Japanese pedestrian crossings

When I first arrived in Japan, one of the first things that caught my attention were the pedestrian crossings. In Japan, when the pedestrian traffic lights turn green, they turn green for all directions at once. Car traffic from every direction is stopped. This enables the pedestrians to cross the intersection in whatever direction they want, including diagonally. It was such an odd view to see pedestrians walking over the middle of an intersection.

Japanese pedestrian crossing Toyota City
I took this picture of a pedestrian crossing in Toyota City on the very first day of my stay in Japan. From the hotel I had an excellent view of this crossing and I was amazed to see everyone crossing at once and walking over the middle of the intersection.

A little research taught me that this kind of intersection is called a ‘scramble crossing’ in Japan (スクランブル交差点 sukuranburu-kōsaten). I also learned that it is not unique to Japan and is also known as an ‘x crossing’ or a ‘diagonal crossing’. They are, however, ubiquitous in Japan. I have never seen one in Belgium.

I took me some time to get used to these Japanese scramble crossings. Walking over the middle of an intersection, I kept feeling apprehensive about oncoming cars. But once I got used it, it gave a real sense of freedom!

After I had gotten used to the pedestrian crossings in Toyota City (a small provincial city), and even those in Nagoya (Japan’s fourth largest city), I had another shock when I visited Tokyo and saw the Shibuya pedestrian crossing. That intersection takes scramble crossings to a whole other level. Shibuya pedestrian crossing is the busiest scramble crossing in Japan.

shibuya pedestrian crossing
People waiting to cross at Shibuya pedestrian crossing
shibuya pedestrian crossing
The crossing in full swing at Shibuya pedestrian crossing

Please take a look at this video I shot looking out over Shibuya pedestrian crossing. I took it from inside the Shibuya Starbucks and it really shows how impressive this crossing is. At the end of the video, you might also notice some people hurriedly crossing while the light is already red. This blatant rule breaking once again shows that Japanese people are human too, contrary to popular belief in the West.


9 thoughts on “Japanese pedestrian crossings

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  1. i agree. the first time i witnessed it in person i found it to be a bit disorientating, yet interesting at the same time. one can’t help but to take a pic.

  2. I think the scramble crossing is a good safety measure for busy intersections, since there will be no confusion as to which pedestrians can cross. I haven’t seen any in the US that I can recall, but I think they would be useful and safer for large cities.

    1. Totally agree. In Belgium, where we have a lot of bicycle traffic, it would also be very useful. When crossing an intersection, I am often almost run over by cars making a right turn who are not aware of the green light for bycicles.

  3. Just this past week I read an article on The Asahi about how many people may be crossing the Shibuya intersection at any given time. Apparently no one has any hard stats which was one of the findings of this article.

  4. We have one in the city I live in. I think it’s genius! That way you don’t have to wait for 2 light cycles to got to where you need to be, you just cross diagonally.

  5. We have at least one of these (the first one) in Central London (Oxford Circus) and I think I have seen another one as well but can’t recall where. Certainly not elsewhere in the UK outside of London

    1. I read on Wikipedia that they also exist in The Netherlands but I had never heard of or seen one before I went to Japan. From Wikipedia I got the impression that they are mostly used in English-speaking countries like the USA, Canada, Australia, etc. And other than that, Japan as well.

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