Just What Color Are Traffic Lights in Japan?

Oct 9, 2018


When you’re walking on the streets in Japan, you can see traffic lights everywhere. Normally, Japanese people distinguish each traffic light as follows:


・Red traffic light=for stop

・Yellow traffic light=proceed with caution

・Green traffic light=for go


In other countries, the colors are defined as red, yellow and green but here in Japan, somehow Japanese people call green traffic light “BLUE” The color is obviously green but why?

Let’s find out through this article.


1. First Traffic Light was Born in New York City


Do you know when the first traffic light was created in the world? The first electric traffic light was created in New York City in the year 1918 (Taisho Period in Japan) and was installed at the world-famous spot on 5th Avenue in Manhattan that everybody knows.

Japan imported traffic lights from New York and the first in Japan was at the intersection of Hibiya in May, 1930. By the year 1965, the first pedestrian light was installed at the Isetan intersection in Shinjuku. You can see the history of traffic lights in Japan is not so long.

According to the restrictions by law in Japan, the green traffic light was indicated as blue in 1930.


2. Not in the Habit of Describing the Color Green


Japanese people used to describe the major colors as black, white, red and blue. Since there was no idea of describing green at that time in Japan, they used to say “blue apple” instead of green apple or “lushly blue mountain” instead of a green mountain.

When the first traffic light was installed in 1930, the Japanese journalist of The Asahi Shimbun company also expressed the green light as blue light on the newspapers.


3. Why is it Green Anyway?


We see why Japanese people describe the green traffic light as blue but why is green selected for the traffic light anyway?

We can identify the color green better than blue color thanks to the composition of the human cell. This means that people can see green easier than blue.

There is a very famous story in Japan about the color of cars in that people say blue cars are more likely to have accidents since blue cars generally appear further in the distance than they really are. Blue is a receding color so people tend to catch that color as distance.


4. What Else is Green Described Blue in Japan?


What other instances do Japanese people use blue to describe the color green? The word for blue things in Japanese is “ao” and here are some other examples:


・ Green juice as blue juice

Japanese people say green juice as “aojiru” in Japanese and obviously the color is green but people describe the color as blue.

・ Green spring onion as blue spring onion

Green spring onion is one of the major vegetables that many Japanese people eat often in their daily life. Japanese people say green spring onion as “aonegi” in Japanese and obviously the color is green but people describe the color as blue.



Do you now see why Japanese people call the green traffic light blue? It’s very interesting to look back the history to find out the reason.

Remember, it’s blue for go in Japan!





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