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Driving in Japan


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stop signWhen we first arrived in Japan we decided to buy a car.  So, with the help of my supervisor we bought a very small, Kei car.  A Kei car in Japan is a car that is under 660 cc.  In comparison, my Volkswagen Beetle has an engine displacement of 1600 cc.  For our first year of driving in Japan, we were only required to have an International Driving Permit.  But, then the National Police Agency changed the rules so that after one year, all foreigners would have to take a Japanese driving test and obtain a Japanese licence.  However, the Japanese driving test is famous in Japan for being nearly impossible to pass.  That most people will fail the test at least four or five times before they pass and that if you haven't spent around $3,000 on driving lessons,  you shouldn't even be trying to take the test.

But, in the spring we were glad to find out that because of a reciprocal licensing agreement between Japan and some provinces in Canada, that all Canadians could transfer their Canadian licences to Japanese without being required to take the driving test.  So, other than driving on the left hand side of the street, down extremely narrow roads, with mirrors at the corners because you cannot see cross traffic, driving in Japan is pretty much the same as driving at home.  The cars, in general are much smaller though and they even have mini transport trucks and mini fire engines.

Our other main form of transportation is our bicycles.  Every bike trip is a threat to your well-being.  In general, cyclists in Japan use the sidewalks.  This is OK, but you have to take care when weaving in and out of pedestrians.  If there are no sidewalks, the cyclist must brave general traffic.

Riding a bike is hazardous because of the sheer disrespect of motorists.  It seems as though people in cars do not notice cyclists at all, or they just do not consider them vehicles.  Frequently, a cyclist will have a motorist turn out right in front of them, requiring that the cyclist brake hard and swerve.  Cars will also whiz past a cyclist, just cm's away, and then pull over and stop.

The dangerous actions by motorists are vast and varied.  Most people who ride bicycles frequently have been hit by a car al least once.  Our friend Eric, who rides his bike everywhere, has been hit, quite seriously, 4 times in 2 years.  Another man we know was hit by a motorist who ran a red light; a very frequent occurrence in Japan.  Since he did not take down the names and telephone numbers of the witnesses (he was unconscious and bleeding from the head, so it slipped his mind) he had to pay for half of the damages to the car!!!!  Including the windshield that his head went through!

Our car, the 660 c.c. Suzuki Mode.



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This site was last updated 06/22/04