I lived in Japan for a total of four years; twice for two years each (2006-2008 and 2011-2013). I have said this before, and I’m sure in this blog I’ll say it many more times, living in a place really gives you the opportunity to see the little differences and come to appreciate them in a way that visiting a place doesn’t (warning: the “little differences” link does not go to G-rated content).
Foreign visitors to Japan don’t often get the opportunity to drive because the public transportation system is so good and urban areas are so dense that it is usually unnecessary to drive. Many Japanese citizens living in urban areas don’t even drive, but I think driving in Japan provides a perfect opportunity for foreign residents to see the little differences that abound there.
Driving in Japan can be pretty expensive when you consider gas, insurance, road taxes, maintenance, parking fees and other seemingly endless expenses. However, when you live in Japan with a family, driving is often the best way to see the countryside and experience a true slice of daily Japanese life. In my experience, driving a family of 5 isn’t much more expensive than regular public transportation fees for the whole family to go to the same places.
In this post I’ll just share a gallery of candid photos snapped when something interesting or unique to Japan presented itself. Click the photos to read the full captions:
In Japan, preschools for young children are called yochien (幼稚園). Each yochien has a specially painted school bus that drives through the neighborhood to pick up children.
This is a blurry shot of the satellite navigation system in our Toyota Estima minivan showing Mount Fuji. Green terrain is high, dark brown is higher and black is crazy high.
Earthquake routes in Tokyo are marked with this nifty catfish. There is an old Japanese myth that claims earthquakes are caused by a giant catfish trying to wriggle away from a god.
This is another yochien bus spotted on the road.
This truck has the image of a kabuto mushi (兜虫, rhinoceros beetle) on its side. These beetles can easily be found across Japan and are often kept as pets.
This is what a Japanese route sign looks like.
To give you an idea of the density and driving conditions in the city, this photo was shot from the observation deck of the Sunshine 60 building in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan
This is a rice vending machine that is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. It vends 7 different 10kg (20+ pound) bags of rice.
Most of the streets in Japan are much narrower than those in the U.S. or even Europe. This street is actually one of the more spacious streets. Note that this photo shows three lanes (two way traffic plus a turn lane), not just two lanes. Note all of the power lines and signs that make the road almost a visual stimulation overload.
This sign shows all available parking on the way to the fifth station on Mount Fuji. The fifth station is the highest station you can drive to and park before embarking on a hike to the top of the volcano.
Many highways in Japan are quite narrow and have tall walls on both sides to keep in traffic noise. If there is an accident or break down, there are only a few ways people can get out on foot, so they are clearly marked.