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Driving in Japan
Driving in Japan
I have always been of the opinion that I can get anywhere by bicycle within ten minutes if I just pedal fast enough.
This is not a joke. It is an Einsteinian fact.
But it finally dawned on me one day that I was getting older and I could no longer abide by the 10-Minute Rule of Speed. So I started looking for something a little faster and something that didn't require me to be crammed into a train.
It wasn't that long ago where I had the chance to have a car of my own in this little country. An ALT JET teacher was leaving to go back to the states and she couldn't pack her car into her bags. Fortunately for me, it costs more to SELL an old car than it does to give it away...so she did just that and GAVE me her little red car.
I had wanted to get a motor scooter. They are great for getting around and give excellent gas mileage. This was a LOT better idea.
Especially since it was free.
Well...not entirely free...
Giving a car to someone is like passing along a white elephant...it has a value...but it costs so much to keep, that giving it to someone else as a gift turns out to be a money-saving idea.
I didn't know this at the time.
For example, I had to go and register it with the Japanese government. This wasn't too bad. But I discovered I was going to have to pay something called "shyaken" which was pretty "shocking" because that turned out to be over 60,000 yen (about $550 American). All cars have to go get them checked by "authorized" places and have whatever repairs need to be done to keep them running in top condition. Of course, the idea is to keep the bad cars off of the road and reduce air emissions. The truth of the matter is that this is a way for the government to scam money away from the consumers. New cars only have to have this done once every 5 years. But the older a car gets, the more often this has to be done...to the point that it often is cheaper to buy a new car than to pay the "shyaken".
Also, to HAVE a car you must frist PROVE you have a place to put it. This means getting a parking space BEFORE you can legitimately own the car. That is somewhat like first proving you have a box before you can buy shoes. I had to pay about $100 a month EXTRA to park the car in front of my apartment. I know a few other people who pay less, but they have to walk 5 minutes to get to their car.
Then there is parking when you want to go shopping or even to a restaurant. You have to pay anywhere from $1 to $4 for 30 minutes. It really runs up a bill.
Not to EVEN mention the cost of USING the car. Gasoline is expensive these days. I cannot tell you the exact amount in gallons because Japan uses the metric system and I do not fully understand it. All I know is that a liter is a lot smaller than a gallon. But this was ok since my car was a lot smaller than a real car. But I soon discovered that if wanted to travel out of town, I had to pay to use the roads. It can cost about $90 to travel from here to Tokyo by car.
I might as well take the train. It's the same price.
Plus, when you finally want to get rid of the car, it costs to have someone come in and take it away. I don't know how much this might be someday, but I have every intention of driving t into the ocean first.
Who knows. Maybe I can drive it home.
Regardless of all of that...there I was behind the wheel of my first REAL Japanese car. It was a red SUBARU named VICKY (yes...my car really WAS named VICKY). It was about as large as my little red wagon of long ago. But I didn't care. It had wheels. It had a motor. And I did not have to use my legs to make it go.
It was great.
A tear swelled in my eye.
But as wonderful as this new sense of freedom felt, a gripping cold suddenly overcame me.
I realized...for the first time...I was going to have to DRIVE this thing.
All at once I was as nervous as a high school kid on prom night.
There was a lot of groping before I figured out where everything was.
Since they drive on the left-hand side of the road, things in the car were in the wrong place. The wheel was on the RIGHT side of the car. The stick shift was on my LEFT. Fortunately, the gas pedals and such were all in the same order so I wasn't going to accidentally step on the accelerator instead of braking. Even the turn signal was now on my left instead of my right...that meant I was often making lane change signals using the windshield wipers.
After the first few moments of driving, I did succeed in calming down enough to follow the person helping me get the car back to my apartment. We were going straight and this was good. We traveled a few more kilometers and I started to feel as if I was getting the hang of things.
Without warning, my leader entered another lane and made what I had been dreading...the Right Turn. Trust me when I say there is nothing scarier...save the time a nurse named Candy strapped me down to give me a Barium enema (a story in and of itself).
I wanted to make that right turn. I really did. My mind kept sending the command to go right. My hands were gripped in the "right turn" position. Even the turn signal was telling everyone behind me that I was going to turn right. BUT, my body just would not complete the desired action. I found myself feverishly continuing along my merry straight way.
I lost my guide. I lost my nerve. I lost my lunch. I was doing exactly what my father had many times told me to do.
I was getting lost.
My mind raced to find a solution and amazingly, I remembered my old, high school geometry. If I made enough left-hand turns, I would be going right!
Heheh...I was a genius.
Of course, this DID make my trip go a bit longer but at least I avoided any major head-on or side-on collisions.
Since then, I have become quite adept at making those turns, both right AND left and am able to get just about anyplace my heart desires.
But don't tell anyone...
I still take the bicycle.
8/27/2006 2:38 am
you got a car named 'Vicky'? And you drive it? During the day?|
Bet you didn't tell all your friends back home, did you?