The world’s foremost authority

The world’s foremost authority

Since moving to Japan I have been fascinated with Japan’s obsession with cones.    I work in many different cultures and when I find something I do not understand, I try my best to understand it and not simply get frustrated.

When you go into parking garages you often see every single space ‘coned off’ and as you pull in someone comes running and asks how long you are planning to stay and with this information they decide which space to put you in.  If you are a regular reader you might have heard me mentioning this from time to time.   I am fairly confident if I said 1 hour, 8 hours or 24 hours it really is not going to change the outcome of which space I am going to get.  This is something I simply do not understand after years of living in Japan.    I thought I would cover this topic here and see if someone can shed some light on this situation.

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Now I understand cones at a construction site and I am especially grateful that they have them at night so when I am out for a run I don’t fall into a hole… Arigato!

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

I sort of understand them at these construction sites on major roadways but think its overdone…

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

I even understand it as this little construction site but again overdone…also I wonder if this guy realizes that this co-worker is actually a robot?

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

It has bothered me for a while and I figured it must have bothered others and someone must have mentioned something about this before.   I did what I always do when I want to know about a topic.  I went to Google…

I typed in ‘the excessive use of cones in Japan’…and Google found 49,400,000 sites that have mentioned it.  I was so excited to finally get some light shed on this topic that has been bothering me for so long.  Well it seems out of 50 Million pages Google deems me the most relevant authority on this topic.   I’m the guy you turn to.   I’m it.   I’m the world’s foremost authority on this topic.  Go figure.

Now some people might take this lightly but I am not one of those people.   There are people out there that need my thought leadership.   I have a responsibly to them.   Let me share what I have learnt about ‘coning’ in Japan so far so we can open the topic up for discussion, research and debate.

Cone Authority

Cones are very useful to protect visitors to your office building when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake blows one of your front doors off…

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

They can be used to corral Taxi Drivers into a queue…similar to what you might do to ducks, goat or sheep.

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

They can  be used to light up the white lines on the road at night…

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

They can be used to mark a police man standing on the side of the road waiting to give you a ticket…especially at night when their blue uniforms blend into the darkness.

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

They can be used to protect the walls of alleys from people leaning on them…

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

They can protect construction sites and corners from ‘bike parkers’…

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

If you have ‘super sized’ cones…you can protect large trucks.

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

You can protect vending machines…or mark where they are.

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

They can be used to lead you into the 1000 year old temple…and make sure you don’t step on the little gray stones.   Not everyone immediately understands that the giant gate is the way in and a simple line of a few hundred cones can easily clear up any confusion.

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

They can be used to mark where to illegally park your bike…  The number of available locations is literally limitless so it is very helpful to have the places to best illegally park your bike clearly marked.

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

They can be used to let the pigeons know where to hang out safely…

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

They can be used to know which side of the ramp to drive up…

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

They can be used to protect a bucket…  Surrounding your bucket with 8 cones or more will insure no one will bother it.

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

They can be grouped together to scare people into not parking somewhere…   One I would probably ignore but when five are grouped like that it feels agressive and makes me uneasy.

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

They can be grouped in various sizes and shapes to confuse you…  My eyes keep wondering from one to the next not sure where I should focus.  I’m uncomfortable and want to go somewhere else.

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

They can be used as bokeh machines…

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

While I understand the ‘use cases’ mentioned above I am seeing an increased trend of ‘random coning’…this is a rapidly increasing and disturbing trend.

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Cones are literally being left in random places.  What is the purpose?  What is the meaning?  Are they positioning the cones for some sort of future event that I don’t know about?

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

I feel like there are things that are not said but suppose to be understood…

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Another alarming trend is the significant increase in ‘cone bullying’.   Bullying is a major topic lately and sadly cones are not able to escape this…

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

I know some people simply ignore cones but humiliating them is taking this too far.  Who will listen to them now?   Look at them.  Pathetic…

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

…and then there are the ‘beheadings’.   It is hard to even speak of these.

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

I believe this has only begun as the Japanese have begun to build out some fairly sophisticated ‘cone distribution networks’ to continue to proliferate the spread of these cones…  I’m not yet sure what to make of this development but I’ll be watching…and reporting.    If you have been as confused as me…you are not alone anymore.

Excessive use of cones in Tokyo

I hope you found this educational.    Thanks for stopping by today…


  • andrew

    Good coverage on the cone scene in Japan :)
    Last week I witnessed a cone bullying incident in Shinjuku.
    This dude was literally destroying every cone on the street. Nobody had the guts to even look at him. He was a machine. It was awesome.

  • Len Lea

    I think you have the beginnings of a great book here, “Mysteries of a life in Japan” or some such title, I would certainly buy it. You have a writing style that I appreciate, lots of tongue-in-cheek humour.
    I am continually amazed at how much you get accomplished in your art-forms, as well as managing a high level corporate life.
    You have inspired me to look more creatively at my own urban environments, even in rural Oregon, thank you.
    I would love to join a SF photowalk if I can get enough advance notice to get down there.
    Keep up the great work.

  • Joe Dyndale

    It probably has something to do with Zen Buddhism.

  • Michael Weening

    LOL. I particularly enjoyed the beheadings. Only 10 days and I will also be marveling at the cones …

  • Kathy Cadigan

    Thoroughly enjoyed this post. Good to know that we can rely on the world’s foremost authority to address this issue with his usual good humor and artistic aplomb:)

  • Verena Fischer

    I had so much fun reading this post. Thank you! If I were surrounded by so many cones I would get paranoid. Maybe they hide cameras in them as well.

    What I find interesting is your obsession with the Japanese obsession with cones. I always take pictures of people reading or of old scooters, strange obsessions as well, but you apparently prefer cones. Doesn’t it get old when you have them around you in this excessive number? Or did the cones just end up in your pictures while you were trying to take pictures of something else?

  • Lonnie Janzen

    Great Post!
    I thik it has to do with the Japanese sense of order. The cones define what/where is allowed and what is not. The more cones the less ambiguity. I know I am on the proper side of the cone wall so I am where I should be. Just a theory…

    Keep up the great work. I love your images

    Thanks for your efforts

  • Sam Sanchez

    みんなの日本語! That’s what we used in uni for our Japanese class. It’s a great series, but the video tutorials are kind of funny, for me though.

    Great to know that the world’s foremost authority in shooting Japan uses the same books as us. :)

  • Ánderson Godoy

    Amazing post Dave!

    I seldom comment in your page though I’ve been following you almost since you started with ShootTokyo. All in all, I had to comment in this one. Really interesting post and interesting situation with the cones. Now you mentioned about your book… could it be that you will write your book about the cones? “The Chrysanthemum and the Cone” how about that? :)

  • Cliff

    Dave, great post! I always enjoy your continuing observations of this topic. I am also amazed at the obsessive use of cones in Japan. I think your work documenting this would make for a great book.

  • kayode fashola

    Great photos Dave…keep up the good work.

  • Dave

    Anderson – The Chrysanthemum and the Cone… I love it.

  • Dave

    Thanks Sam. I haven’t seen the videos but I can only imagine how funny they are.

  • Al Dee

    Fun post.

    I enjoyed your update regarding the goals but your investigation of the coning of Japan is wonderful.

  • http://BlogdaDinda nadir shinhe

    eu gostei muito das fotografias
    achei-as belíssimas.

  • JP

    Thanks for clearing that up, although you now open up many more questions, like where are the headless cones? Are they placed up on spikes to intimidate others that may enter their coned areas? And why do pigeons get their own coned areas? What about frogs? Thanks for the laugh this morning!

  • Alice&Mark




  • Carlos Ferreira

    Absolutely hilarious!

    It’s hi-viz jackets here in the UK, I think it’s actually forbidden to do any outdoor activity without wearing one. Even children need to wear them!

  • Jen Xi

    They are preparing for the attack of the cones!

    I’m curious, Dave. Did you make an effort to shoot photos of cones or did it happen subconsciously? As I start to shoot more regularly, I start to notice a trend in the subjects of my photos. In my case, it was a subconscious attraction to these subjects.

  • Matrox

    You made my day with this post Dave 😉

    … I think that cones are the secret army and one day they will take whole earth under control!

  • Les Taylor

    lol, that cone stuff was great … I’m gonna be on the lookout now.

    And I appreciate your list of goals … I need to make a list myself of some of these things. I’ve really only had one thing to think about this last year – getting back to Japan – so it’s going to be nice to be able to think about some other things again soon. Will be back within the month … can’t wait!

    Thanks for doing this blog by the way – keeps me inspired, and excited about returning!

  • chris

    You should look for the book “Eccentric Britain,” it is available on Amazon. It contains an article about a British chap who had a traffic cone museum in his garage. I think about that article every time I am in Japan.

  • Dave

    That’s funny. Thanks for the recommendation Chris.

  • Dave

    Glad you are enjoying the blog Les. Goals only work for me if I have a list of them…

  • Damon Loomis

    Dave, I ran across a website that contained many Self Portraits (under Portfolios) of the photographer in mirrors. Reminded me of you.
    Quote from

    “I’ve had this nagging photography void that I couldn’t figure out until I saw an article in the paper last year about Vivian Maier. Vivian Maier’s story is incredible (please Google her). The gist of her story is she was a street photographer who started in the 1950′s but remained unknown until after her death when she was discovered by chance.”

  • Jim Donahue

    As you are Now the foremost authority, you must get you wife to photograph you wearing a cone.

  • Marc

    Dave, recommend you become a real authority by enrolling in a PhD program in Asian studies. If you know the theories and methodologies, you could easily use this as the basis for your dissertation.

    (I’m only half kidding)

  • Richard Kashnow

    Dave, your post reminded me of an epiphany I had during my first visit to Japan in 1978. Walking through the streets and gardens of Kyoto, I realized that I would die without understanding the nuances of Japanese life and culture. This was a liberating moment because it made me comfortable admitting to myself that I would never understand quantum physics or women’s emotions either. In the thirty plus years since, the list has gotten longer and longer.

  • Dave

    My list of things I don’t understand is getting pretty long already Richard…

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  • James

    Have a very happy new year Dave, and may you reach all your goals. I had a chance to do a 2-week study-tour in Japan last year (which was my dream for at least 15 years..), and your beautiful pictures are one of those things that keep my soul in Japan. Thanks again.

  • Dave

    Thanks James… Glad you enjoy them.

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  • Arefti

    Thank your for your thoughts on the urgent topic. Do I sense a PhD dissertation in the future? :-)

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  • Marica
  • Gilbert R

    Brian Kemper sent me here after discovering your coverage of Japan’s fascination with Psychedelic Witch Hats.

    Hello from America, please don’t hold it against me.

    Great read, funny stuff. :-)

  • Dave

    Thanks Gilbert!

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