👽 Japan’s “UFO” Style Traffic Signals to Go “Lights Out” 👽

Take your last chance to "identify" these phenomenon

By Justin Velgus    - 2 min read

If you glanced up while strolling through a quiet suburb in Sendai one night, you wouldn’t be the first person to worry about a possible alien abduction. The retro spaceship-like flashing light machine hovering above is actually a rare traffic signal system affectionately known as “UFO” (“Unidentified Flying Object”) style. Combined vehicle and pedestrian signals are attached to each of the four sides of the square, and because they are suspended from an arm extending from a single pillar, they can be installed in narrow spaces.

The interesting traffic signal design was created by a Nagoya-based electronics company and sold mostly in the early 1980s to Gunma, Aichi, and Miyagi. The compact lights served a purpose, but weren’t without their critics. The lights are hard to see in direct sunlight, and confusing for first time users passing through the intersection. Nowadays, modern thinner traffic poles have made the aging and inefficient 40-year-old traffic signals obsolete and the lights have been steadily removed over the years.

The traffic signal near Nagamachi Elementary School
The traffic signal near Nagamachi Elementary School

Miyagi is the final stronghold where you can find the most remnants of the UFO signal invasion fleet. Even still, you’ll need to be fast. The prefecture’s 8 signals are set to be replaced by ordinary traffic signals or stop signs by the end of fiscal year 2023.

The nighttime views are particularly interesting
The nighttime views are particularly interesting

A visit during the day allows you to see clearly see the whole structure: the wires, the single pillar, and the traffic signal in action as it commands humans driving and walking to obey with its greens, yellows, and reds. However, don't forget to visit at night for some extra UFO appeal. Wires disappear in the darkened sky and taking pictures at the right angle, particularly from directly below (when safe to do so), create pictures that are truly "out of this world!"

Pictures from below these signals certainly give off that alien vibe!
Pictures from below these signals certainly give off that alien vibe!

Getting there

There are several signals surviving in Sendai City, with 2 easily accessible by subway and a short walk.

1) 3-minute walk from Yakushido Subway Station (Tozai Line):

Address: 4-chōme-5 Kinoshita, Wakabayashi Ward, Sendai, Miyagi 984-0047

(Japanese): 984-0047仙台市若林区木ノ下4丁目5

*Nearby is the historic Yakushido Temple

2) 9-minute walk from Nagamachi-Itchome Subway Station (Nanboku Line), at the corner of Nagamachi Elementary School.

Address: 4-chōme-5 Nagamachi Taihaku Ward, Sendai, Miyagi 982-0011

(Japanese): 仙台市太白区長町4丁目

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Justin Velgus

Justin Velgus @justin.velgus

Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is the Miyagi Prefecture Partner for Japan Travel and a longterm contributor since 2012 with a focus on the Tohoku region.  Justin has written extensively for JT, and other publications such as VisitMiyagi and Sake Today, amassing over 350 published articles introducing the travel and culture of the region. Justin's wealth of experience and knowledge comes from studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and promoting sake overseas for the government of Fukushima. Now Justin helps with inbound tourism and regional promotion while also enjoying his role as a volunteer tour guide in Sendai, the gyutan capital of the world.

Join the discussion

Elizabeth S a week ago
I hope some get preserved in a museum.
Justin Velgus Author a week ago
At least they have now been digitally preserved!
Elena Lisina a week ago
I like the photos!
Justin Velgus Author a week ago
Thanks! It was worth going both day and night to see the contrast!
Kim a week ago
I agree with Sander, it is a shame they're going to be replaced!
So cool! Never seen anything like this before, it's a shame they're gonna be replaced.
Justin Velgus Author a week ago
I was so confused when I found them. As I wrote, the pedestrian sign and car signals can be hard to understand during your first...encounter!