Life at 30 km/h
I want to start this post with a question: Have you ever driven a car in the middle of 田舎 (いなか/inaka: countryside, a rural area, the sticks) Japan?
Actually, let me expand upon that: Have you ever driven a car and/or ridden a bike/walked on your own two feet anywhere that a car might possibly drive (yes, I’m not just talking about roads anymore) in the middle of 田舎 Japan?
If you are emphatically shaking your head “no” right now, let me tell you, my friend: You have NOT lived! Or maybe I should rephrase that to: You have not risked life and limb!!
I know, I know. There are bad drivers everywhere. I watched a Dodge Charger tailgate and repeatedly switch lanes on the highway the other day. But, where else is it socially acceptable to park your car in the middle of a (very narrow) two lane road as long as you leave your hazards flashing? On second thought, it is very likely that such a place (or places) do exist, but allow me to stay up on my soap box for another minute.
Where else can you find yourself stuck behind a kei truck (read: mini truck, you won’t find one of those bad boys in America! Here’s a wikipedia link since I don’t have any pictures: “Kei Truck” – Wikipedia) that’s driving 10 km/h in a 40 km/h zone? And, for the record I am not ageist in any way, BUT…99.9% of the time the kei truck driver turns out to be over the age of 80.
Okay – here’s one that I think will really resonate with most Americans. Where else is it okay to drive at night with your brights on? No, not only when it’s pitch black and there are no other cars on the road, but ALL the time. Does anyone even have corneas anymore?
Welcome to the inaka!
Living the Life
I braved the mean streets of Toyama for four years. I didn’t drive a kei truck, unfortunately. How cool would that have been, right? I did drive this adorable little Honda Life from 1999!
I bought it used from a dealer in Nyuzen (Nyuzen Town Website/Side note: Want to hear me doing a little “voice acting?” Check out Nyuzen Elementary School English) in August 2011. My first ever car, I paid 60,000 yen a month over a five month period for it. That’s 300,000 yen or around 2,500 at today’s terrible JPY-USD rate. Whoever owned the car before me must’ve barely driven it – it only had around 42,000 km (26,000 mi) on it when I bought it. But, for someone who rarely drove, they certainly took the time to trick it out! It had a 10 C.D. changer in the truck and a remote car starter (which I never ended up using, but hey the gimmick got me!) I fell in love pretty quickly. It was easy to park and comfortable enough, even if it did struggle to carry 4 adults up the side of a mountain every once in a while.
However, as much as I loved the thing I will be the first to admit: It was a glorified golf cart. If this was real life (as opposed to a blog) and we were talking face-to-face, I’d imitate the noise the engine would make when chugging along at 50 km/h on Rt. 8 (kind of a highway, kind of not a highway) in the summer while the A.C. was blasting.
But, my friends, size and power are not the most important things! This baby got me safely from point A to point B for 4 years and even kept me warm and cozy a couple of nights out in the woods. Pro tip to all you ’99 Honda Life drivers out there: both the driver and front passenger seats fold down flat and allow you to comfortably sleep (if you’re 5’4″ or smaller).
The biggest “souvenir” I took from my car to bring back to the States is my “car blanket.” Right now you may be thinking, “Car blanket? What’s a car blanket, Gwyneth?” Great question. A car blanket is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a blanket. That you keep in your car. I received my car blanket as a complimentary “gift” from my dealer when I paid 車検 (しゃけん/shaken: mandatory car inspection, highway robbery). The woman working the front desk really played it up to me.
She started in with your basic small talk,
“So, Miss Henning…is it colder in Toyama than it is in your home country?”
“Temperature-wise, it’s almost the same, but Toyama gets way more snow.”
“Oh, yes. There’s a lot of snow in Toyama, isn’t there? Don’t you have trouble staying warm with all the snow?”
“Umm…yes, it is pretty cold.”
“When it’s cold in the winter, I like to drive with a blanket over my lap. It keeps me warm.”
“Oh, that sounds nice.”
At this point, she pulls out a fleece blanket wrapped in plastic out from underneath the front desk.
“Why don’t you take this car blanket and try for yourself?”
And that is how I came to own my very own car blanket. What can I say, she really played it up for me. Plus, I kind of felt like I deserved a warm, cozy car blanket to lay across my lap after I paid over $1000 for the inspection. I’d include a picture for you to marvel at, but it’s currently in a box making it’s way across the Pacific (I hope!)
Where’s the scrapbooking?
Here are today’s pages:
I plan on filling in the list little-by-little. If I give it some time, there’s a good chance that better memories will float up to the surface.
I’m also considering outlining the map of Toyama. But, for now I’m happy with the simplicity. I’m starting this project small.
I’m going to end today with a song that brings me straight back to cruising around 新川 (にいかわ/Niikawa, the northeastern region of Toyama Prefecture) in the fall of 2011.