I’ve lived in Japan for several years. However, my first 4 years I spent in trains or on my bicycle. In my 5th year I finally got a Japanese driver’s license and since then I’ve been driving in Japan a lot.
My experience with Driving in Japan
As always this article is completely based on my personal experience, but I’m quite sure that others might have had similar experiences.
When you obtain your Japanese driver’s license you might think that Japanese traffic rules are super strict and that people have to follow them no matter what. At least that’s the impression I got.
Now, being German I’d say our traffic rules are already quite strict and on top of that the police checks very carefully if people follow the rules or not. In Japan … they don’t!
Now, what will happen if nobody checks the rules? Exactly!!
And trust me I speak from daily experience and I really wish I could tell you something else, but JAPANESE PEOPLE ARE LITTLE DEVILS ON THE ROAD!!!
They are completely CRAZY!!!!!!!! (of course not all of them …)
I already noticed that in 2007 when I first came to Japan as a tourist. You had to be VERY careful when crossing the road. It’s quite easy to get hit by a car!
Riding a bicycle is even crazier! I’m not only talking about cars, but other bicycles! I tell you, you won’t need any rollercoasters to get your adrenaline up there!
Once you get used to it, it’s ok, though.
The worst of all is without a doubt driving a car here in Japan!
Not too long ago I was waiting in front of a red traffic light. It had been red for quite a while. Right next to me a car with full speed just passed the red light. It was sooo freaking scary!
There’s no way the driver could have missed the red light. On top of that I was already standing there with my car. WTF??!!
Driving in Japan you’ll see people turn left and right without using turn signals and only stepping on the brakes in the very last second.
People don’t stop when the traffic light turns red, but instead speed up. I had it many times that it turned green and I couldn’t go, because there were still cars running although their traffic light had already turned red ages ago.
When driving in Japan it seems that people are ALWAYS in a hurry or why would they jump out of a side road although cars are coming?
It’s not their turn. They have to wait, but they rush out probably thinking that the others will stop when they see them coming out of nowhere. I had to step on my brakes several times because of that already.
Just like in Germany you’re not allowed to use your cellphone while driving in Japan. Yet I see people who do that every single day.
People who pass by from the opposite direction, having their phones between their shoulder and their ear, a cigarette in the other hand and then not even looking at the street. WTF????!!!!!
I could freak out!
Another thing I noticed is that Japanese people always block streets and side roads.
I’m quite sure that they’ve learned in driving school, that you should wait in front of a side street and not blocking the way when waiting at a traffic light. They don’t seem to care that they’re blocking the way for other cars. Not really something dangerous, but very annoying.
The only bad behavior I copied after observing the Japanese is when there’s somebody turning right at an intersection they will just overtake that car from the left to get past the traffic light before it turns red. (Note: In Japan we drive on the left side of the road.)
Officially you’re not allowed to do it, but most cars in Japan (including mine) are so small that you can easily squeeze through.
Speed limit regulations are similar to Germany. As long as you’re “only” 10km/h too fast, the police won’t bother.
And speed limits seem to be the only thing the police sometimes checks.
They need to be MUCH stricter! I can clearly see that Japanese people are not afraid of being caught. When I see a police car somewhere I immediately slow down to the “allowed speed”, but Japanese people never do (unless there’s a speed control).
HOWEVER despite all of this crazy driving in Japan there aren’t that many traffic accidents.
I don’t have numbers, but there are certainly MUCH more in Germany!
I guess one reason is the difference in speed limits.
In Japan you won’t really drive faster than 100km/h. I sometimes go up to 120km/h with my small Kei car when overtaking on the highway, but that’s about it. My car can’t go faster than 140km/h anyways.
Officially you’re allowed to drive 80km/h on most highways I’ve seen and depending on where you are 40-60km/h in and around cities.
In Germany you usually are allowed to drive 50km/h within cities, up to 100km/h outside of cities (it depends where you are) and I’m sure most of you have heard of the German highway, called “Autobahn” which is not only free of charge, but there’s also NO SPEED LIMIT AT ALL! That means you can go as fast as your car can go!
I remember my first driving lesson on the highway and I was already shaking at a speed of 120km/h (I don’t like speed …) and my teacher told me to speed up. My limit was 160km/h and I think I never drove much faster than that, but I’ve been in cars that went over 200km/h and I hated it!
While my personal experience is that there aren’t that many crazy drivers on normal roads in Germany compared to Japan, there are many on the highway.
That combined with the fact that you’re allowed to drink alcohol at the age of 16 in Germany causes a lot of traffic accidents.
Because of the high speed those are much more severe than most traffic accidents in Japan.
Maybe you can tell by now that I don’t like driving that much in general.
I do prefer Japanese highways, because the German “Autobahn” still freaks me out even if I’m just a front passenger.
I’m swearing a lot. Basically every single day here in Japan when I “run into” another crazy driver (and trust me it happens every day!).
I always thought that Italy had the craziest drivers, but I think Japan is the clear winner here!
Stickers for your car when driving in Japan
One last thing I want to mention is something I really like about driving in Japan.
They use stickers to mark if somebody is a beginner or over 75 years old. There’s also a mark for disabled or deaf / hard of hearing people, but I’ve never seen any of those. Here’s a quick overview:
(初心運転者標識 shoshin untensha hyoushiki)Other names:
Shoshinsha mark (初心者マーク) or Wakaba mark (若葉マーク)Introduced in 1972.
After obtaining a Japanese driver’s license somebody new to driving in Japan has to put this sticker in the front and back of their car for one year.
(高齢運転者標識, kourei untensha hyoushiki)Other names:
Kareha mark (枯れ葉マーク, dried leaf mark) or Ochiba mark (落葉マーク, fallen leaf mark)Introduced in 1997. The new sticker (right graphic) can be used since February 2011. A driver over 70 can use it, a driver over 75 has to use it by law.
Hard of Hearing
(聴覚障害者標識, choukakushougaisha hyoushiki)Other names:
Butterfly mark (蝶マーク)Introduced in 2008. People who can’t hear well or are deaf have to put this on their car, although there’s no penalty if they don’t.
(身体障害者標識, shintaishougaisha hyoushiki)Other names:
Clover mark (クローバーマーク)Introduced in 2001. People who are disabled have to put this on their car, although there’s no penalty if they don’t.
Source: Wikipedia Japan
At first I always confused the colors, but then I came up with the ultimate hint (sorry this is only going to work if you understand German):
Grünschnabel (Beginner) und Orangenhaut (Senior) …
Dou you have any experience driving in Japan?
How about the traffic rules and driving in your home country?
Please share your experience!