Sunday, May 29, 2011

Driving in Japan

I had to renew my Japanese driver's license the other day. Went down to the bureau, stood in various lines for about an hour, got my picture taken, then had to sit through a 20 video on safety and following the rules. The video was very Japanese, with drivers debating whether to speed, or pass on a blind corner, run a stop; inevitably they decided to obey the rules, because they were rules. One lady finally decided to strap her kid into the child car seat, because it was the rule. She barely even considered fact that baby-becoming-ballistic-paintball-on-the-windshield was a great reason to use the damn belts.

But it got me thinking about driving here, and the differences. The most obvious one is that they drive on the left, like the Brits, with the steering wheel on the right. And the stick, if you have one (hee-hee) is on the left. Thank God the pedals aren't reversed. But it's the road size that will get you. Try driving 40mph on roads barely wider than your car, where you have to wait for other traffic before you can get around the telephone pole that was planted on the verge. 2-way roads barely one US-lane wide. I've been down lots of roads which were less than a foot wider than my car, and have even had to shut my mirrors to get between walls. Definitely a white-knuckle ride for any of my relatives or friends who comes to see me!

The drivers are actually very considerate, especially when you consider the number of cars on the road. If you need to turn across traffic, cars will often slow and flash their lights at you to cross ahead of them. Others will slow or even stop and beep their horns to let you into traffic from a side street. People actually watch out for bicycles, checking their blind spots before turning.

Of course, to make up for that, the cyclists are idiots! Bikes come shooting out of blind alleys at high speed, curving way out into traffic to make the turn, not even looking before they Evel-Knievel their way down the street. High school kids ride 2 and 3 abreast, blocking a 2-way street, assuming that cars will miss. I guess that bothers me the most. Yes, cars are legally supposed to yield the right of way to bikes, but the car driver gets a ticket if he gets it wrong - the cyclist gets a hospital stay or trip to the morgue!

Not to mention the numerous people (kids, students, mothers with kids in the child seat, men riding for the train), who ride against traffic, then glare at you if you can't move way out of their way because bikes are on both sides.

Makes me want to hook up a good set of air horns on my car. "Get the BWWAAAAAPAPPPAPPPPP out of the way!"

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