September 20, 2005

Japanese Driving Lessons

For those of you who don't already know, I spent my senior year of high school living and getting edumacated in Tokyo, Japan, which at that time consisted of, if you were to count suburbs, 24 million people or so. If you consider that I grew up in a community consisting of a population of just over 1,000, you can kind of, sort of, appreciate the sheer culture shock I experienced early on.

Today's culture shock anecdote is brought to you courtesy of this post by new ex-pat, Joshua.

As many of you are probably aware, Japan is, in fact, a country other than the United States, with its own history and culture and everything, if you can imagine such a thing. Well, one of its cultural oddities is that, for whatever reason during the evolution of the automobile, the Japanese decided to adopt the European model of driving on the left side of the road rather than the absolutely correct model of driving on the right side, as practiced by the rest of the world, the rest of the world being the United States.

Upon arriving in Japan, via the method of a 20 hour airplane commute, my family and I were ushered into a van by one of the high school administrators, Haku-san. I noticed quite quickly that the steering wheel was on the right side of the vehicle, which struck me as particularly amazing.

Haku-san, it became immediately obvious, wasn't so much interested in getting us safely to our destination as he was in getting us there as quickly as possible. If he could have used a blow torch to carve a hole below the accelerator, so as to circumvent the maddening limitations of simply "flooring it," I'm fairly certain he would have tried. And, judging by the traffic outside buzzing past us as if we were standing still, many motorists apparently opted to do just that.

Interesting factual tidbit that I'm not sure still applies in Japan, but when I was there, new vehicles coming off the lot were equipped with a device that beeped annoyingly whenever the vehicle exceeded a certain speed. Many, if not most, Japanese car owners--in violation of the law, I believe--simply hacked their way into the automotive innards and deactivated the annoying beeper.

Others, like Haku-san in his high school-owned high-speed jet van, just opted to ignore the perpetual beeping as he exceeded the law-abiding speed by about a factor of 10 or more. The endless beeping caused much in the way of consternation within the ranks of the jet-lagged van inhabitants. Eventually, however, the jet lag started to outweigh my fear of death in a high speed car accident, and I started to drift asleep, where I dreamt of a fantastic world full of alien creatures who communicated with one another by beeping continually.

As is the case with jet lag sleep, and vehicle sleep in general, it wasn't a very deep slumber, but it was disorienting enough to kind of make me forget where I was at, where I was going, what my name was, that sort of thing.

Therefore, when I woke up on the left side of the vehicle, directly behind my father's seat, I was quite unaware of what was going on, so I naturally fell back on that with which I was most familiar: namely, that the steering wheel was supposed to be on the left side.

Which meant, in my mind, that my father was. . . ASLEEP BEHIND THE fuckING WHEEL!

"DAAAAAAAAD!" I screamed, kicking the back of his seat with enough force to make a mule proud, and prompting pretty much everyone in the van to briefly panic.

"What?! What?! What?!" responded Dad, who I swear fumbled for an invisible steering wheel in front of him.

"Um, uh, no-no-nothing," I said. "I just thought you, uh, well, you know. . . the driver's side and. . ."

"You almost gave me a heart attack!"

And the moral of this story is: Japanese should start driving on the right side of the road to prevent American heart attacks.

Posted by Ryan at September 20, 2005 12:15 AM | TrackBack

About a year ago, I made trip with the immediate family to Vegas. My brothers decided to take the wives, and mom, to sin-city for a little vacation.

My wife, myself and my sister-in-law got into a cab and Mandalay Bay, near dusk. We were headed to Paris for dinner or something, not important. The cab driver yanked us around through the rear parking lots, behind Mandalay Ceasar's, Mirage, etc. at 100 miles an hour. During the trip he made sure to stop at every vacant stop sign, making sure he used the least amount of time to brake and return to normal cruising speed. All the while discussed the traffic patterns in the city, how long he's lived there, the weather.

I found the ride so enjoyable, I gave the driver an extra $20 as we screeched to a halt in the Paris Hotel's parking lot.

Posted by: seed at September 20, 2005 03:58 PM

Most of the world (2/3s by population) drives on the right side. All of continental Europe drives on the right, while left-side driving is confined mostly to the UK and its former colonies.

The US Virgin Islands are an exception. Drive on the left.

Posted by: Rob@L&R at September 21, 2005 12:36 PM


Ah, the InterWeb, where you can get fact-checked in moments. Thanks, Rob.

Posted by: Ryan at September 21, 2005 04:50 PM

I've tried to get them to let me drive in Hong Kong. No dice. Loved driving in St. Thomas and Jamaica. Especially the local cops that followed to the end of the island in St. Thomas. Guess we tourists were suspicious out there.

Having never been outside the airport during my 20+ layovers in Japan, do they practice the Taiwanese family-of-5-on-one-scooter art?

Posted by: Sandy at September 22, 2005 03:32 PM

That's hilarious. My sort of boyfriend is going to be living there for 3 years and leaving next week. I'll let him know.

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