What happens when the Japanese Emperor’s convoy meets an ambulance?
Hans · Mar 8, 2022 01:07 PM
There’s a widely circulated meme that many Malaysians will recognize. It shows four vehicles in a stand-off of sorts on a cross road – a police car, an ambulance, a fire truck, and a minister’s car. The question is which vehicle has priority for right of way?
It’s a question that no Malaysian has an answer to, although most will say the minister’s car will be given right of way.
In June 2019, Japan’s Emperor Naruhito was making his first official duty outside of Tokyo with Empress Masako, after ascending to the throne to usher in the new Reiwa era.
The emperor’s convoy was heading to Nagoya city in Aichi, to attend the annual National Tree Planting Festival – one of the 4 key national events (forest preservation, sports, culture, ocean health) that the emperor must attend.
The event quickly became viral in Japan not because of the tree planting, but because photos of the emperor’s Toyota Century and his accompanying convoy stopping to allow an ambulance coming from behind to race ahead, with the emperor’s police outrider clearing the path, was quickly circulated on social media.
Now, Japan may have a better reputation for drivers adhering to road traffic regulations but like many countries, they too have their fair share of drivers not giving way to ambulances.
“Even the emperor gives way to an ambulance, and we still have idiots who refuse to do that,” quickly became a trending, commonly expressed comment.
There is also an older video of the emperor’s convoy being asked to stop at a cross junction, while police and Men In Black waving light batons clear a path for a medical car – a Lexus IS. The video can be found here.
The medical car, referred to by locals as a ‘doctor’s car’ is not literally a doctor's personal car or an ambulance but a passenger car owned by a hospital, used to transport medical personnel to a location that requires urgent medical expertise. Although a ‘Doctor’s car’ don't carry any patient, it is given the same priority as an ambulance.
About convoys of ministers, unless there is a visiting of state of a foreign country, Japanese ministers don’t enjoy privileges of having police outriders stopping traffic.
Even the prime minister's convoy need to adhere to traffic regulations - use of indicators when switching lanes, as well as conforming to local norms such as flashing of hazard lights twice to apologise for the disruption / thank the vehicle behind for giving way.
If there is a traffic jam, the Prime Minister has to wait for his turn. What the Minister has however, is a group of Men in Black who will pop out of the escort cars’ windows, waving light batons and blowing whistles to slow traffic just for a moment, keyword ‘slow’ and ‘just for a moment,’ as opposed to stopping traffic.
Here's a video of how Prime Minister Kishida's convoy deal with a traffic jam.