Friday, 15 June 2007

So it's been a year without wheels

So it's been a year today since I drove a car on a public road. Doesn't seem so long ago although I often wondered if I still knew what to do.

Anyway the opportunity presented itself today with my best buddy Jacob moving apartments from Takasaki to Kitamoto. Jacob and I rented a Nissan Cube from Nippon-rent-a-car Company and drove the 120 km round trip to collect and deliver all his gear to his new place.

Because I'm one of the few folks around with an international drivers licence I did all of the driving. It was so much fun. Driving mustn't be something you forget because right from when we pulled away from the rental depot all the skills were put to use in quite a natural way.

Essentially all the roads are much the same here when compared to New Zealand except in Japan it is left priority rather than right. Nearly all of the signs are in English as well but there are an occasional few which I worked out either through common sense or by their shape and colour.

I requested the man at the rental company programme in the car navigation system to guide us on our journey. I'm not sure what he put in there but it wasn't correct so we went the route we thought was correct and arrived at the destination bang on. 

There are two types of roading systems here: national routes and expressways. National routes are commonly referred to as local roads and the speed limit is generally capped at 60 km/h. The nation is networked with such roads. Expressways span the nation as well but are all toll based and with tolls set at twice the price of gasoline they aren't exactly a cheap option. We opted for the national route 17 because it runs near my apartment and Jacob said he's seen a sign for it near his place so it we just followed it we'd be sure to not get lost. The theory was wise.

I estimated the 60 km journey should take roughly an hour but three hours later we arrived. The routes are littered with traffic lights and the journey is stop, start, stop, start all the way. Obviously there is an incentive to use the expressway system to speed up the journey but then they hammer motorists with the high prices.

Largely the Japanese are good drivers (in their home country). Everyone maintained some sort of order, safe following distances and no stupid changing of lanes etc.

The Nissan Cube was so cute. I especially requested it and paid a little more to have a Cube. It drove very nicely. The power under the hood was okay although I wouldn't have wanted to be relying on it to perform well on a road with steep gradients. I couldn't believe the space in the front and back though - it's supposed to be a compact car but it's amazing how they've organised the space.

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