Trying to drive in Japan

I always ask my students what they plan to do at the weekend and they often say they are going to go for a drive. I agree that if you can get out into the mountains you might enjoy the scenery, just as we do driving through the countryside in England, but that’s if you can get out into the mountains!

When the weekend rolls around, everybody, and I mean everybody, goes out. Shopping of course is the most popular past time for most, while it seems Saturday is also the day to take the family out for dinner. What you end up with is an enormous number of cars on the road. Oh, and I forgot to mention that a lot of people work six days a week, so the usual commuter rush applies to Saturdays too.

Sure, the transportation system is fantastic, and a lot of people do choose to cram onto the less-frequent weekend trains. And yes, there are amazing highways, some double or even triple-deckered, but what do you do if you just want to pop over to the video shop or return a book to the library? Assuming you live too far to make these trips on foot, you have no choice but to drive… or rather sit in your car for hours.

What makes driving at the weekends even worse is that Japan, without roundabouts, has traffic lights at almost every intersection. Here’s a random map which shows you what I mean. I’ve highlighted all the traffic lights in red.

Traffic lights in Japan

On this map, you’d be lucky to get 200 meters before hitting a light.

There are numerous other things that further slow the traffic down, too. For example, if you want to turn right at an intersection, you’re going to hold everyone up if there’s a ton of traffic coming the other way. If you want to turn left at an intersection, you’re going to hold everyone up if there are a lot of bicycles or pedestrians crossing the street you want to turn in to.

With all this in mind, it’s not surprising the Japanese love to buy the latest cars with all the mod-cons such as TVs, DVD players and navigation systems to keep them busy. After all, it’s not like you’d ever get into the mountains to enjoy the scenery.

If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!

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