you’re considering driving in Japan, the first
thing you need to do is get your supervisor’s approval.
In accordance with your contract, he is empowered to make the
decision as to if you can drive on and off work time.… Should
your supervisor give you the okay hanko on the driving issue,
consider the following:
Japan can be quite a harrowing experience!!! The roads are often more narrow than driveways back home,
with big ruts and poor grading (not to mention the fact that many native
drivers have an aversion to parking lots - preferring to park in the
middle of the street with their blinkers on while they run their
errands). Life-size Tonka
trucks whip along at insane speeds while pedestrians, bicyclists and ojisans
(gramps) on mopeds compete to see who can weave in and out of traffic
the quickest Highways
are non-existent, unless you want to pay tolls large enough to compete
with many home equity loans. And,
for most JETS, the signs
are completely incomprehensible, providing no help at all in finding
one's way through the mazes of streets with no names that were built
around already existing houses and businesses (which,
I may add, are numbered by when
they were erected instead of where they lay on the winding
streets!). Add to this that
drivers must stop at every corner to adhere to horizontal replicas of
the traffic lights back home! (It seems the government cut an excellent
quantity deal on these, hanging them in the most unsuspecting places
where drivers must stop the single-lane traffic at white lines painted
meters in front of the actual traffic lights in order to give room for
trucks to make too-wide turns on too-narrow streets)
And, gasoline prices are astronomical. Often, they run 4 times
that of current U.S. prices (of course, this inflation in prices is only
to balance the expenses of the
where teams of young people in matching uniforms flag you in give you
incredible service, including window-washing and ashtray-emptying if so
desired, before running out into the street to stop traffic and wave you
out. Whereupon, you proceed back into the harrowing traffic laden with
your new Gas Station Gimmick Gift.
Maybe it's a basket of apples that sell at the local supermarket
for ¥15O each. Or perhaps it's 2 months worth of toilet paper. Whatever it
is, it's meant to ensure that you keep driving...and keep patronizing
the same over-priced gas station!
aside, driving in Japan can also be quite a rewarding experience, too.
For those JETs in far-and-out places where public transport is
inaccessible (or stops at some outrageously early hour), driving ensures
contact with the outside world. It gives them the freedom to see friends, explore the region,
get to the store and generally stay sane by expanding
their radius of easy-access places to go, shop, party, sight see and
of course, to hide from the ubiquitous eyes and ears of the town that
seems to catalogue their every move!
you’re like me, you opt to drive instead of being driven insane by
limited access. So if you've procured your supervisor's approval, here
are some of the technicalities you'll need to deal with:
your supervisor's help in this. Most likely, he will be more than happy
to help you find a car, if only to ensure it is a safe one. Also, spread
the word that you're looking for a car.
In Japan, car owners must actually pay to get rid of their
cars. They'll often
"give" an old car to you at a minimal price if you offer to
pay them back for a percentage of their insurance and shaken (explained
a little later). If these
venues fail and you must resort to a used car dealer, be sure to
exercise the same caution and judgement as you would in your home
To buy a
car you will need an official name stamp that is registered at your town
office (hanko or inkan), a guaranteed parking space (shako
shomei) and Japanese Car Insurance (hoken) - not to mention
nerves of steel for driving and a large wad of yen for car expenses!
you need a license to drive a car in Japan. The easiest way to be
licensed is to procure an "International License" (good for
one year) before leaving your home country. A much more expensive and
time consuming option is to obtain a Japanese license. Either way, be sure to ask your supervisor about all relevant
expensive (up to ¥100,000),
but worth it! Get as much
of it as your supervisor suggests.
We found out the hard way (after hitting a parked town-owned car
trying to maneuver a tight spot) that car insurance insures
peace-of-mind in Japan. Where folks back home might beat you with a
steel pipe for so much as putting a slight scratch in their paint,
the Japanese will often let scratches, bumps and dents pass with a
laugh, saying, “that's why we have insurance!” (Of course, not all
Japanese are so nonchalant when you injure "their babies," so
I don't advise playing bumper cars just for the heck of it!).
and service.” It is also expensive (between ¥100,000
and is mandatory bi-annually for cars under 10 years old and annually
for cars over 10 years old. Be
sure to find out when your current shaken expires and shop around for
the best deal for renewing it.
Japan can be quite a challenge. Spaces
are often very small and few-and-far-between.
They can also be expensive (¥400
an hour or more). Parking citations and towing are not uncommon and must be
dealt with immediately. However,
common sense and a watchful eye can help you find free (if not a bit
illegal) parking. Large
stores usually have free parking for the hours that they are open.
Hotels can be a good
place to park overnight, if you're sure they don't register guests' cars
at the front desk. Pachinko
parlors and out-of-the-way-lots are another possibility.
Be creative. Be
careful. Ask local friends where it's "okay" (not
necessarily legal!) to park!
very expensive in Japan! It
is not uncommon to spend upwards of ¥12,000
a month for gas with minimal local driving. Road trips and the
inevitable "I'm lost!" excursions only serve to up this
figure. Many service stations offer
"Point Cards," though.
Find a local service station, get a
Point Card" and use it.
That way, in exchange for the
unmerciful amount of yen you spend each month on gas, you can earn fun
prizes (umbrellas, tissue, bookstore certificates, Disney paraphernalia,
etc.) Also, you'll earn
brownie points so that in the case that you wake up some brisk morning
to find your car won't start, they'll be happy to help you (experience
If you are
used to “all-weather” tires in your home country - BEWARE!
You may find your car unable to get up even the smallest incline
on a cold, snowy day. Snow
tires or chains are imperative for winter driving in Japan!
limit on most roads is lower than you'd expect.
Thus, most people speed on country roads, while the police drive
around with flashing lights to remind them to slow down.
If you’re among these speeders, highly unlikely that you'll
actua1ly be pulled over and ticketed.
Just slow down and you should be okay.
The reason that police don't pull over and ticket you is because
they prefer to meet their quotas with rather obvious seasonal speed
traps. These are usually placed in the most blatant of places and
manage to snare the majority of drivers in spite of this.
It's been my experience that if you buckle up, slow down and
drive by with a big smile and respectful nod, you should be able to pass
through with your wallet left unscathed. I can't promise this, though.
So if you're flagged down, stop and do your best impression of “The
WHILE INTOXICATED (OR EVEN AFTER SWALLOWING A TEASPOONFUL OF STRONG
you're longing to go home on a permanent vacation leaving all the JETs
after you without the option to drive - DON'T DO IT!!! The consequences
just aren't worth the chances you'll be taking! Japan has very strict
laws on drinking and driving and they enforce them. In addition to the
legal dangers, being busted for drinking and driving does irreparable damage to your reputation. You are a guest,
a teacher (and therefore role model) and you could kill somebody (like
one of your students)
another JET in your area who you see very often, sharing a car is not
such a bad idea! As long as
you work out the details of "expense sharing" from the start,
it really cuts down on them (especially the BIG ones like hoken,
shaken and gas!).
you have it! The observations. The facts. Everything you need to make an
informed decision: Do you want to drive or be driven insane? (Many JETs
opt for the former. And, we thank ourselves and our supervisor every
time we escape the town limits!!!)