Letters From Japan ~ Vol VI ~ Driving in Japan


Introduction: I recently began writing letters to send to my friends and family regarding my experiences here in Japan. I've received some encouragement to release the letters net-wide and am doing so in the hopes of providing some entertainment and maybe even some useful information...

Things have been so busy lately that I haven't sat down to write a decent letter in a while. There's no lack of topics to write about since most every day brings new experiences. I've been mucho busy working 50+ hours week. Hopefully the crunch will be over soon although I'm not counting on it.

Lately my work hours have been 8 to 7 every day plus a few hours on Saturday. Hours are quite flexible, though, so I can take long lunch hours or come in late if I have to run some errands or something. That's good because that's what I was pretty much used to in the U.S. I've shucked my suit coat and just come to work in slacks, shirt and tie. Many people do the same. Going to work in a suit in 90 degree weather is madness in my opinion. Every Friday is casual day where we can even wear shorts, another tradition I'm highly comfortable with. It's not quite as good as my job last summer where every day was casual day but I'll take what I can get.

I've finally pretty much settled into my apartment. Last month, I set out on a little adventure in a bid to fill up my empty apartment. I rented a full-size van for the day and went sayonara-sale hopping around Tokyo with a friend from work. "Sayonara" sales, by the way, are sales by non-Japanese who are moving out of the country and selling off their possessions. A moving sale, essentially.

To my surprise, the van turned out to be a Ford but it had a right-hand drive like most cars here. Even though it was my first time driving in Japan (or a left-hand-side country for that matter) it wasn't all that bad although I did turn on the wipers more than once when intending to turn on my turn signal. Remembering to stay on the left wasn't much of a problem because most roads had plenty of traffic to remind me. I had a couple of close calls, as my companion would tell you, but nothing worth writing about it. The hardest part was trying to navigate around totally unfamiliar territory, particularly in the small back roads. Neighborhood roads are often about the size of narrow one-way alleys and not originally intended, I don't think, to provide for the passage of motorized vehicles, let alone full-size vans. Another hazard are Japanese stop-signs. Although hexagonal stop signs are the standard in most parts of the world. Here they're triangular with "tomare" (Stop!) written in Japanese.

We ended up buying a bunch of stuff. I got a wardrobe, bed, refrigerator, stove, dining table, bookshelves, heater/air-conditioner and washing machine -- all for about $1200 (probably about 25% the price of all new). It's a good thing the company paid for my first two months rent so that I had the cash to spend on getting equipped. Later on I also picked up a stove, TV and VCR so I'm pretty much set now.

The biggest adventure of the day was getting stuck in a very narrow neighborhood where I maneuvered the van into quite a jam. I was in a neighborhood near Otsuka and since turning around was completely out of the question, I had to keep going forward. After nearly getting stuck across some train tracks and crushing a bicycle, I ended up at a tee intersection. To the left was a dead end and the right was the way I wanted to go. Unfortunately the intersection angled a bit to the left leaving no room for a large van to turn right. Of course I tried anyway... and failed. The scrapes on the utility pole in front of me was a silent testament to those that had gone before me. I ended up having to turn into the blind alley and then back up out on to a larger street. All this while a couple obaasans (old lady's) watched the action. I should have gotten a picture. It was pretty amusing.

The thing I want the most now is a bicycle. I got the taste of the freedom a bike can give for a very short time. My old 10-speed was shipped here and I rode it for one week until I made the mistake of leaving it overnight at the station. When I came to retrieve it, it was gone. I thought at first that maybe the prefecture bike police had picked it up but they claimed they didn't have it. And somebody didn't just "borrow" it for a ride home because the wheel had been locked so that it couldn't be ridden. It was definitely stolen. I filled out a police report but unfortunately I couldn't give them much to go on, no serial numbers and I could barely remember the make let alone the model. It was a learning experience, though. One thing I thought interesting was that they had me put my fingerprint on the police report since I don't have a hanko (stamp). Most other places such as banks allow the use of a signature in place of the hanko.

The bike was actually rather old and practically worthless in dollar terms but quite valuable to me in terms of transportation. Everytime I have to walk the 12-15 minutes from the station to my apartment I wish I had a bike. I can't help but day dream about catching the culprits in order to explain to them the error of their ways. I've been considering getting a motorcycle but the licensing requirements if you don't already have a U.S. license are somewhat prohibitive and costly. I don't have the time or inclination (or motorcycle) right now to go though it. A scooter (moped) is also an option and I'll probably get one if a good sayonara sale opportunity presents itself since a regular car license encompasses its operation.

There's lots more to write about but I'll have to continue another time.

(C)opyright 1994 Mike Chachich

This material may be freely copied and distributed for non-commercial uses provided this copyright information remains intact. Commercial uses are strictly prohibited without prior written consent. All stated opinions are solely the author's and do not represent those of any other person or organization.

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Created: July 19, 1994
Last Updated: Mar 30, 2005