City-walking is both an art and a science. As any seasoned city-walker knows (I’m looking at you, New York), success depends on an endless stream of complex crowd-motion algorithms executed with the balletic grace of Neo slow-dodging bullets. Like a persistent spermatazoa wriggling for the egg, we city-walkers waggle, chicane, and drive our way through the crowds of human dreck that litter our path.
However in Japan, more specifically in Tokyo, all those fancy commutation computations may be rendered inert by a single oblivious breed.
Everybody knows there are two (or more) lanes on the sidewalk, just as there are on the highway. One side is for the slow-walkers, the other for overtaking. Extreme over-takers may even cross the meridian (into the road) and dash along its vertiginous contours like Lewis and Clark trail-blazing the New World (battling with taxis pulling in on a dime and ditzy cyclists traveling contra-flow). Of course sometimes you get clashes in the fast lane as two alpha road-dogs vie for passing pole position, with whatever clattering of suit-cases that may entail. Likewise in the slow lane you often get into an uncomfortable sync with other idlers and slackers, fating you to overhear their inane conversations or suffer the insistent clop of their footfalls at your heels (stalker much?), unless you are willing to take the extraordinary action of either giddying up (AKA going up a gear) to pass or slugging down to let them escape your gravity well.
But those are minor issues of decorum. On the whole the unwritten system works, and people respect the lanes. Except for the moon-eyed walk-in-fronter.
This oblivious breed has no respect for the lane system- perhaps has never even heard of it. They wander along like fluffy clouds blown on the breeze, straddling lanes at random, perhaps contemplating the nature of the universe or more likely halting mid-stream to window-shop from a distance- backing up the ambulatory flow and prompting much teeth-grating ire.
I have to be somewhere!
I often wonder how such people can be so oblivious. They’re not consciously impolite or even rude- grunt or toss them a quick ‘sumimasen’ and they’ll likely bolt from your path like rabbits before a steam-roller. They’re just so caught up in their own existence they don’t notice the oncoming traffic. If they were wild animals I guess they’d be road-kill. Still, there seems something perpetually innocent about the walk-in-fronter. Their carefree roamings, like the wilderbeest upon the plain, speak of a world where there are no natural predators, where the long and cradling arm of public civility guards them in all they do.
Other breeds of the walk-in-fronter include:
– the waiting-for-my-frienders who clump and bottle-neck at subway station entrances
– the arm-in-arm-couplers who steadfastly refuse to notice they are filling the whole pavement
– the salariman-phalanx who press ranks as tightly as the Roman ‘testudo’, either too drunk or too giddily chasing their boss to notice they’re corking the way
However, it’s not all as bad as this.
There is a way to hack the walk-in-fronter’s oblivious ‘tude, besides the obvious move of bypassing the pavement by looking for carhire . You can exploit this hack with truly minimal effort, and the great news is it works in any kind of restrained space. You don’t even need to throw a cough, loud foot-step (an advanced skill, admittedly), or even stretch to a ‘sumimasen’, as long as you’re prepared to do a little prep in advance.
One key thing to note here- Japan is a country of pavement-bicyclists. At first this can take some getting used to- for me coming from the UK it felt like I was in some holiday resort, since cycling on the pavement is pretty much illegal back home. However it does breed in a certain attenuation to the cha-ring of a bicycle bell (most notably of the noble beast ‘mama-chari’).
Watch and learn, gaikoku (and don’t miss the end of the video where the hack-troll shows the exploit still working on escalators and even in a conveni).
For a great article on general fast-laning strategies- see here.