About 35% of all the countries drive on the left and Japan is one of them. But do you know why Japan keep to the left while there are many other countries that keep to the right? There’s a reason and an interesting history behind it.
During the Edo period (1603-1868) in Japan
Historically, almost everyone in the world travelled on the left side of the road/street because most people are right-handed, and that was the same in Japan. During the Edo period in Japan when still many Samurais were there, people had to follow the strict rule to keep to the left side.
They preferred that way to have their right arm closer to an opponent/passenger and swords and scabbard away from him. In that way, it reduced the chance of the scabbard hitting each other, that could spark a fight. Most streets in Japan are very narrow so keeping to the left rule back then makes sense to avoid unnecessary conflict.
How did keep-to-the-right rule come up?
For the same kind of reason, people naturally kept the left side in other countries as well.But things changed in the late 1700s in France and the United States where people started carrying farm products in wagons pulled by horses. The drivers of the wagons sat on the left so that they could hit the horses with their whips using their right hand. Because they had to stay on the left side to control horses, they wanted people to walk on the left while keeping wagons to the right side of the road to make sure they kept clear of the coming passengers or wagons.
Later, Napoleon conquered many countries and spreaded this custom. However, countries that went against him, such as Britain, registered to follow this rule and they kept the left side. Britain made the left side driving mandatory in 1835, and countries that were colonized by Britain followed suit.
But Japan was never part of the British Empire and we keep to the left to this date. Why is that?
During the Meiji period (1868-1912) in Japan
When Japan entered the Meiji period, Samurais were not there anymore. Japan was trying to catch up with the advanced technology and industries in other countries overseas. Japanese government was especially interested in Britain and its infrastructure. Japan’s first railway was introduced from Britain in 1872. Because the technology came from there, railways and roads were constructed accordingly. In 1924, left-side driving became an official law in Japan.
Okinawa, the southernmost part of Japan, was once ruled by the United States and made to drive on the right side until it was returned to Japan in 1978. It changed back to the left side driving and people drive on the left side in all parts of Japan now.
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