Tag Archives: driving

Driving in Japan

Have you driven in Japan?  I’ve had a Japanese license since I switched my Canadian license for it a few years ago, and when I drive, I rent a car.  Usually, we rent a car to go to Costco.  I made this video and discuss what it’s like to drive in Japan.

So, have you driven in Japan?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Life, Fujisawa, Japan, Kanagawa, Vlog

Renting a car in Japan

On Friday, my wife and I decided that we’d rent a car to go to Costco, rather than take the train all the way to the Kanazawa store in Yokohama, dealing with the crowded Seaside Line and a sick toddler, and spending money to have most things delivered.  In the end, it cost us about the same, it was faster, and we could run around and do some other errands, such as take our daughter to the doctor for her stomach virus.

Well, we rented the car in the morning, and it cost us less than 4000 yen for a small car.  We got a Nissan March (could’ve chosen a Toyota Vitz, but I wanted the instrument panel in front of me, not in the middle of the dash) and it was lavender.  Since we were driving only a short distance, we didn’t have to fill it up with gas, and only paid a bit for the gas at the end.

So, when we rented the car, we had to show driver’s license and health insurance.  I have a Japanese driver’s license, so I can only drive in Japan!  They did a check on the car, walking around it to make note of any current damage.  Once all of that was done, we strapped in the baby car seat and went on our way.

Driving in Japan is a bit different.  Although the rules are mostly the same as in Canada, we have to drive on the left side of the road in Japan, with the steering wheel on the right.  This is actually an easy adjustment for me.  The only difficulty I have with the car is that the turn signal and windshield wipers are opposite.  Many streets are very narrow in Japan, and a big problem for me is blind corners.  Far too many of them!  And then there are all the people who stop on the street and turn on their hazard lights.  It’s not easy to get around those cars because they occupy most of the lane.  But otherwise, it’s fairly easy to drive if you have a car navigation system.  We didn’t get one.  Our route was quite direct, so we relied on my iPhone’s Google Maps app instead.

Parking is something I have to get used to in Japan.  In Canada, we’d normally just park in a space driving forward.  In Japan, everyone backs into a parking space.  Easy to get out, but not so easy to get in.

When returning the car, I drove back to the rental shop by myself.  For some reason, I find it easier to drive alone.

Renting a car in Japan is fairly easy, and some places will accept cash.  Most places prefer credit cards, though.  But since I don’t have a credit card, I need to find a place that doesn’t require them.  Where we rented the car, the staff was quite nice.  We’ll probably be renting from them again.  And now, some car pictures!

20130216-235734.jpg

Our car for the day, a lavender Nissan March. Yes, I left the wipers on when I turned it off.

20130216-235755.jpg

The March is a fairly basic looking car inside. The steering wheel on the right side is easy to get used to.

Have you experienced renting a car in Japan?  Share your experiences in the comments!

12 Comments

Filed under Daily Life

Japan Post driving school?

Ever wonder where postal workers learn how to drive?  I guess not.  Probably where everyone else learns to drive, right?  That’s probably true.  I’m pretty sure this isn’t a post office driving school, just practice or training for the motorcycles and small vans that postal workers drive.  When I saw this, I was very surprised.  I had a “What the….?” moment.  They were practicing across the street from a driving school, coincidentally.  Also,  when we passed by them about 1 1/2 hours later, they were still practicing.  Have you ever seen this before?

20121015-010447.jpg

Practicing driving mail delivery vans and motorcycles.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fujisawa, Japan, Kanagawa

Dangerous driving in Japan

Recently, there have been several deaths related to careless driving in Japan.  Unfortunately, they’ve involved young children.  Most recently, a 65 year old man plowed through a group of children crossing the street at a crosswalk legally.  He wasn’t paying attention.  The 6 year old girl he hit later died in the hospital.  I hear about this far too often.  Not only do I hear about it, I see it happen.

In the last year, I have nearly been hit by a car no less than 4 times while I was crossing the street on a crosswalk on a walk signal.  3 weeks ago, I was crossing on a walk signal, when a car came around the corner, heading straight for me, and the driver slammed on the brakes.  So many things were wrong with this.  I’d been crossing a wide road, and was almost across when this happened.  He had ample opportunity to see me crossing.  He was cornering too quickly.  He didn’t even use his turn signal.  I had no idea he was going to turn.  I could’ve kicked his car as he came within half a metre of me, but I didn’t.  I just glared at him.  If I’d been crossing the street with my daughter, I’d have been furious.

There is a big problem with drivers in Japan.  Not only do they disregard some basic traffic laws, the police don’t seem to do much about it.  This is what I witness on an almost daily basis:  running red lights, turning without signalling, ignoring pedestrians at crosswalks, speeding on narrow residential streets (the worst offenders are taxi drivers), blocking traffic by parking on narrow streets with hazard lights turned on, and driving at night with no lights on.

When I came to Japan, I was impressed with how well people in Japan can park in a narrow space.  Experts at parking, but really need to review safety rules.  I have a driver’s license, and when I renewed my licensed last year, there was a 2 hour long driving safety seminar that I had to join.  They talked about most of the problems I stated above, but most people just completely ignored the speaker, including the 5 people who were sleeping.  Driving schools teach people how to drive on a closed course, with not much actual driving on real streets.  Many drivers in Japan are “paper drivers.”  Many have gold driver’s licenses, which is supposed to mean very safe and experienced.  However, it really means that they’ve never had an accident or a ticket.  Don’t drive?  No problem!  You get a gold card for being such a safe driver!  It’s ridiculous.

I wish the police would actually get out on the roads and hand out some tickets.  How long will it take for people to wake up?  Will it take 5 more dead kids?  10 more? 20 more?  1 more is too many.  They need to do something now.

The reckless bicycle riders and the bike gangs need to be taken care of, too.

11 Comments

Filed under Daily Life

Driving in Japan

Yesterday, I moved most of my things from my old apartment in Kamakura to my new one in Fujisawa.  Instead of getting a moving company, which would have cost over 20,000 yen, I decided renting a car may be a better choice.  Only 6,000 yen!  The distance between my old and new apartments is about 12km.  Not bad.  It shouldn’t take too long, I thought.  I estimated about 3 trips back and forth to transport all of my belongings.  Well, let’s just say I had a bit of an adventure.

My girlfriend and I arrived at the car rental agency at around 11:30 in the morning.  We’d rented a Suzuki Swift, although it turned out to be a Chevrolet (same car, though).  With my driver’s license and a utility bill showing my address, I could rent the car.  We had 8 hours to use the car.  We also rented a car navigation system, which is absolutely essential with the randomly oriented roads in Japan.  Many things are opposite to what I was used to in Canada.  The driver sits on the right side and you drive on the left side in Japan.  The turn signal is on the right side of the steering column, and I had to shift with my left hand (actually, I had an automatic).  The ignition, accelerator and brakes were in their correct places, though.  I’m glad they were the same!

As we pulled out of the car rental agency, I had very little time to get used to the mirror image style of driving.  Luckily, it didn’t take long.  I quickly adjusted and actually felt comfortable within a few minutes.  I drove along Wakamiya Oji, which I’d visited last spring, past Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, then north toward Ofuna.  It wasn’t too bad.  The traffic seemed to be okay, as well.  In very little time, we arrived at my old apartment, where I loaded the car with boxes.  So far, so good.

I had no idea how to use the car navigation system, so my girlfriend programmed it for the new apartment.  The system sp0ke the directions to me, told me when to turn, how long until the next corner to turn at, and so on.  I found it to be relatively easy to understand.  Crossing the tracks near Ofuna station proved to be difficult.  I had a blind corner at an uncontrolled intersection, and it wasn’t easy to turn there.  But I made it, and we were on our way.  Except for one wrong turn, this trip proved to be pretty uneventful.  It took about 35-40 minutes to get to the new apartment.  After unloading everything, we had internet and cable TV hooked up, and I was off again back to my old apartment.

The trip back to my old apartment was mostly uneventful, except that traffic was a bit slower.  It took around 50 minutes to arrive.  I loaded the car again, and was on my way.  Or so I thought.  I ran into a problem.  I didn’t know how to use the car navigation system to get back to the new apartment.  A few calls to my girlfriend and a few pictures taken of the screen, I finally figured out in 15 minutes.  By this time, it was already 5pm.  If I was going to make a third trip, I’d be pushing it for time.  So, I was finally on my way to take the same route back.  Unfortunately, that blind, uncontrolled intersection proved to be completely impassable.  I could not turn, as no one would let me in.  I couldn’t see traffic coming from one direction, so I couldn’t just go out into the intersection and block all traffic.  Not only that, the direction I wanted to go, that traffic was not moving at all!  So, I decided to turn left instead, and the navigation system plotted a new route.  As I travelled along this new route, it was taking me a bit farther south than I’d hoped, but I guess this was the only way.  I then started going north when I was in western Kamakura, and all I had were main roads to drive on now.  No more narrow streets!  Unfortunately, this route took me directly through downtown Fujisawa.  Traffic nightmare!  The traffic was so slow, it took me an hour to travel only 2 km!  Once I was past downtown Fujisawa, the traffic improved drastically, and I had no problems.  But by the time I’d arrived at the new apartment, it was so late that there was no time for a 3rd trip.  Defeated, we decided to return the car to the rental agency.

Our drive back to Kamakura was easier, and we encountered less traffic.  We returned the car at 7:15pm, with only 45 minutes to spare.  I still have things to take to my new apartment.  I’ll have to do that by train and bus or taxi over the next week.

So, what do I think about driving in Japan?  Adjusting to the different side was much easier than I thought.  I got used to it very quickly, and it felt like second nature to me in a very short period of time.  Driving is not a problem!  The traffic is something I don’t like in Japan.  It’s slow!  No wonder people prefer to take the train.  The narrow roads are a bit nerve-wracking at first, with people riding bicycles (one of them was swerving so much, I thought he would hit the car), cars parked along the side of the road and blocking half of the traffic, and all the blind corners.  The route was a zigzagging course through the two cities, and sometimes it was difficult to know where I was.  North American cities have road systems that are grids.  Easy to navigate, and easy to find an address.  Japanese cities are not made for cars, so there are a lot of narrow, winding roads with no sense of order.  It’s like a cobweb.  I don’t envy the people who have to drive every day to get to work.  Their commute is incredibly long.  That’s why I’m going to stick to trains for my everyday commute.  I will drive on occasion, when I need to, though.  It’s just the traffic that’s too much, especially in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Have you experienced driving in Japan?

6 Comments

Filed under Daily Life, Fujisawa, Japan, Kamakura, Kanagawa