The Colour of Traffic Lights

A notorious peculiarity in the Japanese language is that they think that the “go” light on traffic lights is blue. That is, the word that is normally translated as “blue” (ao) is used to describe the “go” light, rather than the word normally translated as “green” (midori). This is something that foreigners, particularly Western foreigners, are said to argue with Japanese people about. Indeed, on one site of “evidence you’ve been in Japan too long”, “you think the “go” light is blue” was listed as one of the signs.

On Monday, I took Mayuki to Ginza, one of the main shopping centres in Tokyo, because I had a couple of jobs to do there. When we were waiting to cross the road, I pointed at the pedestrian signal and asked, “What colour is that?”

“Red!” she replied, in Japanese. (She almost invariably speaks Japanese, even though I address her in English.)

Moments later, it changed, so I said we could go.

“Oh, it’s turned green!” Mayuki said, again in Japanese.

“Actually, in Japanese you say “blue”,” I told her.

“What? That’s green!” she retorted.

So there we have it. A neutral observer, at two years old, has declared in favour of the westerners.

The “go” light is green.