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Red Light "Stop", Blue Light "Go"?

By Asian American in Tokyo | June 17, 2008

What color is the light in traffic signal below?

In the US, it’s “green”. In Japan, it’s “blue”, or as the Japanese say, “ao”. Yes, it’s true. Here’s the story. In modern Japanese, there is a word for “green” (“midori”), however this is a relatively new term that has only been used since the Heian Period. Even after “midori” came into use, green was still thought of as a shade of “ao” instead of an independent color. According to Wikipedia, educational materials only distinguished between green and blue after World War II. In current times, the word “ao” is still used to describe certain items (such as vegetables, traffic lights) that are actually green. Japanese people also use the English word “green” at times. The word “ao” can also mean “youth”.


Just learned of some additional color perception differences! While Americans think the sun is yellow, Japanese kids will always color drawings of the sun in red (like the Japanese flag). Also, in Japan the moon is yellow while in the US people feel it is white.

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Topics: Culture, Language | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Red Light "Stop", Blue Light "Go"?”

  1. DragAmen Says:
    July 4th, 2008 at 8:11 am

    That’s not the only reason why their ‘green light’ is blue..In fact our ‘green light’ is also turning blue, not at once of course because that would confuse everyone, but very slowly. It is mostly because when they created the ‘red, yellow, green’ lights, they did not take into account people who are ‘red-green’ color blind, making red and green seem the same color is yet another excuse for running a red light and can be just plain confusing. To get rid of the confusion, and possible lawsuit, they are slowly but surely changing the common green light, to a progressively bluer, blue light. Japan is also ahead of us in our time, as always, and already has the blue lights to stop confusion of those with ‘red-green’ color blind.

  2. dani from Maui Says:
    August 19th, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    and now I have you on my RSS feed… (yay TokyoMango)

  3. Blackrose Says:
    October 29th, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Don’t mean to be picky, but the Japanese word for blue is “Aoi” not “ao”. Sorry I take Japanese in school, and it’s taught by a women who immigrated here from Japan. So sorry if I sound like an asshat, but I’m picky about it.

  4. Asian American in Tokyo Says:
    October 29th, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    To be 100% accurate, “ao” is the noun form of the word. “Aoi” is the adjective form.


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