“Roads and street networks are designed for kids to walk in a safe manner,” Kato said. Among the factors, he said: Drivers in Japan are taught to yield to pedestrians. Speed limits are low. Neighborhoods have small blocks with lots of intersections. That means kids have to cross the street a lot—but also keeps drivers going slow, out of self-interest if nothing else.
The streets themselves are also different. Many small streets do not have raised sidewalks but depend on pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers to share the road. Curbside parking is rare, which creates better visibility for drivers and pedestrians and helps give the smaller streets of big Japanese cities their distinctive feel. In fact, I first heard about Hajimete no otsukai from Rebecca Clements, a research fellow at the University of Sydney who has written a dissertation on Japan’s approach to parking: Car-buyers must show proof of an off-street parking space to make their purchase. For Clements, the show is evidence of how Japan gives children a “right to the city....”