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March 27, 2008


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Stephanie D

I lived in Japan for over two years and learned that there are many things in Japan that discourage car ownership:

1. There is a hefty tax on automobiles, particularly the longer you own them. Many families own only one car for that reason.

2. Pricey tolls (and gasoline) can make a long roadtrip more expensive than going by train on one of the more "luxury" train rails. (And you can relax and nap while on the train!)

3. Parking is very limited (at apartment complexes, near office buildings, at train stations, etc.), so while everyone owns a bike, few people have their own car.

4. Public transportation in Japan is VERY convenient. The train system was developed around all major cities and expanded to include most small towns, too. Buses get you to and from train stations, so you're rarely at a loss for a ride. Combined with a bicycle, the occasional taxi cab ride and lots of walking, you hardly need a car in Japan!

Take notes, America!

Melissa Esposito

I didn't think of Japan as being particularly auto-unfriendly when I visited about ten years ago, but I also was staying in a small town near Kochi (Tosayamada, which has since been merged into Kami). The family I lived with gave me a bike to use, but I didn't think of that as weird because I already rode a bike to school in the states. (For being made by stereotypically small people, though, that bike was huge; I could barely make it on in my skirts.) I remember the roads being narrow, and they had the mirrors up on the corners to help people see each other around corners and I wished that we had those in the states; since the bike was so hard to get onto, and since I didn't want to give more of a show in my skirts than was necessary, I was grateful for them so I didn't have to get on and off at each corner if traffic was clear. Talking to the girls who lived there, they were amazed I had my driver's license already and some showed what I perceived then as an abnormal ambivalence about getting their own when they were of age.

I wish now I'd paid more attention to gas prices and the like while I was there for comparison purposes. But we did go to Osaka and took the train to Kyoto, and the public transportation there was amazing, especially compared to ye olde bus system in Pinellas County, Florida, where I was living at the time. I think that started my love affair with transit.


I grew up in Japan. I drove illegally as a teen (along with most other ex-pat Americans I knew) but mostly I used public transportation.

As for other things Japan does to discourage driving: The roads are almost unusable :-) Residential streets are more like what we call alleys here in the USA: single lane with pullouts. Speed limits are very low: 80 km/hr (50 mph) on their equivalent of Interstate highways (which have extremely high tolls), 40 km/hr (25 mph) on major thoroughfares, 20 to 30 km/hr on other streets. Enforcement is strict, and in Japan the courts will pull the funds from your bank to pay traffic fines. If you kill somebody while driving, you're going to prison (as opposed to the American system, where vehicular homicide results in the driver feeling bad about the victim's family. Sometimes.)

The price of gasoline is rather high - the equivalent of nearly $6/gallon now. Car ownership and operation is expensive. The license tests (written and driving) are difficult and pricey.

The structural disincentives are less true outside of the Kanto and Kansai regions. When you get to smaller towns, the roads are wider, public transportation isn't quite as pervasive, and you get slightly more American-style suburban development with problems of urban sprawl.

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