That would be the best advice I could give a potential tourist coming to Japan. Thankfully there is about 1 taxi for every person on foot. Oh, you think I’m joking?
I hate HATE hate crossing roads on foot. Big roads, little roads, bike paths, it doesn’t matter. I swear, if you are a gaijin, Japanese locals will do everything that can to run you down. After 3 years of dealing with this I almost had a breakdown the other night. I was crossing a medium-sized street at America town with my husband and a huge shopping bag in tow. When the crosswalk light turned green we started crossing the street. Right in the middle, this little white mini car slowly turned the corner and instead of stopping like the law supposedly dictates (pedestrians are God, not that you would know) she actually looked me in the eye and sped up around the corner and cut me off! Yes it was night time but it was in the middle of a shopping area where gaggles of people cross all the time, oh and did I mention that she looked me in they eye??!? I kept walking and was in front of a good-sized group crossing as well. I didn’t stop and wished out loud that this broad would hit me. Once she realized I was pulling her punk card she looked ahead as if she was in trouble and just wanted to get away. Once she was a safe distance away I totally lost it and swung my huge bag o’ pillows at her car and said out loud, “Ya, how about stopping!” I got a couple of sympathy chuckles behind me, and a couple random, “Ya how bout thats” from the Americans behind me who no doubt have been in the same situation many times.
Yes I know I turned into a stereotypical American in Japanese eyes at that moment but I didn’t care. That moment of harmless rage stemmed from the gazillions of times when I crossed the tiny (1/2 the length of an American lane) street across from my office to the soda/tea vending machine. Japanese drivers, especially old women would deny to cross and speed up to block my way. There is even a pained crosswalk there too! They literally speed up from a ways away just to be all like, “Get outta my way gaijin! (foreigner) You aren’t peace loving and you are a horrible Buddhist too!”
In fact this scenario has happened more times than I can remember. Oh. It is illegal to honk your horn over here. With the horrors of driving in San Francisco still fresh in my head I have a hard time not laying on that horn. If there is imminent danger I do, if I can find the damn thing, but I know so many Americans who let these rude drivers cut them off to the point of a near wreck and they just yell at them through a closed window as the other driver throws up the obligatory hand which they think excuses them from all sorts of on the road atrocities.
In Japan, the locals know when Americans are behind the wheel because of our license plates. Instead of a hiragana symbol, we have a huge Y for a 4 cylinder motor, an A for a 3 cylinders and the rare E for an imported, no tax paid American car. Y plates are the norm and where Japanese drivers usually allow people in front of them, as soon as they see a Y plate coming through they speed up and refuse your entry from an off/on ramp or while changing lanes. You can’t drive defensively over here or you will be pushed to the side of the road until about 11:00pm when the traffic finally lets up. When riding in my Japanese friends’ cars I see a huge difference in driving etiquette. No dirty looks or looks of feigned ignorance for that matter, just a nice smooth ride.
Since there is nothing I can do about how the Japanese feel about my presence in Japan I will continue to walk towards cars who refuse to stop when I’m already in the middle of a quiet road and I might introduce some of the “rudies” on the road to my Californian bird. They say you can’t honk but they didn’t say anything about a tweet. I on the other hand will continue to let cars in front of me when crossing lanes, stop at the limit line so cars can make turns onto my road when I have a red light (this is a big thing in front of our bases. People refuse to wait behind the line during rush hour in front of the gates just to keep us from turning in), and allow people to cross the road even if they look at me with confusion and/or disgust before crossing. snort.
In the United States, frequently driven roads are made from tar or some kind of cement. I’m not into construction so I can’t list exactly what tar is made of but I can say that it isn’t too slippery when it rains right when it first rains and there is still some oil on the road.
Since Okinawa is a relatively small island in Japan, the highways are made out of a pavement substance but instead of rocks or pebbles or whatever it contains large amounts of crushed coral. Are there any divers out there? Is anyone familiar with coral? It is slippery when wet. So when it rains out here, 3 things come together that make me want to stay off the roads if at all possible:
1. The rain makes the coral slippery like black ice almost.
2. The water on these surfaces causes any and all light to reflect off the pavement and right into your eyes and the roads do not use reflective paint or other such markings, so all you see is black.
3. All of this blackness yet there are barely any street lights, which causes almost complete darkness so you have to pray when making turns so not to go into the oncoming lanes on accident.
It is not fun. Not one aspect of it is fun or safe, unless you are a passenger, then riding in a car is frightening in a fun, twisted kind of way as the pressure is off.