Walking isn’t just a mode of transportation in Japan; it’s a deeply embedded cultural practice. The Japanese often walk more than 10,000 steps a day, a habit supported by a range of socio-economic and environmental factors. This culture has not only influenced Japan’s urban design but also contributed to the health and well-being of its people.
The Health Connection
Kyoto University recently conducted a groundbreaking study that delved into the walking habits of 4,165 individuals aged 65 or older in Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture. The research monitored their activities over four years, starting from 2013.
The findings were striking. Mortality rates due to heart and vascular abnormalities, such as myocardial and cerebral infarctions, declined by 8.1% for those walking one or two days and 8.4% for those walking three to seven days a week. This highlighted the tangible health benefits of regular walking, echoing the results of numerous previous studies.
The Culture of Walking: A Deep Dive
Beyond health implications, walking in Japan is a multifaceted phenomenon, influenced by various factors:
- Pedestrian-Friendly Facilities: Urban design in Japan prioritizes pedestrian comfort. Sidewalks are mostly flat and free from obstacles. Traffic regulations are rigorously followed, with citizens crossing only at designated areas. Interestingly, resting areas are rare, reflecting a society constantly on the move.
- High Taxi Fares: The preference for walking over taxis is often due to the high taxi fares. In Tokyo, taxi costs start at approximately 500 yen (around Rp 56,000) for the first 1,096 meters, making walking or public transport more economical options.
- Subtropical Climate: Japan’s four distinct seasons offer a variety of walking experiences. Spring, in particular, offers comfortable temperatures for outdoor activities. Compared to places like Jakarta, Japan’s weather can be more favorable for walking.
- Clean and Unobstructed Sidewalks: Sidewalks are solely for pedestrians. Unlike many other places, one won’t find street vendors occupying these spaces.
- Safety and Respect: The absence of catcalling or inappropriate gestures enhances the sense of security and comfort for all, especially women. It’s a reflection of the broader societal norms that prioritize respect and dignity.
Additional Insights into Japanese Walking Culture
- Integration with Public Transportation: Japan’s public transportation system is world-renowned for its efficiency. The integration of walking paths with public transport encourages walking as part of the daily commute.
- Promotion of Walking: Various campaigns and initiatives actively promote walking. From walking tours to health challenges, walking is celebrated as both recreation and a means to better health.
- Historical Perspective: The tradition of walking has historical roots in Japan. From pilgrimages to cultural practices, walking has long been integral to Japanese life.
- Environmental Benefits: The preference for walking reduces car usage, contributing to lower pollution levels. It’s a practice that aligns with Japan’s commitment to environmental sustainability.
- Economic Factors: Japan’s economic dynamics also play a role. For many, especially in densely populated urban areas, owning a car is not practical. High parking fees, congestion charges, and expensive fuel make walking an attractive option.
Walking in Japan is more than just a means to an end. It is a complex interplay of health, urban design, societal norms, history, economics, and environmental considerations. The culture of walking has shaped Japan’s urban landscapes and contributed to the well-being and longevity of its people.
It’s an inspiring case study for the world, demonstrating how simple daily practices can have profound impacts on the broader fabric of society. The Japanese culture of walking is not merely about getting from point A to point B; it’s a pathway to a healthier, more respectful, and harmonious way of living.