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Roundabout opens in north Japan after lesson learned from 2011 quake, tsunami

A newly constructed roundabout is seen in Watari, Miyagi Prefecture, on Dec. 29, 2019. The Watari Municipal Government's new building is seen at right in the background. (Mainichi/Issei Takizawa)

WATARI, Miyagi -- A new roundabout is set to open in this northeastern Japan town on Jan. 6, becoming the 21st such facility in Miyagi Prefecture and the first in a prefectural municipality affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunamis in 2011.

    Roundabouts are still rare in Japan, with their number totaling just around 80 across the country. Of them, 20 are located in Miyagi Prefecture -- the highest number among all 47 prefectures.

    In roundabouts, vehicles enter the circle and then drive along the rotary clockwise before leaving on the road of their choice. Vehicles running through the rotary, those coming from the right, have priority, allowing them to drive through the intersection just with a single turn to the left.

    Roundabouts began to prevail in Europe and the United States in the 1990s. In Japan, the revised Road Traffic Act, which came into force in September 2014, opened the way for the installation of roundabouts. Because cars do not pass by each other, roundabouts generate less traffic jams, possibly curbing serious accidents.

    In 2014, Miyagi Prefectural Police began to develop roundabouts by revamping 19 rotaries in the prefecture shortly after the legal revision took effect. Currently, there are 11 roundabouts in Sendai, the capital of the prefecture, followed by Natori at five. The construction of new roundabouts is planned in the prefectural city of Higashi Matsushima and the town of Yamamoto.

    Behind the numerous roundabouts in the prefecture lies a lesson learned from the 2011 quake and tsunami disaster. In the immediate aftermath of the natural calamity, traffic lights went out due to power blackouts, disrupting traffic. Because roundabouts are free of traffic lights, vehicles can drive through safely even in the event of power outages.

    The roundabout in Watari was created because the location is adjacent to the new town hall building and a square for disaster prevention, on top of its disaster-resistant nature. An opening ceremony was set to be held on Jan. 6, and officers from the Watari Police Station will explain how to drive through the new traffic circle, with demonstration runs.

    (Japanese original by Issei Takizawa, Sendai Bureau)

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