I learned to walk when I was a few months old.
I re-learned to walk when I moved to Nagoya.
Japan is a pedestrian-oriented place. A massive proportion of its middle class take public transportation rather than drive to work, and the city is littered with devices to facilitate this. Pedestrian overpasses arch over large roads, some of them branching off in four different directions halfway up. They look like big metal spiders.
Highways downtown are relegated to massive flyovers that span the entire length of the road. There's one flyover on the way to Inuyama that's six stories up, the traffic soaring over apartment balconies. Parking seems sparse, and many train stations unfold into sprawling underground malls.
Most large sidewalks are partitioned by landscaping into designated pedestrian and bike lanes. Crossing signals make loud sounds that make a distinction between north/south and east/west roads. In denser areas, the streets are one-way and so tiny they don't have crossings or signals, meaning it's easy to hop across them when traffic thins.
Sounds perfect, doesn't it? How could Trav possibly mess this one up?
The Japanese travel on the left and right sides simultaneously.
In the US there exists a constant: if you're traveling, you're doing it via the right side unless passing. It holds true for every mode of locomotion. Driving, biking, walking. Boats even have lights to keep everyone in position relative to each other. I used to live on one of the largest college campuses in the US, and this rule was drilled into my head. Wherever you were, if you were on the right side, that bike wasn't going to hit you.
In Nagoya, the bike still might hit you.
Cars drive on the left side of the road. However, the ward office states pedestrians should favor the right, especially where there is no sidewalk, so traffic approaches them face-to-face. Bikes are required to pass on the left side of pedestrians, which suggests they travel on the right side, but they often cross each other on the left as well. There are bike lanes, but people usually crowd them, forcing cyclists to mingle. On train station staircases, there are a myriad of arrows suggesting the flow of traffic, usually into four or five lanes. Four or five lanes! Nobody follows these.
Pedestrians loosely favor the left (a suspicion which was recently confirmed by a local student), with an emphasis on "loosely."
Escalators are split lengthwise by a line, dividing standing and walking sides. At crosswalks, all bets are off, and everyone pours up to the street's edge to wait for the signal to change. When it does, everyone does a little reenactment of a medieval action movie scene, two flat masses colliding into chaos. It's fortunate no one in Nagoya rides a steed to work.
Amidst all this ducking and weaving and fish schooling I developed a strategy to survive these crossings:
Find a pensioner and draft them.
There are a lot of elderly folks in Japan, and there's at least one in every crossing. Nobody wants to force an 80-year-old woman with a cane to get out of their way, so they part like the Red Sea. It's actually a pretty spectacular view from the wake, if you're alright with walking a little slower. This strategy falls apart in omnidirectional multi-crossings, but because there's another degree of freedom they're a little easier to manage.
When faced with an oncoming bike, I've learned to gently cross the yellow lines on the sidewalk. These are strips of rubberized, thickly textured material to help guide the blind between intersections, and unlike in the US they stretch the entire length of every sidewalk. Bikes can't ride over them safely, so it's like putting up a little wall. I should mention that bicycle insurance is required in Nagoya to prevent pedestrian collision lawsuits.
So maybe I should be trying to get hit by one?