One Way Japanese Drivers Are Polite

[GIF via Prince Kevin]

I've been driving in Japan for over 15 years now. One of the things that always resonates is how polite people are on the road, especially the way drivers say thanks with their hazard lights.

I don't think this practice is unique to Japan. It probably isn't. While living in the US, however, I never did it and don't recall seeing others do it. But being able to thank others and be thanked, certainly makes the roads a more cordial place.

Japanese society is often, but not always, quite mannered, so it would make sense that the motorways are, too. For example, cars often heed the right of way to faster vehicles as not to get into their way.

But the most common way drivers in Japan communicate is through what's called the "thank you hazard" (サンキューハザード or sankyuu hazaado).

It's used after another driver lefts you in or lets you pass as an expression of gratitude. It can also be a way to apologise after you suddenly want to change lanes, and another driver, maybe begrudgingly, lets you cut in.

If your lane is blocked and you need to get over briefly and then return to the lane, you'd probably say a quick thanks with your hazard lights.

Traffic News (via NicoNico News) recently interviewed a driving instructor surnamed Tanaka from Fuji Driving School in Tokyo, and according to the instructor, the "thank you hazard" isn't taught to students. Everybody does it on the road, so people adapt the practice naturally.

But how did the practice begin in Japan? According to Tanaka, drivers in cars would open their windows wave to express gratitude. That's more difficult for truckers, who would flash their hazard lights instead, and that's how Tanaka thinks the practice spread in Japan.


    Always used to give people a wave to say thanks in Australia, but over here in the US no one does that at all. Suspect they may be the outlier.

    Watch Australian truck drivers when another truck overtakes them. The truck being overtaken flashes their high beams to let the overtaker know the end of his trailer is clear and is OK to move back into the left lane.
    This gesture is ALWAYS repaid with a courteous toggle of left, right, left indicator by the overtaker.
    I think it's something regular drivers should adapt rather than the hazard light trick in Japan. Save the hazards for true emergencies (eg. Break down or heavy fog driving).
    Also noticing a slow return of the courtesy wave for letting in merging traffic. Even in Sydney of all places!
    (AKA the home of the self centred, oblivious, text-while-driving, lemming capital of Australia).

      Sydney the home of that? Clearly you've never driven in South Australia.

        Clearly neither of you have driven in Canberra.

          Clearly not. Everyone who has ever driven in Canberra knows that:
          A) Canberrans can't merge.
          B) If someone merges, they're met with a middle finger salute from the person behind.

      I'd say, a thank you for letting in merging traffic is polite.
      But... it's the law!
      "Give Way to merging traffic"
      For anyone reading this who is learning to drive. It is harder for the merger to do a head-check and take their eyes off what's in front of them. Than for the mergee to simply slow down and let them in.

    I've seen the whole hazard flash thing done in quite a few countries, but I feel indicators should be used for indicating and hazards. For the most part, a wave is good enough.

    Japanese politeness on the road doesn't make up for the general lack of competence, though. The standards for earning a license are ridiculous and driving anywhere in Greater Tokyo is fucking scary. Not because people are aggressive, or rude. But because they aren't very good at things like hazard perception and positioning.

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