We have a car in Japan now.
It’s a bright blue Toyota Fielder, which is sort of like a station wagon? It’s got a hatch back and it’s longer and it fits me, The Mister, Mac-dog, and luggage. So we can take trips now, which is fairly liberating I guess.
But… I don’t want it? I used to say *we* don’t want it, but it appears The Mister has warmed to this vehicle faster than I have. Which I guess is good, we’re going to use it this weekend to bring Mac for an introduction at a boarding kennel. Only $20 in toll fares apparently. What a steal. Woo.
I know, because I once was one such person, that if you’re reading this from the states, a place where I know families who own more than 2 cars per person... the thought of not even wanting one car our whole family seems impractical.
Japan is ridiculously good at public transportation. It’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s reliable. I’ve seen trains be delayed no more than 10 minutes from a freaking earthquake.
When you’re on a train, you don’t have to worry about the transit part of your trip. You just get on, and when you stop, you get off, and you’re where you need to be, on time.
We’ve figured out if you have a ton of luggage that you’re bringing on a trip, you can ship it from the nearest convenience store to the hotel where you plan to stay. It’s cheap, safe, and you don’t have to carry your bags with you when you travel.
There are even pet taxis. As well as, you know, regular taxis.
Plus walking is, in fact, good for you.
I present all this as evidence that a personal vehicle is not a requirement for successful and happy living in Japan. Though I suppose I could also just say “hey we’ve been here for 7 months without a car and we’ve done just fine so that’s probably proof enough, eh?”
And yet, if you’ve been paying attention, you might remember that The Mister works as an engineer in the automobile industry, and as such, we were never given a choice on the matter of whether or not we would get a car here. In fact, the company provided the darn thing. It’s a nice perk I suppose, and if I’m honest, I’m writing this whole post as an opportunity to feel like I'm not looking so far down the throat of our gift horse.
Why am I so opposed to having a car here? A lot of reasons I guess.
Nagoya is a big city. It’s full of crazy multi-lane streets, one way streets, intersections where 6 or 7 large roads all convene, and you know, that whole thing where you drive on the opposite side of the street bit. Who WANTS to throw themselves into trying to figure out how all that works? Not to mention, of all the prefectures (areas sort of like states), the Aichi prefecture of which Nagoya is part has the worst rate of driving accidents. I am profoundly terrified that, were I to get in an accident while driving a car here, that my lack of Japanese language skills would result in 100% of the blame for the accident being placed on my shoulders, whether or not that is actually the case.
But not to get too far off track with the “worst driving” rating for the prefecture: that is what sticks in our craw the most. Because it affects the driving conversion test, which to our understanding seems to be less about proving you are a good driver, and more than you can follow the courses routine perfectly; turn left here, stop there, check your mirrors at this intersection - as if you and the car are testing for your black belt.
|Aaaaand.... right blinker.|
Americans in Japan must convert their driving license to a Japanese license if they wish to drive* in Japan. To convert your license, you must take a brief written test. Then you must take a driving test on a closed course. NO ONE passes this physical test on the first try. How many people DO eventually pass, however, is directly affected by the accident rates for the prefecture in which you test. Apparently the thinking is that if you have too many accidents in your area, you must fail more drivers at your testing centers so they must practice more before actually joining the roads and are better mannered out there. You’re following along, you get it: our prefecture is the worst, so they fail the most drivers on a daily basis in order to ensure the "more lesson time" theory.
Let’s also pair this with the xenophobia that is still prevalent in Japan.
It’s easy for Japanese citizens to figure out who among them are not Japanese - for the most part it’s visual. We’re different looking so we’re easy to pick out. Now, to be clear, this isn’t an issue that has drastically negatively impacted our lives in most aspects, but it is easy to give examples: Hair dressers that won’t touch my brown, bushy hair. Other tenants of our apartment building who have taught their children that “American’s are scary, don’t talk to them!” Taxi drivers without fares, who breeze by us as we wave them down.
And of course, there’s when The Mister takes his fourth driving test, gets a perfect score, and is then told “well, you’re American, you don’t expect to pass, do you? ha.” (yes. that happened.)
It’s infuriating for me, so I can only imagine what The Mister feels like. It’s not just emotional frustrations, either: it costs money to take the test, we have to hire an interpreter every time he takes the test, AND he has to take a vacation day, which is now at the point of threatening to eat into our Christmas vacation home with family. Watching him go through this process has amped up my anxiety to the point of wanting to lock myself in a hidden cave in the mountains somewhere at the thought of having to actually take this stupid test myself.
|as the kids say: "me af."|
Adding on to the frustration, is that Australia has a closer relationship with Japan, so their conversion is literally just paperwork. So we have "fun" conversations out at bars like this one:
So the car. I don’t want it. But we have it.
So I suppose, as with it’s predecessors “Dora the Ford Explorer” and “Subaru Forester Gump,” this car will need a proper name.
I’m open to suggestions in the comments folks, let’s hear it.
Our apartment doesn’t have space for a big parking garage, so we park on a conveyor belt. Here’s how we get our car:
*International Drivers Licenses are also an option, which we both have and merely require you to have 15 dollars, a picture of your face, and access to a AAA. We got them before we left the states, but they are only valid for one year, and if you remember, we will be here for 3. Plus, it is sort of at the discretion of the prefecture you’re driving around whether or not they consider that license valid.
today’s little language lesson:
Watashi wa densha ni noru koto o konomimasu
I prefer to ride the train.