Why Do the Japanese Reverse Park and Is It Better?

If you are travelling to and driving in Japan, you should know that the unwritten rule is that one must back their car into a parking spot rather than driving forward into it. In Japan, parking spaces are generally narrower and it is easier for a driver to be able to see oncoming traffic as they move out of the spot. So inherent is this practice that other vehicles and pedestrians would never look out for or make way for a car backing out of a parking space.

But is there more to this practice than just safety? Researchers have actually looked into it.

Monash University’s National Road Safety Partnership Program (NRSPP) looked into the pros and cons of either and concluded that not only is reverse parking safer, it also saves time. It stated that reverse parking often occurs at the start of a shopping trip when the drivers are “mentally fresh and quite aware of their surroundings” and makes for a faster exit when they are “less vigilant on their way out”. However, it also noted that loading things into the boot of the car could be more challenging with a car parked in reverse.

One science correspondent compared it to the Marshmallow Test, in which kids are offered a treat, such as a marshmallow, and were told that if they could wait a few minutes before eating it, they could have two. Similarly, drivers who reverse park are practising a form of delayed gratification by spending more time parking the vehicle so they can exit later with greater ease.

The “culture” of backing into a parking spot is present to some degree in different countries, particularly in Asia. A professor of international business at Old Dominion University in Virginia noticed on a trip to Taiwan that everyone reversed into their parking spot. Shaomin Li then went on to analyse how people in different countries—namely Brazil, China, India, Russia and the United States—parked. He found that 88% of cars in China were reverse-parked versus a mere 6% in the United States.

The professor hypothesized that there is a correlation between parking behaviour and economic growth rate because “economists have recognized that the ability to delay gratification is a valuable behaviour strongly associated with success and higher income,” Li guest wrote in an article on Financial Times. 

Well, this writer has reverse parked for most of her driving life and continues to eagerly await the
“success and higher income” associated with it.

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