Jaywalking’s For Suckers: My Reinvention as a Law-Abiding Citizen

Jaywalking’s For Suckers: My Reinvention as a Law-Abiding Citizen

Is there a Jaywalking law in New York?  If there is, it must be unenforced and antiquated like some forgotten 19th century proclamation prohibiting women from riding a Penny Farthing on Sundays. The law, so far as I have ever been concerned, is that you cross the street whenever there is the slightest chance that you will not be crushed to death by a car.  And I mean slight.  If a driver hesitates, you go!  Fuck you for hesitating, I got places to go and people to meet!  I, like most New Yorkers, are born anarchists — spiteful of all that exists to hamper our freedoms, our revered individuality and our ability to get to wherever we want with acuity.

To my great surprise, I have been re-born in Tokyo as a deeply law-abiding person.  I have fully embraced waiting to cross the street until the light changes.  If a street is empty, I summon up all my patience (saying to myself…this is stupid, this is wasting my time, why am I standing here?)  and…wait.  I stop my bike at every light no matter if there is not a car on the horizon and…wait. Call it conformity, which it totally is,  but I am seeing a logic in the social standards of behavior.  Everybody waits at the light here. Older people actually get off their bikes to wait for those few minutes.  Of course there are exceptions. My mother-in-law occasionally gets a mischievous look in her eyes, and zips across an empty street (and like a the prim, Victorian maiden I have become, I have a moment of grave consternation before following her — after all you really don’t want your mother-in-law to think you’re a pussy).

People also don’t litter here.  Smokers generally don’t walk down the street smoking (and when they do smoke in an “un-official” smoking space, they use a portable ashtray!).  Chewing gum often comes with little papers to dispose of the waste.  People line up at the subways so as to get on and off the train in an orderly — and timely! — fashion.  On escalators, people organize themselves on the left (to ride) and on the right (to walk).   Huge masses of people — far more than New York — manage to move through train stations, cross-walks, narrow lanes with ease and organization all based on a general social contract.  When I came back to New York after my first prolonged trip to Tokyo, I left my apartment — then at the corner of W. Broadway and Canal Street — and it all looked like such utter chaos that I got distracted and, for the first time in my life, got bumped right in the ass by a cab.

I am new here — as foreign as I could be to this culture and to these people — so that order, that mindfulness of the social contract, has a soothing, almost meditative effect on me.   To not have to face the anarchistic and  (and often enjoyably)  confrontational daily life of New York has been a joy. I am relishing the lack of stress and the fact that trains come on time.

For now, that is.  I know there is a flip-side.  There is a reason my wife and so many young Japanese spread to all the great cities of the world: that social contract, that social pressure can become stultifying, a subtle constriction of individualism that, when compounded by years and years, can feel like a terrifying conformity.

While I may go crazy in a year and run naked through the streets, I am keeping up the social contract in my new Tokyo life because I don’t want to be responsible for causing the whole delicate thing to collapse.  Maybe (in my deeply egocentric thought process) If I don’t wait at the light, then someone else follows my lead and pretty soon garbage is piling up in the streets, people are pissing on cars and crackheads are stealing phones from old ladies on the train i.e. I’d be right back in New York.

So, for now, I stand at the cross-walk — not a car in sight — as law-abiding and meek as I can be.  And with great disapproval I give a quiet click of my tongue, as a young, Japanese teenager, cigarette in hand, lovingly breaks the Jaywalking law and imagines he is free.






One Reply to “Jaywalking’s For Suckers: My Reinvention as a Law-Abiding Citizen”

  1. I agree with you 100% on this. My friends love to contrast the differences between “NY Kenny” and “Japanese Kenny”. “NY Kenny” would rock a boombox on the subway (occasionally) and on the streets of NYC without a blink of an eye, and was once told , “I knew you got to the bar before me because I could hear you halfway down the block ” ( it was winter). “Japanese Kenny” is quiet, respectful and doesn’t talk on trains. He waits patiently on the (left side of) escalators, waits at street crossings for the walk sign, even in the dead of night, (unless a Nihon-jin goes, then I follow) and always uses an umbrella! (for the record, umbrellas are for suckers in NYC.. especially if you’re 6’3”)

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