Roundabouts: on the road and in life

Whenever you drive in France, you will find them everywhere, especially in the countryside. Europeans are used to roundabouts on the roads, they allow smoother traffic flow and are said to significantly reduce the number of accidents. And when you manage to navigate the one at Charles de Gaulle – Étoile (the famous roundabout around The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, with 10 or so lanes that are not marked), you can consider yourself a professional.

Fragment of the famous roundabout at Charles de Gaulle – Étoile in Paris.

In Japan, you may not see many roundabouts on the roads. For people that are used to clear instructions and following the rules without a need to judge the situation or make a decision, roundabout is something scary.

You are about to enter a roundabout!

Japan introduced the first ones only in late 2014. Most likely it would not have happened if not the 2011 earthquake when due to electricity supply disruptions traffic lights went off. It took three years to study the feasibility, to do a pilot case until Japan finally implemented this “novelty”. The first days were said to have brought confusion and some accidents.

Yet, while there are a number of articles from that period, internet is silent on the progress since then. At the same time I know Japanese, who, when driving in Europe, will take a longer route just to avoid any roundabout on the way.

That’s how roads are built in Japan, one on top of another.

Maybe they lack roundabouts on the road, but you find yourself in one on a daily basis… in life! Someone once said that “straightforward problems can often require a roundabout solution”, and it could not be more true in Japan.

It may take some time for you as a foreigner to start understanding all those circles and how the information is flowing around. Let’s start from a simple thing of finding out someone’s age. In Japan, it is something especially important to clarify as age means status, and the youngest person in the team will get to do various additional tasks, e.g. organize team party, be a representative in the Union and so on. Most likely they will not ask the person directly, but will inquire what is his/her animal (meaning the Chinese zodiac sign).

Similarly, if someone will ask you about your blood type, don’t think it is for medical reasons, but rather to judge about your character and personality.

The same applies in the business world. To find out who is the best person for your question, you may find yourself directed to someone else and spend an hour in a meeting just to find out that the first person was in fact the one to talk to. Even so, these are unwritten rules you cannot skip if you want things to work out eventually.

When in a meeting I suddenly realize that the same people I am talking to in English spoke only Japanese in the previous one, I consider things are moving in a good direction, don’t you think?

The last time in Paris, the taxi to the airport took me right through the roundabout at Charles de Gaulle – Étoile. Maybe I don’t see that in Japan, but what an experience with all the invisible ones!

Just another roundabout in Paris.

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