We were not convinced that driving is a breeze in Japan, as claimed by my brother Min. What tilted the table was the saving. He told us renting a car was more economical than taking the train for a family of five. So, armed with all the information provided by Min, Mike booked a Mazda (‘cheapest from the internet,’ said Min), adding extra for GPS and Y2000 for snow tyres.
On the last night before we departed, we checked again with Min, who was in Japan in April,if four luggage would fit into the boot. ‘No way,’ he said. Just bring four cabin trolleys. For seven days and five people?
‘I brought only two pair of jeans for 12 days,’ said my brother.
We decided on 3 large luggage. I need my change of jeans every two days.
Our driving route would take us from Narita – Kawaguchi – Nagano – Hida – Takayama – Nagoya and back to Narita. Average driving time was four hours except for the last leg from Nagoya to Narita which took us nearly seven hours.
Our car, smaller than a MPV, could have sat seven people. But the middle row technically only have 2,5 seats. So poor Aaron has to be squashed in the middle the whole time. Thankfully, the boys were cooperative and didn’t demand for their space like how they do in Singapore. I guess being bundled up in the cold makes a difference to proximity comfort.
The Japanese also drives on the right like us. The lanes on the roads are narrower than in Singapore. Thus driving through tunnels can be quite an experience. Driving to Takayama, we had to pass through many tunnels. The longest was 11km. Most drivers were courteous and do not tailgate but Mike noticed that van drivers were the worse. They tailgated as if they had an urgent delivery and we were in their way. So whenever Mike spotted a van behind, he got a little anxious.
Our GPS was a great help. Although the words were in Japanese, the voiceover was in English, but it could be quite confusing if not for the map shown too.
When the voice over said, ‘Turn right now,’ we did not check that there was 300m more to the right turn and turned immediately. It took us out of the expressway. Once out, you have to pay toll. Fortunately or unfortunately, the GPS would not allow u-turn and would take you for a nice city tour before you enter the expressway again, so that you don’t pay extra toll but you waste extra time.
The GPS is so convenient that all one needed to do was to enter the telephone number of the destination. Thus all tourist stops have telephone numbers, even in caves etc. However, despite this, we still could not locate our destination whenever our GPS lady announced, ‘Destination reached.’ Once in Lake Kawaguchi, we went round and round looking for our hotel despite stopping right in front of it a few times. Why? The entrance was so small, and the building looked different from that in the internet.
Our car was also a smart car. At every toll exit, a bell rang and a nice Japanese voice announced something we didn’t understand. That also took getting used to for the bell frightened us a few times initially until we decided to ignore it.
Once at a mall, Mike noticed that the boot remained unlocked despite him locking many times. It took him a long while to figure out that once the car senses the car key, it unlocks automatically. How did he find out? My smart hubby decided to hide the key at a far distance to try the boot. It was locked.
As mentioned, some lanes in Japan were so small Mike could not believe it was a road and a car could fit in there. Thus we missed the turn because of that. In Narita, the public bus could navigate through small lanes, filled with pedestrians.
The best reason to go for a driving holiday in Japan? The view of Mt Fuji – when it appears suddenly in front of you is both awesome and surreal.
If you are considering driving in Japan, do plan you itinerary. Don’t even consider driving in Tokyo. The jam on the expressway near Ginza was so bad we were delayed for an hour. We could have cut into another empty lane and exited the two-lane highway away from the jam, but we dared not until 300m closer when the GPS announced to exit.
Also, you need an international driving license. We may plan a driving holiday to Hokkaido next.