Traveling by car through Japan

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We love traveling by car and we’ve done tons of that in Europe. So, it was almost a no brainer for us to jump in our car here in Japan and go explore. During our 2014 Golden Week holiday we decided to do a tour around the Chugoku area of Japan by car. This gave us the change to see certain differences between Japan and Europe. Here are some of them:

  • The most obvious one is that the steering wheel and driving is done on the right side of the car, as opposed to the left side in Europe.
  • Most cities are in the valleys between the many mountains Japan is made of.
  • The infrastructure is built between bridges and tunnels that go trough mountains and most times both.
  • City rings the way we know them in Europe are not so common. Instead there are elevated roads that go trough the cities or along the cities.
  • Service stops are amazing oases with everything: gas, restaurants, shops, tons of toilets, showers, you name it.
  • Some gas stations have suspended gas hoses. This makes it quicker to cater to the people waiting, independently on which side your gas tank is, since the hose can be pull in any direction.
  • Drivers respect the traffic rules, speed limit, overtaking mostly from the right.
  • Speed doesn’t really exceeds 100km/h, which makes it more relaxing but also slower. Actually the speed limit on the highway is 80km/h.
  • Google maps on our smartphone was better than our car’s integrated gps.
  • Internet coverage is so good that you can listen to your favorite radio stations online on your phone, unless you go through a very long tunnel 😊
  • Truck drivers drive over 100km and they are not shy at overtaking.
  • Toilets are omnipresent and all free. The coolest toilets we have seen had a dashboard (picture below) at the entrance to show you which ones are being used and which ones are free. Also, you can choose between the western style and the ones you need to squat over.

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  • Tolls! Once you start traveling you understand why you pay. Due to the limited usable space (that is not a mountain, forest, river, etc.) you need all those bridges and tunnels and they are all in a very good state. You can just pay straight up cash or by a card that needs its own reader to be installed in your car (ETC card).
  • There are lights on the side of the road that look like the police car’s lights when you are going down the hill to prevent drivers from speeding.
  • Certain poll signs have curved poll just so that the size of the traffic sign does not get compromised due to the street being too narrow. This allows the car to pass and the signs remain intact.
  • The signs for cities are both in Japanese and English. But that’s about it.
  • Cement nets(!) meant to prevent land slides (see first picture) on the road side, they are massive and they are everywhere.
  • In general, you have lights only in the tunnels and smaller colored ones to show the curves.
  • Food! If you want to eat you have enough to choose from in the service stations on the highways. You never find anything in the gas stations inside the city, they only have gas! 🙂 Also, very affordable!
  • Souvenirs. I add them in this post since you find more in gas stations on your way to different attractions that at the location of the attraction itself. Side note: Japanese prefer food treats as opposed to other knickknacks Westerns look for, like the fridge magnets, decoration items and so on.

These are just some of the things we have noticed. One thing worth remembering is that traveling by car in Japan is very safe and comfortable. You’ll always get great customer service and don’t be surprised if you don’t see other foreigners 😊

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