TOKYO TRAFFIC: From the Memoir of Aunt Carolyn

Sightseeing in Tokyo
My husband's Aunt, Carolyn T. Arnold, traveled to Japan in the 1960's and 70's as the leader of a tour group. Here is her description of the challenges of traffic in Tokyo. Although she took many photos during her years of traveling, some, including many of Japan, were on film that deteriorated.The above photo is one of ours from our trip to Tokyo in 1995.

Traffic in Tokyo is a nightmare. If you think State Street in Chicago during rush hour is crazy, try a taxi ride in Tokyo. The Japanese drive on the left side of the street. The new thoroughfares are wide and straight in the heart of the city and are marked in lanes like ours. Most taxis are compact size; a large taxi costs more. It appears that drivers either have not learned to stay in their lanes or maybe because the cars are small, the drivers think two cars can drive in one lane. One day one of my group who was sitting on the left shrieked as a “kamikaze” driver whizzed past us allowing only a few millimeters for passing.

Pedestrians in Japan, crossing a street where signals are few, may land on the doorstep of the Imperial Palace before they are aware of what hit them. There is a correct way for a person to cross the street. Often one will find a tin receptacle about the size of a three-pound coffee can nailed to a light post at a street crossing. A person wishing to cross the street takes a yellow flag from the container, steps off the curb, and waves the flag wildly as he crosses the street. All traffic comes to a grinding, scre-e-ching halt. The pedestrian then crosses and deposits the flag in the container on the other side of the street. It takes guts to step onto the street in front of oncoming trucks and cars. Peter, our youngest member, dared me to be the first one to lead the way. However, he decided he wanted to be first, so we followed safely behind him.

Each day we had the same driver for sightseeing tours. To mark our bus from many other tourist buses, we used the name of our tour “Brownell World Tour” and posted it on the windsheild. On one tour the sign painter apparently did not read English very well. He confused my name with the tour name so each day there was a different spelling on the windshield, much to the amusement of the group. One day it was “Caryn Round Tour.” We all laughed about our renamed tour. The next day the sign read “Around Caryn Tour.” It became an exciting serial to see what it would be next. On the last day, the sign was spelled correctly, and we all applauded.

Perhaps the original intrepid tourist was Carolyn Arnold, my husband’s aunt.  A single school teacher in Des Moines, she began traveling abroad when she was in her forties, beginning with a bicycling trip through Ireland in 1950.  She went on from there to spend a year as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Wales, to more trips to Europe and beyond, and eventually became a tour leader, taking all her nieces and nephews (including Art) on her travels.  When she retired from teaching, she wrote of her experiences in a memoir called Up and Down and Around the World with Carrie.  Today, as I read of her travels, I marvel at her spirit of adventure at a time when women did not have the independence they do today.

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