I’ve been hit by a car twice in America. Both times it was just a little tap, and both times I was (kind of) my fault. Once when I was jogging at night in Denton, TX. Somehow a car didn’t see me, and accidentally hit me, knocking me a couple feet backwards. No big deal. The other time was when my roommate and I were trying to cross at a light, and a little sports car knocked into us.
Both times it was probably my/our fault.
But it was still scary. And, of course, this is excluding all the little bumps and horns I’ve gotten in parking lots.
Don’t even get me started on parking lots. Parking lots are dangerous. I don’t mean because people can break into your car, I mean because there are people driving around trying to find an empty spot. So they’re not exactly paying attention to pedestrians. And then when they do, in fact, find a parking spot – it can sometimes be a race to the spot.
As a pedestrian, those kinds of races scare me.
Which is one of the (many) reasons I like Japanese parking lots:
1. Large, indoor parking lots typically have lights above the spot that designate whether the space is occupied or not. So rather than driving around, seeing an “empty” spot, and speeding over there only to find it occupied by a tiny motorcycle, these lights tell you right off the bat which parking spots are free.
Red means occupied. Blue means free.
It’s pretty simple and straightforward. And wonderful
2. There aren’t a lot of reckless drivers in Japanese parking lots. Or on the road. Even though I do a lot more biking/walking on the road in Japan, I still think my chances of actually getting hit by a car are slim to none (compared to the two times I got nicked by a car in high school in Denton, Texas).
3. Seriously, everyone is really good at driving and parking. Roads in Japan are narrow. Parking spots are even smaller. And no matter where you go, there are people everywhere… Yet somehow, despite all this, I’ve never seen someone scrape a car. I’ve never seen someone nick their neighbors car, or ding it while parking.
I think this derives from the fact that driving licenses in Japan are incredibly expensive, like 200,000 yen ($2,200). Before you get your license, you have to take official driving school, several tests, and pay a huge sum of money.
And then you have to pay “car tax” every year, which can be up to around 20,000 yen ($220), depending on the size of your car.
So to sum it up, people in Japan don’t drive cars unless they are really good at it. It is far too dangerous (small roads) and expensive (license, car tax, gas prices) to just have a car as a hobby. For instance, most of my friends in Japan don’t have a driver’s license. My 24-year old fiancé (Ryosuke) doesn’t have one, since he’s never seen the need to own or drive a car.
That’s pretty normal in Japan.
3. Drunk driving is also surprisingly low. I think the particularly low rates of drunk drive have to do a bit with the assortment of “don’t drink and drive” posters, but are mostly influenced by the fact that a majority of people in Japan use public transportation.
I am friends with several Japanese families. The fathers usually bike, ride a motorcycle, or take a bus to the train station in the morning, then take a train into work. If they go drinking after work, they still have at least a thirty minute (and sometimes even up to an hour) commute back home, giving them at least a little while to sober up. And then usually the wife will come pick them up at the train station by car, just to be safe.
And since most of the drunkards are on the train or are being driven by someone else, I feel safe on the roads after dark. I’ve had to make several 3am grocery runs and have never seen any questionable driving. I can’t say the same in America.
Even biking (like a regular, non-motorized bicycle) drunk is highly illegal. I’ve had a friend get a 2,500 yen ($27) ticket for smelling like alcohol while biking (but they didn’t have a breathalyzer, so I don’t know what the “real” punishment is).
I have never once been afraid of getting hit by a drunk driver in Japan (or a sober driver in the parking lot) – and that kind of security is a wonderful feeling…
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