Japanese culture places a lot of importance on taking care of yourself and not inconveniencing others. Sooner or later we all end up needing a little help, though, which is why the Japanese language has a half-dozen regularly used phrases that all mean “thank you.”
But while having that arsenal of expressions with which to show your gratitude comes in handy, it won’t do you much good if you want to thank someone who’s not in earshot, such as a fellow motorist who let you into their lane on the expressway. That’s why Japanese drivers follow a bit of automotive protocol that lets them deliver a message of thanks with the push of a button.
Japan does have nonverbal ways of saying thank you, of course. The most common is to hold up a hand, fingertips pointing up and pinkie-edge facing forward. Technically, this means “I’m sorry,” but Japanese often doesn’t really differentiate between saying “Thank you for helping me” and “I’m sorry for making you help me.”
▼ No problem, Haruhi!
But while this would be an acceptable way of saying thank you on the road, it requires a clear line of sight between you and the other drivers, plus enough light for them to see into your car. If you don’t have either, though, there’s another way to get your message across, as shown by The Japan Channel Dcom on its YouTube channel.
As the calm-voiced narrator explains, if someone shows you courtesy on the road, it’s customary to give a few blinks of your hazard lights to let them know you noticed and appreciated their kindness.
It’s an extremely clever solution, plus it seems a lot more appropriate than beeping your horn, which can come off sounding aggressive and, regardless of how it’s interpreted, sends the sound more towards the car in front of you than the one behind that just did you a favor.
Called “thank you hazard” by Japanese drivers, its use isn’t restricted to lane changes on congested expressways. It’s also polite to hit your hazards for a second or two after someone lets you turn in on one of Japan’s many uncontrolled intersections.
In recent years, Japanese automakers have made some incredible strides in humanoid robotics. Until they develop the technology that lets our cars bow to each other, though, the thank you hazards remain one of the best ways to make everyone’s drive a little less stressful and more polite.