Posts Tagged ‘driving’

Death of the Blog?

October 2nd, 2013 No comments

This won’t be my last blog entry ever, but it will probably be the last for a very long time. It’s not that I’m no longer documenting my experiences—I’ve written fourteen journal entries since my return from Germany, but I haven’t been inclined to post any of them online. The only one I did post, the Sports Day entry, was the second of two entries I wrote about Sports Day, one written specifically for the online journal with emotional content kept to a bare minimum. Over the last year or so I’ve grown more and more wary of sharing my personal thoughts and feelings with the world, and I’ve been keeping most entries private, occasionally posting public versions edited for content. In doing so I’ve constantly had to keep this process in mind as I write, making sure all personal thoughts I might want to edit out for the public version are carefully quarantined and easy to remove during editing. Lately I’ve lost the motivation to even do this, figuring that if any part of an entry is too personal for me to want to publish I just won’t publish that entry. I’ve just gone back to writing whatever I feel like writing without worrying about which parts are publicly acceptable and which parts I should keep to myself—the way a real journal is supposed to work.

As such, there are a few significant experiences that have gone undocumented in the public journal whereas in private I’ve documented them thoroughly. For instance, I wrote quite a few entries with regard to this year’s Speech Contest which took place a couple of weeks ago. I want to remember my experiences helping those students prepare and how I felt throughout the process right up until the day of the contest, but it felt like that sort of thing is between me and my students and there’s no reason the rest of the world needs to know about it. Editing out their names is beside the point—it’s not so much about confidentiality as it is about basic personal privacy. I don’t want to have to think about what other people reading this journal might think about my thoughts.

When I decided to start journaling online it was out of an idealistic notion of radical openness, the idea that if everyone were to just be as open and honest about who they are with the world, the world might become a more tolerant and understanding place. That may be true and the world might be gradually moving towards that point, but in the mean-time anyone who does so is going to have to deal with a lot of unpleasant consequences. When people close to me discovered and read the journal I had to start editing myself, and over the years I edited myself more and more to the point where the entire original point of doing this online was completely lost. What started as an experiment in fierce unapologetic public honesty has essentially become nothing more than “letters home from Japan.”

For awhile I also experimented with political blogging, and for almost two years the political entries greatly outnumbered the personal. I gave it a shot and for awhile I thought I might have some potential in that area, but I gradually lost all motivation to continue that as well. Political blogging, I came to discover, is one of the least rewarding ways imaginable to spend one’s time. I put a lot of thought and effort into my political entries, and I’d post them here to no reaction and on another website where the reaction was often positive but usually nothing worthwhile. After all those hours spent researching and writing, posting and discussing, I can’t honestly believe I ever changed a single person’s opinion on anything. There will be no more political entries here either.

I struggle to think of any good reason I should continue to do this at all. The only kinds of entries I can still imagine being worthwhile are those having to do with travel. My 10-part series on my trip to Rome complete with maps and pictures remains one of my favorite things I’ve ever posted online. I’m happy with all my travel entries and feel like those experiences are exactly the kind of thing best suited for an online journal. Starting life in a new country is also an experience worth sharing publicly, with all the cultural observations it seems people are interested in. But just basic stuff about life events are either too personal to share or too dull for anyone to care.

I had a couple of notable firsts yesterday as I left school after lunch and went into Chiba to renew my work visa. Rather than deal with the hassle of the train situation, I figured I’d take advantage of having a car and shave about 2 hours off the journey by driving in. It was the first time I’ve driven on the highway in Japan and the first time I drove in a city. But there was nothing remarkable about it. It was strange that the right-lane is the passing lane but that’s about it. As for driving in Chiba-city—after driving through Brooklyn that didn’t phase me at all. The visa-renewal process was just boredom on top of boredom, as I hadn’t actually expected to go to immigration on the same day so I hadn’t brought a book. I got ticket number 107 when I arrived at 3:30, and the counter was up to 67. Three hours later I was one of only two people left in the room, and my number got called dead last at 6:10. (Of course, the three hours I had to wait this year was nothing compared to the three months I had to wait last year.)  Because I got out so late, the drive home was also the first extended night-time driving I’ve done in Japan, but there was nothing remarkable about that either.

Almost everything that happens to me which I do consider interesting or important is of a personal nature that I no longer have any inclination to post on a public blog. As such, entries have been generally shorter and less frequent. That’s how it’s been for awhile, and now I’m just making it official and explaining the reason. I still find tremendous value in documenting my life experiences, but most of that value is lost when I edit my most honest thoughts and feelings.

But if you’re one of the people who checks the blog regularly to find out what I’ve been up to, the upside is that the next time we catch up I can tell you about stuff you didn’t already know.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Hitting the Road

May 27th, 2013 No comments


Well, it took two weeks after I got my license to actually get a car, but it arrived on Saturday and I drove it on Sunday. I took it to work this morning, making this the first day of the school-year in which I haven’t arrived all sweaty.

I had no say in the car Interac decided to get for me. I guess they have some kind of business arrangement with car dealers like they do with Leopalace. They told me on Friday that they could send someone from the dealership to drop off my car on Saturday afternoon, but I told them I wasn’t going to be home then so they just had the car parked in its designated place and the keys delivered through my mail slot.

I was a little surprised that Interac never asked me to send them a photo or a faxed copy of my driver’s license. I could have simply lied two months ago about passing the test, told them I got my license, and proceeded to drive illegally until passing the test (or getting caught). I wouldn’t have done that even if I had known, but it’s strange to think how easily I could have.

When I got back to my place on Saturday I’d already had a few drinks so I would not be taking it out for a spin, but I did take the keys and go check out my new vehicle. There are only three parking spaces outside my Leopalace and they’re apparently all taken, but there’s another Leopalace right down the road—literally a minute’s walk—with available spaces and my car was waiting there at number 3.

It’s a Suzuki WagonR, probably the single most common car in Japan. My first reaction was disappointment at how big it is—Japanese roads are horrendously narrow—but I knew it could be worse. At least it’s the color I would have chosen.

I went inside and checked out the interior, again disappointed that there’s no auxiliary audio port so I can’t play my iPod through its speakers, but it appeared that the CD player plays mp3 CDs which means I can burn CDs with much more content than a single 80-minute audio CD. I started the car and figured out how to un-retract the side-view mirrors, as nearly every car in Japan has retractable mirrors due to the narrowness of the roads. The transmission controls are on the front panel and all of my gauges are digital. Other than that (and the position of the wheel of course) it was no different from any other car I’ve ever driven.


After finishing up a bunch of walking-distance errands on Sunday, I got ready for my first genuine drive in Japan. I burned up an mp3 CD made up of every Pink Floyd album and headed out to my car. I got inside, adjusted the seat and mirrors, started her up, and confirmed that the CD-player works. The music for my maiden voyage would be Dark Side of the Moon, the best album (as it widely acknowledged) for testing speakers. (The speakers were, like the car, not the least bit impressive).

I released the emergency break and pulled out into the real road for the first time ever in a country not called “the United States of America”. The first thing I did was engage my windshield wipers while attempting to signal left. Oh yeah, forgot about that. (I’d make the same mistake three or four more times throughout the drive).

I started out along the same route I take to get to work, taking it slowly and nervously. Every time a car was approaching from the opposite side I’d feel pangs of anxiety, wondering how both our vehicles could possibly pass each other without side-swiping on this ridiculously narrow road. I felt more at ease when I took my first turn onto a larger street with clear markings between the right and left lanes.

After about five minutes I’d relaxed enough to start the music, though the anxiety picked up again when I reached the long road to M-sho, my first destination. It’s a long narrow road through the hills with no center line, so any time a car approached I’d slow down and get as far left as possible without driving off the road. Thankfully, it’s not a particularly busy road so there were plenty of stretches where I could just relax and enjoy the drive. After ten minutes I was almost completely at ease.

I reached M-sho, confirmed that the time to get there was indeed about 20 minutes, turned around in the parking lot, and made the 15-minute drive to K-chu.

Now that I’d confirmed I know the routes for my Wednesday routine, I proceeded to use the car for actual errands. I took it back into town and drove to the shopping center I normally bike to every week but which I’ll now be driving to. It was a nice luxury to be able to shop without concern over whether I’d have enough room in my back-pack to fit everything.

Once that was done, I had one final task to complete as there was barely a quarter tank of gas and I knew I should take care of that a.s.a.p. This was going to be the most challenging part of the day, but I might as well figure it out now.

I took the long way back to the main road (the 126—the road with everything on it), driving along my jogging route. This included a tiny stretch of road through some rice fields, a road too narrow for two vehicles. Much to my great relief, no cars were coming the other way while I drove there. I’ll be avoiding those kinds of roads as much as humanly possible, but I had to drive on it this time to get myself positioned to turn onto the 126 on the same side as the only gas station I know of.

I got to the station and pulled in, noticing the English word “IN” taped in giant letters on the ground where I entered. A worker directed me to the pump he wanted me to take, and I pulled up and got situated. Gas stations in Japan are a mix of full service and self-service and I wasn’t sure which this one was, but when nobody came up to me right away I figured it must be as I feared—self-service.

There was a big complicated machine at the pump with Japanese writing all over. At least I can read katakana so I knew which pump was for “regyuraa”, and I removed that pump from the handle and put it in my tank, hoping I could just pump and pay at the end. Of course no gas came out.

Oh well, I guess I have to be the dumb gaijin who doesn’t know how to pump gas. I approached one of the workers there and asked for help, using the word “hajimete” which means “first time”. He understood and naturally poked no fun at me, maintaining the typical Japanese professional friendliness the whole time. He took me to the screen and showed me which buttons to press and where to insert my cash. I put in a 5000-yen bill (about $50), hoping that would cover the cost but not really knowing because a simultaneous dollar-to-yen / gallon-to-liter conversion is too much for my mathematically-challenged mind. Luckily, the tank was full when I got to 3500, so apparently it costs about $35-$40 to fill my tank in Japan. That’s not as bad as I’d feared, but I’ve yet to see what kind of mileage I get.

The worker showed me how to take the receipt and scan it to get my change, and I thanked him and went on my way. That wasn’t so bad, and now that obstacle is clear. I drove down the road a bit, made the first U-turn I could, and returned to my parking space to end the journey.

With that one run I cleared just about every first of driving in Japan that I needed to. The obvious ones of driving on the left, remembering where the blinker is, avoiding crashing into oncoming traffic on super-narrow roads, navigating parking-lots and parking properly, and most importantly filling my gas tank. The only two other hurdles to clear are highway driving (because of the tolls) and getting caught on a one-lane road when there’s an oncoming car.

I’ve done enough driving in my life that I imagine I’ll get used to the big differences pretty quickly. I thought the most difficult thing to adjust to would be driving on the left with the wheel on the right, but now I think the narrowness of the roads is actually going to be what takes the most time adjusting to. Hopefully once I get a better feel for how wide my car is and how much room on the roads I have to work with, the anxiety will dissipate.

So the next stage of my life in Japan begins. So far the only difference a car makes is getting to and from work quicker and not having to work up a sweat in the process, but the car does also open up a whole new world of possibilities. I’ll probably wait until I’m much more comfortable driving to take advantage of them.

Categories: Personal Tags: ,