Watching the sunrise on my balcony

Monday, October 3, 2011

Driving in Japan

This is my little yellow plate Daihatsu Move
Driving in Japan has been an interesting venture. To start off they drive on the left hand side like the UK and Australia. Good thing I hold an Australian drivers license or I don’t think the transition would have been so smooth. Secondly, they drive like maniacs! I’m not too sure about the rest of Japan but on this island it is mayhem. The back roads (the main ones I use to get to school) are the size of back alleys in cities like Vancouver and two cars have to pass through at one time. Also all the back roads weave in and out through the sugar cane fields and agricultural parts of the island. You will see old Okinawans on their tractors or burning their plant waste on the side of the road. 
Driving through the sugar cane
Thirdly, all the signs are in Japanese! This is the biggest problem for me. The board of education gave me a map but it is a little useless because all the words look the same to me. It just looks like pretty art! My neighbour Dee was without a car for the first two weeks, so I offered to drive her to school. Now, her school is 30 minutes in the opposite direction of where I had to go. This was all fine because the BOE (board of education) took me on a driving tour and showed me how to get to her school and then from there, to mine through all the back roads with no street signs. I was set! Well that’s until the typhoon came and washed out the roads so everyday I would drive her to school, a new road would be blocked off getting fixed up. 
Tree falling over from the typhoon
So there I was, left with the map I couldn’t read and sugar cane fields. So I used my wicked sense of direction and just figured it out. It was so fun and now I can say I REALLY know the southern part of the island. I was late everyday to work but they excused me because they knew I had to drive my friend.

On Okinawan roads you will see white plate, yellow plate and Y plate cars. Yellow plates are like little K cars and white plates are normal bigger cars. Y plates are issued to anyone in the military so we call them Yankee plates! My car is a yellow plate, which means it has little gusto, so going up the hills on the back roads is quite an adventure. To get full speed and thrust up the hill, it is best if you turn off the air conditioner. When you do this you can actually feel the car move faster (its hilarious)! There is one radio station that plays in English and it’s from the military base so they have very strange commercials. One commercial I heard the other day was “You are never to young to make a will” It was geared toward military families and was a bit sad actually. They also have a history segment that blasts US military history tidbits that are pretty insightful. My antenna in my car is snapped off so I get bits and pieces of the radio as I drive. This is going to be my first purchase.  It is actually torture for me to drive with no music and the only other 2 stations that come in are Japanese stations. They rarely play music and all they do is talk. Well they do more than talk! They laugh and say very strange things over and over and over again. It is the most bizarre thing I have ever heard and I honestly can’t listen to it for more than 5 minutes. So I have resorted to listening to radio fuzz with the occasional 5 seconds of music as I turn a corner or move through traffic! At night I will be in my apartment or on my balcony and I will hear cars and vans drive by making announcements. It’s not like once or twice, it is everyday and I don’t really know what they are saying but its funny to listen too!  I see tons of cars with speakers mounted to the roof. I guess it’s a popular job/hobby?
Driving home from work

Even though people drive crazy here, they are still very respectful. When driving you will often have people bowing to you as a sign of respect! A little bit dangerous maybe, but it’s nice to know they care haha. Also the kids will bow to you or if it is a young boy they will take off the their baseball caps to you, as you drive by. All the boys wear baseball uniforms everyday. It is a huge sport here. If they are not playing baseball you will see all children in their school uniforms. I honestly don’t think the students bow to every car that drives by, but they definitely do it to me, because they know I am a teacher. I am the ONLY blonde person in my town and therefore I am highly recognizable.  My days of shoplifting and petty crime are behind me. Haha Joke! I don’t live in the same town I teach in so the kids who usually take their hats off to me have never even seen me before, they just assume I am a teacher and they are very respectful. It’s really a breath of fresh air. 

Driving to work -the bridge in Chinen


  1. Tamara, I love your blog! The photos and descriptions are wonderful, as are the maps - it's neat to see that Okinawa is as close to Manila as it is to Osaka!
    Wonderful blog! :D You're a natural, Tamara-san!

  2. Thank you Hayley, but I need to thank you too! You are one of the people who inspired me to start one and after looking at yours I was amazed at how nice and professional they looked! Its great to see all about back home at the click of a button xoxoxo
    Much Love

  3. I love the blog, lots of pics. I restarted my old blog too with stories from my years there. Not many pics though.
    I loved Okinawa. I told you we went there twice ya? Make sure you listen to SHIMA UTA. Its a catchy song and easy to sing at Karaoke!

  4. Thanks for the tips Myles!! I will definitely look for that song at Karaoke. So where did you stay in Okinawa? Visit any of the outer islands? Great to hear from you!