I’ve had several culture shocks since coming to Japan, but one of the most shocking ones was about the color of the traffic light. It is clearly green, but in Japan they call it a “blue” light. At first, I thought that maybe Japanese people cannot distinguish between different colors.
Through this “blue light issue”, i learned a valuable lesson. It is important to understand the Japanese culture by putting aside any stereotypes or ideas that I have.
When I came back to Japan to live here, I realized that the Japanese people around me were calling the green light “blue light” instead. In US we call it a “green light”, so obviously I thought it would be the same in Japan, but for some reason it was different. I’ve asked my Japanese friends, but I was not able to get a convincing answer.
When the traffic lights were first introduced to Japan in the 1930’s, the official name was “green light”. However, the newspaper articles introduced them as “blue light”, and because of that this way of calling it became more popular.
In Japan many things that are green are described as being blue. “Aona(blue vegetables)”, “Aoba(blue leaves)”, “very blue(referring to how green things are)” are used to describe things that are green. Looking back on history, up until the Heian period the colors blue and green were treated as the same. The ancient Japanese culture distinguished between 4 colors: Red, White, Black, and Blue. Blue was used to describe colors between Black and White. Because of that, blue and green are both described as being “blue”, and this practice still remains with us today.
When you understand history, we can understand why we have the culture we have today! I’d like to continue to share the funny and wonderful culture of Japan!
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