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News A plea for more roundabouts in Japan


Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
They are rare in Japan. And not very popular: there are only 140 roundabouts all across Japan. In the lead, Miyagi Prefecture with 25, followed by Aichi Prefecture with 11 roundabouts. There are nine in Nagano and eight in Shizuoka, but only a few are in each of the other prefectures. There are two locations in Tokyo, Tama and Musashimurayama, far from the city centre.


In Japanese, they are called ラウンドアバウト, consisting of a 中央島 (chūō-jima, the island in the centre) and 環道 (kando, the ring road).

While common in the US and Europe since the 1990s, they only started to appear in Japan in 2014. Yahoo News looked at the pros and cons of roundabouts:

  • Eco-friendly (no traffic signal required)
  • No maintenance
  • Less CO2 emissions
  • Fewer accidents (as drivers will pay more attention and decrease their speed)
  • According to the article: more beautiful

  • Space: overcrowded Japanese towns often don't offer sufficient space to implement roundabouts.
  • Complicated road crossing for pedestrians
  • In case of heavy traffic, further congestion

The most important for Japan, according to the author of the Yahoo article, is to overcome psychological resistance to the unknown. I'd love to see more roundabouts and fewer intersections with traffic signals in Japan. :)


Roundabout in Okinawa (photo credit: MERKMAL)
They've been used in the UK for as long as many people can remember, decades. I've talked about them to my adult students in English lessons in Japan, some saying they're dangerous but what he really meant was "I've never used one and don't quite understand what to do".

A con you mentioned in your initial post which I'd argue against somewhat as being a con, is:
  • In case of heavy traffic, further congestion
This isn't necessarily true. A lot depends on the road system design further down the roadways that you exit the round-a-bout onto. The round-a-bouts themselves should aid a smoother flow of traffic even at peak times without the need for traffic lights. This is the basic idea of them however if after navigating yourself around the round-a-bout and exit onto a stretch of road that hasn't been thought through properly, such as instantly hitting traffic lights, you will absolutely get a backup of traffic to the round-a-bout at peak times if volume is high enough and often, roun-a-bouts are blamed but incorrectly so. Think, tanks are no good without infantry support....round-a-bouts are no good without wider municipal planning.

Japan really needs more round-a-bout systems where possible with future plans. Enough of the grid and lights systems that do nothing but generate stress.

Thumbs up for round-a-bouts!
I saw this doing the rounds (rimshot) on another site, with the caption basically saying "we don't want these here", and I was surprised by this reaction too. Of all the things to reject without trying, why would people have any reluctance or fear towards roundabouts? I mean, it must be almost entirely due to, as @Eigo says above, "I've never used one and don't quite understand what to do". I might rephrase that to "I've never used one, and therefore its scary".
There were zero roundabouts here until about 20 years ago. Now there are too many to count. The biggest controversy that I'm aware of is that idiots who designed some of the first ones didn't include any pedestrian crossings or traffic lights so they were taken to court and had to put them in later.
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