CHANGING DIRECTION IN 1970'S OKINAWA
Over the years, we all get the opportunity to witness societal changes—some that are major shifts in consciousness, and others that are smaller, almost imperceptible cultural evolutions. These are the changes that shape who we become as a community and years later, define us as a people. One change that I had a chance to observe was somewhere between a tiny change and a major shift—a change that happened in Okinawa in the 1970’s.
In 1978, the Okinawan government had to change the side of the road that people drove on. Okinawa actually drove on the left-hand side of the road, the same as the rest of Japan. When it went under the control of the United States on June 24, 1945, it was made to drive on the right. Even after Okinawa returned to Japanese control in 1972, it still had its traffic driving on the right for six years due to delays in the handover to Japan. In accordance with the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic that restricts each country to have only one traffic direction, all the traffic in Okinawa was changed back to driving on the left on July 30, 1978. It is one of very few places to have changed from right- to left- traffic in the late twentieth century.
The day symbolized Okinawa’s return to Japan. The day of the change was called “Nana San Maru,” which referred to the number 730—the date the change was scheduled to happen (July 30). All traffic, except emergency vehicles, was banned after 10pm July 29, 1978. Then eight hours after, at 6am July 30, traffic resumed back to the left-hand side. Within the eight-hour timeframe, bus signs were relocated, and traffic signs changed. A thousand buses and 5,000 taxis were replaced. 300,000 vehicle headlights were changed. We lived near a bus station; the bus companies rolled out new buses with the passenger door on the other side. I watched mesmerized as all the busses started driving in the opposite direction! I remember for several months after on the news there were lots of traffic accidents.
What historical changes have you had the chance to observe in your lifetime? Spend some time reflecting on these changes. Share with your family and friends how they made you feel and affected your life. Never forget how unique the time is that we are living in. Just think—15 years ago, most of us hadn’t even heard of smartphones, and yet there’s a good chance that you are reading this article on one right now. A decade from now, there’s no telling what our society will look like!