High School - Japan, High School Abroad

Zooming Through Japanese Roads

by Colleen McCollum, CCI High School Abroad Participant in Japan

Japan, especially the Tokyo and Yokohama areas, is a very crowded country. These two cities have formidable population densities, and from my experience during my high school abroad program, this naturally leads to the small houses, tall buildings, public transportation…and very narrow roads. Sidewalks are a bit of a luxury here. My heart gives a little leap of joy when I find a street lined with them. Many residential roads are literally just the road, with white lines marking the edges and a gutter where pedestrians walk. When a bus or large car decides to plow through, people have to get quite friendly with the fences and stone walls that border the roads. Imagine when there’s a bus going one direction and a car coming from another. I think Japanese cars are magical, like the bus in Harry Potter, and shrink to squeeze through impossibly tights spaces. Many of these roads would be considered ‘one-way streets’ by American standards.

Getting a license in Japan is much harder and more expensive than in the States. You have to be at least 18 years of age, and have taken a solid number of classes and practice courses. I have no doubt that it’s a very good thing, because if just any teenager could get a license, like in America, the streets would likely be a war zone.

When space is so limited, parking is also a hassle. There are very few parking lots that do not charge money to park in. Department stores, supermarkets and restaurants all charge for parking. Parking garages are common, and it’s standard procedure to back into parking spaces, because it makes it easier to get out. People can’t trust themselves to park forward, because it’s questionable whether they’ll have the space to back out.

With all this obvious inconvenience, you might wonder why anyone would ever desire to drive anywhere. There have, however, been instances when I sorely wished we had a car available.

Take, for example, the two-night vacation I took with my host family to Hokkaido. Hokkaido is the northernmost island of Japan, and is famous for its ski resorts, sea food, and general abundance of snow during the winter months.

Now, my entire view of the trip is somewhat twisted thanks to the flu that decided to strike me just days earlier. My mood must have looked something like the trashcan monster from Sesame Street. But that’s another story.

Flu or not, the transportation for this trip wasn’t easy. We did drive to the airport, and parked in a tall parking garage that of course would charge us later. A plane ride that was less than two hours long brought us to Hokkaido. But from there we had to take a bus to the hotel. It was a two-hour drive. By the time we got to the hotel it was eight, and our first dinner in the heaven of seafood was instant dinners from the 7Eleven across the street. The next two days were a flurry of taxis and trains. Midwinter in Hokkaido means walking any significant distance is a bit unreasonable. But finding transportation in an unfamiliar place was so exhausting!

At the very least, I’ve softened a bit toward narrow roads and limited parking. There are harder ways to get around.

About Greenheart Travel

CCI Greenheart Travel is personally invested in providing cultural immersion programs that change lives, advance careers and create leaders. We achieve this by partnering with organizations and governments overseas that empower their local communities through experiential learning and practical development. We provide others with the same positive travel experiences in which we ourselves engage. Through travel and cultural exchange, we help individuals reach their full potential, leading to a more tolerant, peaceful and environmentally sustainable world.


4 thoughts on “Zooming Through Japanese Roads

  1. Hi Colleen,
    I heard about the earthquake this morning on the news. Hope that you are safe and not in the shock zone!
    Mrs. Bogart

    Posted by Margaret Bogart | March 9, 2011, 12:05 pm
  2. Colleen,
    I’ve never been to Japan, so I enjoy reading your blogs! I hope you are feeling better. We are looking forward to having you back at LHS next year. Mrs. Scott

    Posted by Lisa Scott | March 8, 2011, 4:47 pm
  3. I had no idea what a hassle transportation is in Japan. Sounds like we have no right to complain when stuck in rush hour traffic or at a stoplight that seems to take forever to change.

    On an unrelated note, my family is hosting a foreign exchange student from Denmark next year. I am hoping to introduce the two of you as I am sure you would be a great resource (and friend) for her.

    Posted by Mrs. Loomis | March 7, 2011, 9:53 am
  4. Colleen,
    I love this blog! You captured the street scenes, plight of pedestrians, and car and transportation scenario exactly. My trip down memory lane: After begging my employer, the local Board of Education, for permission to purchase a car, I ended up with one of those tiny “K” (kei?) cars and adapted to backing into parking spaces (boy was that tough!) and zooming through alleyways that seemed more like bike paths. Gas prices are astronomical and my employer was so concerned with my safety. But, the flip side was taking two buses, two trains, and four hours later making it to the “city.” By car it was just under an hour. And, of course, with a car comes all the freedom of being able to go where your heart desires.

    We are such creatures of habit and circumstances and traveling made me realize that people will adjust to just about anything. I never quite understood though why the Japanese didn’t think twice about the expense and logistics of transportation for relatively short destination visits. The cost-benefit of undertaking a trip caught me off guard. We once drove three hours to have seafood in Ehime only to get back on the bus for a three hour drive back. We’d stop at the travelers plazas for snacks and souvenirs, which in a way was just as much of an experience as the seafood restaurant.

    Anyway, keep up your blogging–your pieces are like travel narratives you’d find in publications. I hope you are fairing well and staying healthy!
    Take care,
    Mrs. Witt

    Posted by Sabrina Witt | March 5, 2011, 12:55 pm

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