Toyota Starlet


For the past week, Taylor and I have been driving our new-to-us 1995 Toyota Starlet.  She’s a beauty.

My car!

My car!

For me, the most difficult part of adjusting to driving in Japan was not driving on the left side of the road, as I thought it would be, but rather driving on the right side of the car.  I discovered how much I rely on my ears to clue me in to where I am within my lane.  On my first drive (which was the 20-something kilometers from my office to our apartment) I kept drifting left because I was used to hearing the road go by with my left ear out the left window, but I was hearing the tires on the pavement out my right ear.  This caused me to lean the whole car left, straining for the familiar balance of sounds.  This all happened subconsciously.  I think I also just wanted my body to be on the left side of the lane, so I kept having to remind myself to hug the middle line.

It only took me one day to get all the weirdies out though, so now I feel very confident.

The most significant differences between driving in the U.S. compared with rural Japan have been:

1. The use of emergency lights for the purpose of parking temporarily in the way.  No one makes a fit if you need to stop in the road as long as those lights are flashing.

2. Much more weaving.  Cars weave around buses, cars with their emergency lights flashing, slow tractors, bikers, and pedestrians much more frequently and confidently than American drivers.  In the U.S. people seem much more hesitant to weave into the opposite lane to pass any of the above.  Of course, everywhere they wait for the oncoming traffic to stop.  On occasion I have seen the oncoming traffic flash their high beams to signal someone to go ahead and pass.

3. Flashing high beams happens more often.  My car dealer advised me that to do this means “go ahead” to other cars.

4. Abundance of mirrors.  At almost any non-perpendicular intersection, large convex mirrors are placed so that the drivers stopped at either street can see down the other streets without having to inch forward until the direct line of vision can be accomplished.  This keeps the driver safe on his own street until he can see it’s safe to go.

5. The stoplights work differently.  The first thing to notice about the stoplights is that they are horizontal instead of vertical.  Some stoplights have one row of the regular red, yellow, and green, but then have a second row of green arrows that point either left, right, and forward.  In Japan, green trumps red, so here is what happens: The top row will show a red light and the bottom row will show a green arrow or two.  This means that the red light only applies to the arrows that are not lit.  You can always go in the direction of the green arrow.  It’s going to be difficult for me to not slow to a stop when I see a red light at an intersection.

6. No turns on red. (Unless there is a green arrow.)

7. Much slower driving.  The maximum speed on the highway that I use to get to work is 50 k.p.h.  That’s just over 31 m.p.h.  Everyone drives about 10 km over the speed limit which means I drive to work going an average speed of about 37 miles per hour.

I can think of a few other minor differences, but these are the ones that were most noticeable to me.


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3 Responses to “Toyota Starlet”

  1. adventureben Says:

    Whoa! You’re totally right! It’s not the left side of the road, it’s the right side of the car. THAT’S what’s been bothering me.
    For me, I think what distracted me the most is having to drive closer to the center dotted line. Or at least, what LOOKS like “closer” to the center line. Also, I still twist around and look over my right shoulder when I’m backing up. My left hand is steadier on the wheel…

  2. adventureben Says:

    Oh yeah, also, I have vertical stoplights in my town. Nyah-nyah nyah!

  3. My Hairdo is Blowin’ in the Wind « Pacificloons Says:

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