The Weird Reason Why Traffic Lights In Japan Are Blue Instead Of Green

If you’ve ever been to Japan, you would have definitely noticed something very weird about the traffic lights: the signal for “go” is blue, not green.

Since 1968 when the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, the international treaty that basically standardized traffic signals, went into effect, pretty much every country uses the same colors: green for go, red for stop and yellow for caution. Japan however, is an exception. 

But the reason why they ended up using blue instead of green is quite interesting. (the article continues after the ad)

It all has to do with the language. You see, many years ago, the Japanese language didn’t have a word for green – if you wanted to describe something that was green in color you had to use the word for blue, “ao”. That thing worked pretty well till the word for green was added to the language, “midori”.

Up until that time, traffic lights in Japan were green – that is normal green; as green a green can be. However, Japan’s official documents were still describing the “go” signals as ao rather than midori. When the international treaty went into effect, Japanese bureaucrats and linguists objected to the country’s decision to still use the word for blue when describing something green. And the government listened. As explained by Allan Richarz for Atlas Obscura“in 1973, the government mandated through a cabinet order that traffic lights use the bluest shade of green possible—still technically green, but noticeably blue enough to justifiably continue using the ao nomenclature”.

Put simply, the Japanese government assures us that what we see is not actually blue, but a very blue shade of green – i mean, it’s blue enough so we can call it ao, but also green enough to satisfy international standards.

As it turns out, bureaucracy can indeed solve things sometime!

If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: There’s A Reason Why Red Color Is Used For Danger Signals And Stop Lights   

Photo: Antti T. Nissinen / Flickr
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: According to Japanese Traffic Lights, Bleen Means Go

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