Driving a car outside your home country can be intimidating. People from overseas often find Japanese roads too narrow for comfort. And transferring a license to Japan can involve a long and complicated process. This month's Senpai, Jared Campion, shares advice about driving safely and enjoyably. Jared rents and sells custom camper vans. He recommends setting out for the countryside.
The latter part of the program shifts from four wheels to four paws. Our hosts introduce the NHK WORLD-JAPAN program, "A Cat's-Eye View of Japan."
Living in Japan. Hello and thanks for tuning in to our show. I'm Stuart. I'm Ruth.
Living in Japan is a program for international residents in Japan, whether you're here now or expect to be here in the future.
We're the place to turn to for tips on making the most of your life in Japan.
Indeed, we are. Last month, we talked about making the most of Japan's extensive train network. Now, the list of places I want to go has grown.
Me too. I want to try those local trains.
Oh, yes, indeed. But this time we're headed for the highway. Our guest is Jared Campion. He's been in Japan for 14 years and is in the business of renting campervans to visitors from overseas. He's a source of advice for them too. So today we're going to hear about driving safely and seeing the country from behind the wheel.
And even if you're not the one driving, you can help the driver stay safe so everyone can have fun.
All right. Let's get in gear.
HINTS FROM SENPAIOkay. Time for hints from Senpai. Senpai is a Japanese word meaning someone with more knowledge or experience than you have.
Each month, we ask a senpai to enlighten us about what he or she has already found out.
Today's Senpai is Jared Campion. He rents and sells customized campervans. Most of his customers are from abroad, and understandably they can be a bit nervous about driving in Japan. He helps purge them of their problems. Welcome, Jared.
Thanks for having me, guys.
So how did you get started with all of this?
Well, my family loved campervans. We grew up with them. And in Australia we have made, we customized a campervan and travel around.
I came to Japan 2008 and just fell in love with the country, the countryside.
And as I got into driving, I just realized there's so much amazing outdoor beauty in Japan and you can find, you can unlock a whole different type of side of Japan by driving. And camping here's great and driving is a lot of fun and very safe also.
That sounds great. But first things first. You need a license, right? So how does that work if you're coming from another country. Right.
Yes, absolutely. You do need a driver's license like many other countries, in Japan. And but you can drive with an international driver's permit. Okay.
So, but not from every country. You have to check if your country you're from has a permit to drive in Japan.
Right. I'm actually from Hawaii, and I got a license in Hawaii when I was 16. But the rule for American licenses is different. I can't just transfer from my American license to a Japanese license. So, I ended up going to a Japanese driving school, and I got my Japanese license that way. Most of my classmates were all like about 20 years old, but it was a super good experience, and I felt like I really could understand the Japanese driving rules.
Now, once you have a license, of course you're legal. But some of the customs here may be different from what you're used to. Could you tell us about some of the big ones?
Well, yes, the roads in Japan can in local, in local streets can get quite tight and narrow. So, you can find it a little bit tricky driving larger vehicles here. And you really want to make sure you don't rush. A good tip is just to get out of the car, signal potential traffic behind you that you're in a spot. And generally, in Japan, people are very patient and happy to help you get out of a tight spot. So, I think that's one of the things to be careful for.
I like to wind my window down and say, "Hey, come on." That's another good thing too, not being the scary foreigner is probably a good idea. Yeah.
I try to make eye contact as much as possible and smile. And it usually works well.
Ruth's delightful smile. So, yeah.
And also, just because you've got a license, don't assume that you know all the rules of the road, right? Friends of mine have gotten lots of tickets, especially my American friends, because they simply just didn't know the rules. Like they didn't know the meaning of a lot of the signs. The signage in Japan can be quite difficult to understand.
Like the one-way signs with times on them. Well, is that the time we can go through, or we can't go through?
What do you think, Jared?
Yeah, I think there's a lot of differences here. Generally, it's pretty straightforward and obvious if you drive regularly. When you're crossing a train track, making sure you fully stop. Right.
And not turning left on the green straight arrow. I'm just kind of listing some of the tickets I've got. The hard way here, but yeah, but generally, generally it's pretty straightforward and it's best to just take caution.
Do you have a list for this for people that rent the vans?
When we, we make a video online, which people can watch, and it's just driving tips in Japan. And by watching that, they get the gist of the main signs.
Okay, but how about Japanese drivers? Are they really good?
By and large, I think people drive quite safely in Japan, and there is a certain level of politeness also. For example, if people change lanes and someone lets you in or if you, you know, you drive a little bit unsafely, people will flash the hazard lights a couple of times just to say, you know, "Sumimasen" or "Arigato." So that's like a nice little touch which you experience in Japan.
I actually have a name for that. I call it the thank-you lights. Nice.
I recently saw it in Hawaii when I was driving in Hawaii, so I thought maybe a Japanese person was either behind the wheel or an American had been in Japan and thought it was a good idea, so they were doing it too. In the US we just kind of open the window to say "Shaka," you know, in Hawaii, like, wave at people. But I think the thank-you lights are really nice.
Yeah. And in Australia it's a single finger above the steering wheel. But yeah, back to Japan I think you won't hear horns as much in Japan as you do in other countries. People don't normally beep unless it's a very serious matter. It might be a little gentle "beep, beep" if someone's... if something's happened. But yeah. Pretty silent on the road.
These days, actually, it's kind of a sad thing, but road rage is said to be increasing, and you want to avoid being the cause of it for sure, even if the reaction is kind of out of line, right? Yeah.
Unfortunately, sometimes it happens despite our best efforts, right?
Yeah. I mean, in my experience, it could be a little bit of tailgating quite closely. I feel the best thing to do is obviously not react and just to stay calm and don't try and start any arguments, especially when, if, you cannot communicate.
Right, exactly. Like just move to the side or let them go.
Yeah, take it easy, basically.
I think maybe all the stress of COVID has probably got people a bit more stressed out on the roads as well.
And nowadays the thing that I really like is everyone has access to a camera, even on the car itself, right? So, you have it on your phone, you have it on the car. So, if you end up in trouble and something happens, there will always be like a record of what had happened. And you can take a photo of the other car's license plate if you need to, and then you can report that if necessary. So, I like the presence of cameras everywhere. It really helps.
Yeah. I always tell the customers, if you hit something in the car, even if you feel it's not major, it's best to call the insurance, call the police, and just have it all worked out like officially is the best play in Japan.
Yeah. I always tell all my friends that because in the automobile school that I went to, the driving school, it's like no matter how small it is, you have to call the police. Like that is considered the proper thing to do. So, anyone who, if they see the other person starting to call the police, they should not panic and think, oh my gosh, I'm going to go to jail or something. Or maybe they're calling it because they don't like me or something like that. It's just everyone calls the police, even for the small things. So, that's the best thing to do.
The best advice is to keep calm and wait for the police to arrive before carrying on.
Yeah. And these kinds of problems happen generally in crowded areas like the big cities. So, it's another reason why I like to stick to countryside, but it's less crowded.
Okay. Speaking of the countries side, we'll talk about that next after a break.
Continuing on with hints from senpai, now senpai today is Jared. We were talking about cars and now we're going to go into the countryside, driving in the countryside. Nice.
Yeah. Most people in when they think of Japan, they might not think about driving. It's got great public transport, but I really recommend setting out for the countryside with a car, and if you don't have one, you can always rent one. And it's a great way to check out more of Japan.
Yeah. And really exploring with friends or family makes the weekends even more fun and wonderful.
You get to see a lot more scenery and views of the ocean, mountains, lakes and so forth. So yeah, so I think it's a great way to travel. And a great spot to go, I think to check out the first would be Mt. Fuji.
It's got some amazing lakes, some amazing views, great onsen. And it's just fun to drive around. You never get bored of looking at Mt. Fuji.
I actually love driving in Tohoku because you drive through all of these rice paddies, tons and tons of rice paddies, and it's just such a beautiful, very Japanese view that you can get.
The best one that I love the most is you go from the Kochi City Airport. Okay.
And you go down to Tosa, Tosashimizu through the mountains and along the coast, beautiful beaches, and suddenly the road swings into the mountains and it's so lush and green, absolutely gorgeous.
I've got a favorite, which would be probably Izu from Tokyo. You go to Numazu and you drive right around the coast on West Izu and they've got the highlands. You can just drive right around Izu. It's just an amazing road. A lot of fun. And Japan has a unique thing called Michinoeki. Michinoeki, yes!
Yeah. We better explain exactly what that means because they are awesome. They're service stations along the roadways and are rather different from those on expressways. So, they're sort of like train stations for cars.
When you say service stations, though, they don't sell gasoline and so on?
No, so at a Michinoeki, you can find out a lot about that region. It's like a, it is, it's kind of like an actual train station along the road. Okay.
So, like in the train stations you get locally produced foods and things like that. You can find those at the Michinoeki, and you can take a break from driving, and they always have good ice cream. Very important.
Yeah. Don't forget, many of Michinoeki also have onsen.
Onsen? Right. Yes.
Yeah. So, if you're going somewhere and you want to take a bath on the way, it's a great way to spend a bit of time and chill out. I think the Michinoeki, going there, is a great way to buy local produce, try some local, like cook some local dishes.
You're right. So, at the Michinoeki you can buy vegetables and then take it to the campsite and cook them up right there. Yeah, that's great. What a great weekend. Yes.
Yeah. Japan's full of amazing campsites everywhere. And they're very, they've got very clean toilets. They've got great showers, electricity, and Wi-Fi. They're becoming really popular. And it's a great place to meet and interact with the locals as well. We've also noticed since the pandemic hit, we've kind of shifted to selling campervans, too, not just renting them, and it's been a bit of a boom for that as well. And demand is really increasing. So, the campsite, there's more campsites opening, and it's becoming more and more popular.
So, it's pretty easy to find those campsites. Like, how do you find them?
There're many ways to find campsites online. There's lots of websites or online maps which will share a ton of recommendations. We also recommend them on our website. Okay, great.
Fantastic. Now going camping by yourself, going solo has an appeal, of course, but I suppose most people would like to go with their family and friends. That, of course, keeps the costs down. Now I sometimes stay at campsites with my family and so if we go by train and we stay in a hotel or whatever, it's three people's worth of fares and so on. But if we go camping, it's just our car, the fuel costs, and yet one kind of cost for just the campsite itself. So, it's brilliant.
Do you need a reservation at these campsites?
It depends. There's plenty of campsites which are run by the towns. And those ones, you can just show up, and they're very affordable. And then there's some very nice campsites where you do need to book ahead. Sometimes you need to call ahead as well.
Well, and another good thing about, you know, exploring around and finding campsites is that you realize all of us living in a city, there is life outside of the cities.
Yeah. And driving just gets you, you see so much more of Japan when you drive, you get to take it slow, visit lots of shops and restaurants, and kind of be a bit more spontaneous. And make your own plan as you go. There's, yeah, it's also a great way to meet people at these campsites. There's a lot more camaraderie. So, driving in Japan is not just transportation, it's just giving you a whole sense of freedom.
And I feel like you see a whole 'nother side of Japanese people because when I stop at the service areas or Michinoeki, I've never seen people that casually dressed. 'Cause everybody's on a long trip, so everyone's really dressed down. Yeah. Whereas in the city, people always dress up so much. So, you feel like you really like are there together kind of as a family.
It's brilliant. Aw, I really want to go driving again and go camping. Oh, this has been brilliant. Thank you so much, Jared. It was a real pleasure having you here. Our guest today was Jared Campion. Thank you very much.
Thank you, guys. I had a great time. Thank you.
GOOD TO KNOWAll right, now something else to look into. NHK WORLD-JAPAN has an array of TV programs about Japanese culture. Now, we have a recommendation of the day. Ruth, what is your recommendation today?
Well, we've been talking about seeing Japan from four wheels. Yes.
I want to introduce a program that sees things from the perspective of four paws, P, A, W, S. It's a program called "A Cat's-Eye View of Japan." Ah, okay. Good.
Have you heard of it? I have, yeah.
Wildlife photographer Iwago Mitsuaki traveled around the country taking pictures of how it looks to cats from the perspective of cats. The perspective of cats? I like that.
Yeah. I was surprised to see one cat in a golfing range. You know, one of those practice ranges, you go to? Yeah,
The cat was sitting right next to the people who are hitting their drives at the driving range. And another one was about a paragliding site that you can go to, and the cat was just yawning and sleeping on the paragliding. It was really wonderful. I love this show.
I've seen some on social media, some shots of cats sitting on the entrance to train stations, the ticket machines, and just sitting there while the commuters go through, you know?
Yeah. But these are, you know, videos from the cat's perspective. It's just the cutest thing in the world. That's brilliant.
And it's like, you're right there with the cat. It's like you have become the cat. And I think that kind of personification is very Japanese. Yeah.
To take the viewpoint of the cat, it almost reminded me of, like, anime. Yeah, okay.
Sometimes how they do it. So yeah, it reminds me of the anime animal characters, and this is real life cat. So, it's a very cool show.
It's brilliant that it's from the perspective of the cats though, because cats are among the most beloved animals in Japan, as you know. They're depicted in all sorts of photo books and calendars, social media videos, as I said before, and anime, as you said. Now there's even a word called "Neko-nomics." Neko is cat. And of course, "nomics" is economics. "Neko-nomics." For real. It's a thing. It's a thing.
It accounts for an amazing amount of economic activity in Japan.
We even have cat tourism that you must know about. Cat tourism, yes.
Yeah. If you don't have a pet of your own, you can go play with one at a cat café. Or for an immersion experience, head for one of the cat islands. Oh yes.
There are several cat islands in Japan. Aoshima, for example, has ten times more cats than humans.
Ten times more cats than humans. Yeah. That's brilliant. When I was a child, I had six cats and slept with four, and they used to come into my bed just on their own accord. Cute.
So, I probably would do just fine living on one of those islands.
Yeah. You can watch the program on the NHK WORLD-JAPAN website. Go to the site, click "On-Demand," and search for "A Cat's-Eye View of Japan."
"A Cat's-Eye View of Japan," oh, I love that.
ENDINGPeople in campervans and cats find their own cozy places. Mine is a Japanese Sake bar. I can stand, drink, and reflect on things in peace.
Oh. Mine is Ishiyaki-imo, have you ever had that? Yes. Roasted sweet potato stands. I love those. And in winter, they have little trucks going around: "Yakiimo Yakiimo!" It's so good. I want one of those. Yeah, it's getting cold. So, I'm ready to eat some Yakiimo.
If you want to hear today's program again or introduce someone else to it, just head to our website.
Go to the NHK WORLD-JAPAN website. Click on "On-Demand," choose "Audio," and select "Living in Japan."
If you have any comments or requests, send us a message through the site. We're always happy to hear from you. We'll be back on January 1st, New Year's Day, with another edition of Living in Japan. Bye!