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Here's What You'll Actually See When Driving Around Japan

Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan

Okay, so, if you didn’t previously read my piece on the reasons driving in Japan actually sucks, you might instead think that every time I take out the Honda Logo GA3 it’s more like Initial D (which isn’t even completely like Initial D), but you’d be wrong. Truth is, it’s slow, traffic-y, and full of rules, signs, and signals you need to know. Here’s some of them.

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I spent a part of one of my days off walking around snapping pictures of the street signs around where I live (and therefore, where I drive), so I can explain what they mean to you, good readers. First up is probably the most common street sign in all of Japan, the triangular 止まれ (tomare) STOP sign. 止まれ is the command form of 止まる, which means “to stop.” So this isn’t just informing you “You stop here,” no, it’s saying “HEY, YOU, STOP!!!”

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Just in case you really, REALLY can’t understand the point from the red sign, well, most of the time, as you get towards the stopping line, you are greeted by a ginormous 止まれ three parking spaces long you really can’t ignore unless you’re so blind they should have revoked your license on your last renewal attempt.

Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan

Underneath the stop sign you will see a red circle with a blue number. This is the speed limit in kilometers. When at a t-intersection like this, the arrow under it tells you the speed limit applies to the road on which you are turning. Normal speed limit signs are above you and look like this:

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The “NO” sign tells you that you are not allowed to park. Now, this is a major street (for suburban Japan), so that should be obvious, right? NOPE. In absence of such a sign (or a sign with a red x, rather than just one line, which means no parking OR temporary stopping), you can pretty much pullover wherever the hell you want. And let me tell you, people do it all the time, even on the smallest of roads. Check this shit out:

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Folks, would it kill you to at least park ON the gutter and closer to the fence? And the Mitsubishi SUV driver isn’t even parked on the correct side of the street. Ugh. I use this street all the time, and because this is the entrance to our neighborhood park, people just stop their vehicles wherever they want, and I sometimes have to slalom through them. Very annoying.

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This tells you that until this point, you were on a bike path.

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This tells you that road ahead is not for commercial vehicles like large trucks.

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This is actually what a fire hydrant (as it says) looks like. I have no idea how it works though. I think it’s one big pipe and the hose just attaches to it somehow? No clue. I have only seen a fire in Japan once, and I was several blocks away.

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Japan doesn’t really have street names, except for a few rarities (I snapped a picture of one below). Instead you have block numbers. So every block, you will have these poles which tell you where you are. Without GPS, this is how postal workers and cabbies used to have to find addresses if they didn’t have a map on them. They would look at the general area and kind of just drive around until they found the right number.

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WON’T ANYONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!?!?

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No two part turns. Despite there being a central lane here, you must turn from your main lane, across the central lane, into the establishment of your choice. If you go into the central lane and then turn (which would be normal without this sign), you are wrong.

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Cross walk button!

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Every public building gets its own sign. Schools, community centers, public hospitals, city hall, prefectural land management office, water treatment plants... If it’s public, it gets a blue and white sign in Japanese and English.

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One way. Do not enter. Same as America, I think?

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You have now entered a bike path, it starts here.

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Many roads in Japan are so small that it is impossible to see around corners. Often because houses, buildings, or walls make it so. That being the case, such mirrors as these are everywhere in Japan, and they allow you to see what is coming with ease.

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This sign tells you it is Prefectural Road 357, so it’s a major road. Underneath it is the name of the neighborhood you are in.

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The big blue sign in the distances as vehicles approach a major intersection tell you what cities are in what direction.

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One of the rare OH MY GOD, IT HAS A NAME streets. They tend to be something-something-dori.

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For some reason, I have noticed that when you have small strips of triangular land, there’s a good chance that you’ll find a tiny repair shop on it, and this one in my neighborhood is no exception. But turn around and suddenly the roads melt into....

A shrine and a cemetery:

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Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan
Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan
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Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan
Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan
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Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan
Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan
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Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan
Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan
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Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan
Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan
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Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan

Which then leads back out to residential backstreets:

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Illustration for article titled Heres What Youll Actually See When Driving Around Japan

And pops you out back onto a major road. Oh, remember when I said you could just pull over where the hell ever? Those traffic cone like barrier poles are there to prevent people from deciding to just park on the corner sidewalks. Now, of course, they could have just put up a no parking sign... or made parking wherever the hell you want illegal, but no... So instead we have bright orange barrier poles:

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And with that I leave you with a panorama shot of the park in my neighborhood. One of those buildings is mine. Guess which one!

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It’s a lovely place to live... when the bosozoku aren’t trying to wake us all up at the crack ass of dawn.

Images via Kat Callahan/Jalopnik.

Jalopnik East is your daily dose of the latest automotive news out of Asia, covering domestic developments and car culture in Japan, Korea, China, Southeast Asia, and beyond. Just because you can’t drive it, doesn’t mean we can’t share it with you. You can usually catch us every day between 5am and 7am ET.

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DISCUSSION

It’s nice to see that not much has changed with driving around Japan since I was living there in the ‘90s. I also enjoyed your article on why driving in Japan sucks. I was in the US Army stationed at Camp Zama (40 miles south of Tokyo). This is where I bought my first car, a ‘79 Celica Supra Mk1. It was an ugly POS with at least three shades of red paint.

It is much easier for US forces to get a drivers license in Japan than for anyone else. It is just a one day class for free. After getting my license, I immediately found myself parked in a rice patty because I had been driving on the wrong side of the road. After that, I took my driving a lot more seriously and fortunately had no further issues.

One funny thing, I don’t know about now, but back then I had to get my rusty POS inspected every year. There is a special lane at the inspection center for US military. The wait is a lot shorter. However your car had better be in order or they will fail it... Unless... you strap a large bottle of Jack Daniels under your car. At the PX, a bottle of Jack costs the same as it would anywhere else in the US. However, in 1992 Japan, it was well over $100. Our guys would safety wire a bottle under our cars before inspection. That bottle was always gone afterwards. I’m betting that wouldn’t work for the civilian inspection bays.