did the same, and the next eight motorcycles. Where oh where has our discipline, politeness, and care for others gone?! Don’t worry, I’m back in Jakarta mode now, hand up, stare ‘em down. And proceed. Wham! 

The next thing was also traffic-related. And truly amazing. There are virtually no motorcycles on Japanese city roads. I saw three or four in seven days. Why? Because no-one needs them! The mass transport infrastructure is so good, why waste your money? Instead, those smart chaps at Honda and Suzuki sell them to us, maybe 100 million of them, clogging our streets and polluting our air, leaving Tokyo, and Osaka, and Yokohama with quiet streets and clean air. Smart. Why didn’t our government buy their underground system instead?

The third thing that struck me was the complete lack of theft and robbery. People leave things in the street outside their homes knowing no-one will steal them. A girl on the underground had her backpack open unafraid that someone would dip a thieving hand in. It is so refreshing, an honest society. 

The fourth thing that left a great impression on me was the cleanliness. Everywhere is spotless – and there are no waste bins in sight! You have to take your own garbage home (or sneak in to a convenience store!). And backing up the government’s sanitation department are teams of pensioners roaming the streets with tongs picking up trash, even dead leaves. Wow! 

The last thing is something I have written about before but still strikes one as a great idea: allowing cyclists to use the sidewalks/pavements/trotoar, whatever you call them. We have 15m sidewalks on Thamrin and Sudirman then we still steal 3m of much-needed road space for cyclists. Silly. Get them on the payments and put the motorcycles in the cycle lane. Easy. Quick. Cheap. Therefore… it will never be adopted! 

We have so much to learn from disciplined, honest, smart and caring societies. Wouldn’t it be great if all our MPR/DPR/DPRD’s went to look and learn and see what we can adopt here? Starting with what a Zebra Crossing is for!

Alistair Speirs

Alistair Speirs

Alistair has been in the publishing, advertising and PR business for 25 years. He started NOW! Magazines as the region’s preferred community magazine.