Saturday, September 3, 2011
8th August, 2010 - I went out for the evening, and took my camera along. The night was still quite hot, and for some reason I was attracted to the bright lights of the food places. Lots of food places. The Japanese tend to spend a lot of time eating away from home.
Anyway - where was I - that's right. Eating out. Well, of course that's a really bad segue to the photos of cars parked out the front of eateries. Not the most amazing photos, I know, and they had more to do with me seeing what my new camera would do than anything else. But it does allow me to talk about cars. Well, the one thing about car ownership in Japan is that it's actually quite cheap - certainly compared to the cost of buying a car here in Australia (Note - with the current high Aussie dollar, that's getting better). There are two exceptions to this - getting a drivers licence is hugely expensive for Japanese, and the life-time of cars is ridiculously short.
Japanese have to attend a driving school as a prerequisite of getting a licence, and this can be quite an expensive exercise (I've heard of fees exceeding 300,000yen). Amazingly expensive. Then of course there's always the tests. The written test sounds like it's just a formality (10 multiple choice questions), but the driving test is where it gets serious. From all accounts, it's common to take 2, 3 or 4 tests before passing - of course paying a fee each time. Of course, if you're a foreigner you can drive on an international licence for up to a year. You can "exchange" your normal licence - and if you come from Australia, UK, Canada, New Zealand or most of the European countries you can even avoid the written and driving tests. Sweet. If you're unlucky not to have lived in any of these countries, then sorry, you've got a more painful process to go through. There's some more info about the process - at least in Sapporo to be found here, and a couple more here and here (this is a good one).
The thing about cars in Japan is (apart from them tending to be quite boxy IMO) they tend to be relatively new. New cars are comparatively cheap, but second hand cars are VERY cheap. The reason is that as cars get older in Japan, they become harder/more expensive to register. They have to undergo regular (every 2 years) road fitness tests (called Shaken) which gets stricter the older the car. That's why many people tend to off-load their cars once they get to around 60,000 km. And don't expect to get much when selling an older car... it's more likely you'll have to pay to get it scrapped/recycled. Coming from an Aussie experience, this is a very strange system. It does however have the advantage of ensuring much cleaner, cheaper, and safer cars. Of course, it also keeps the auto-industry cruising along very nicely, thank you.
By the way - you may notice in Japan that there are different coloured number-plates - yellow plates indicates a smaller category car (for commuting around town), and white plates which indicate larger (more expensive) cars. Costs for things invariably depend on whether it's a yellow or white plated car.
Just quickly - the other thing about driving in Japan - or at least Hokkaido - is that (1) speed restrictions seem to be not even a suggestion - most people seem to drive 20km/hr over here, (2) radar detectors are almost universal (hence point number 1), (3) people hardly ever parallel park - perhaps for efficiency, (4) when perpendicular parking it seems many more reverse as compared to front-first (which is more typical here in Australia), and finally (5) the exception to number 1 is that if you come across a police car, no one seems to dare to pass that police car - on even multiple lane roads - no matter how slow it's driving. This last point can be very frustrating!
In retrospect, I'm not exactly sure that this was such a good idea to be standing outside taking photos of people's cars. I suspect there may have been at least a few people thinking "What the hell is that silly gaijin doing taking photos of our cars. Let's go punch him in the head... after we finish this wonderful dinner... if he sticks around.... for another 20-30 minutes more." Ok. That's a very un-Japanese way to think. But people should be a little careful to respect the privacy of others - and whilst being a foreigner in Japan does tend to lend you a lot of licence to do "strange things", it's not a right.