We have been living in Japan for just about six months now, but we have only had a vehicle for about a month and a half. In the beginning we thought that we would try an experiment: to go these next three years without using a car. I mean, why waste the money and have to worry about car issues if we didn’t have too? We live in the middle of Sasebo, only 1 mile away from the Naval base (work), right beside the train and bus station, surrounded by markets, and about five blocks away from the busiest shopping arcade in Sasebo. It seemed like a good idea right? We have modes of transportation, access to work, many places to find food and shop… it could work right?…
Wrong… In October, I finally broke down and convinced my husband that we needed a car. There were three main reasons that were getting more difficult to cope with without owning a car. 1. Japan’s weather is unpredictable! There may be a typhoon one day that lasts up to four days (or more or less), so walking or riding a bike is a tad tricky. Or there will be months of unbearable heat… no one wants to walk and show up to work drenched in sweat… 2. Getting groceries and shopping with a bicycle is just plain difficult. 3. Limited mobility (mountainous area). I guess this third and final one is the main reason for getting a car. You want to be able to have the time schedule you want. Not having to worry about leaving early for a train or not having the ability to go down more untraveled paths when and where you want. Plus, trying to hike up the ever-winding mountain roads can be exhausting after awhile! There are so many places to see and explore just in this city alone, that it wouldn’t be right going back to the States in three years only to say that we didn’t get many opportunities to see places and people because we didn’t own a car. After all, it’s Japan!
With that being said, it’s not not-doable without a vehicle living in Sasebo; a vehicle is just more helpful! Downtown Sasebo and the shopping arcade (Ginza) are easily accessible on foot. For outlying areas, bus service or taxis are recommended. Unlike other major metropolitan cities in Japan, Sasebo has no subway or train system connecting various inner city points. So, here are some pictures of our cute little car that we purchased not too long ago. It is a white, 2000 Suzuki Kei. In Japan, most times you can get a good deal on some cars without paying more than $2000 US. Here, I don’t believe that it’s always about the model, color, or gadgets of a vehicle that you get (more like in the States), but rather the size! It’s a challenge to get up the mountainside with an eight-seater mini van!
Japanese cars are classified into regular and light (keisha) cars, which are subject to different taxes and regulations. Keisha cars, yellow license plates, are smaller vehicles that must conform to strict size, weight and power restrictions (which is what our Suzuki is). In return, they enjoy several tax and toll breaks, and relaxed ownership regulations that make them cheaper and easier to own than regular cars (white license plates). Owning a car can be pricey if you live within the Japanese towns. Currently, gasoline here is about 161 yen to the LITER, which equals around $6.00 a GALLON in U.S!! Luckily, we have the naval base to go to to get gas, which is currently around $3.55 or so. That helps a ton! Road tax is paid yearly and the JCI is due every two years.
Interesting Rules as a Professional Driver in Japan:
Cars drive on the left side of the road.
The driver’s seat and steering wheel is on our right side.
The legal minimum age for driving is 18 years. Students spend about $3,000 (approx) to get their drivers license!
Most signs on major roads are in Japanese and English.
Drinking and driving is strictly prohibited.
Police officers are allowed to pull over drivers randomly and as seen fit for random checks.
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!