Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cars, Too

So, yeah. I have a car. In Japan.
It’s a cute little silver wagon with four doors and zero horsepower. Made for driving slowly down skinny roads and fitting into box-lunch parking spaces. If you aren’t brimming with questions about Japanese driving laws, you might want to skip this entry. Based on my experiences so far, I’d like to share a few things I’ve noticed whilst puttering about in my little automobile.

1) Left
It’s the thing most people will think of, but it’s not that big of a deal. Driving on the left side of the road is as easy as driving on the right side. It’s just backwards. I’ve driven almost every day since I arrived, and now it's a subconscious thing. Once you become accustomed to it, you hardly notice the difference. That doesn’t apply to the rest of the road rules, though.

2) Speed
Next time you are driving in the country and you see a speed limit sign, mentally add 20 miles to it. In Fukushima, I’m the only person driving the speed limit. It’s between 40 to 50 kilometers an hour here, which is between 25 to 30 miles per hour. It's slow, but it's the law. The roads in my village are filled with sharp curves and blindsides. There are no passing lanes here, so if you’re going slower than the person behind you he is sure to let you know. I try to pull onto the shoulder if there’s a long line behind me. Luckily, with country traffic, there seldom is.

3) Amenities
No cupholders. Did you know it’s rude to eat or drink while walking in Japan? Maybe the same applies to driving. If I need a drink, I’ll stop on the shoulder somewhere. With this heat, I always bring a bottle of water with me. It’s between 80-90 degrees Farenheit (30ish degrees Celsius) every day over here. My friend has a cup-holder, though. I don't know what to believe anymore.

4) Street Signs
Instead of “STOP” you have "TOMARE." Instead of vertical traffic lights you have horizontal ones. 90% of the roads I’m on are one-lane, so you’ll see signs that signify ‘no passing.’ As if I’d be crazy enough to risk passing someone on a road that skinny. There’s barely enough room for two opposing lanes.

5) Parking
I noticed, when reading the Japanese driver’s handbook, that people are encouraged to back into parking spaces here. Instead of driving straight in and backing out like Americans (or at least Oregonians) tend to do, the government says it’s safer to back in first so you can pull out when you leave. So remember, kids: be safe and always pull out.

6) Trains
The public transportation infastructure of Japan is so essential to its daily habits that I’m not surprised there is a rule about this sort of thing. No matter where you are driving, you are supposed to stop before crossing train tracks. Even if there is no stop sign or if you can clearly see the tracks are empty beforehand. It’s like how school bus drivers in America are obliged to stop before the tracks and open their doors to check for trains, lest we damage the youths who will become the future leaders of the free world.

Hmm, that’s all I can think of for now. Feel free to correct me if your experiences differ. Also, don’t forget: window wipers on the left, turn signals on the right!

Mata ne,

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