Thursday, March 17, 2005

Parking Rage

I had my first experience of "parking rage" last night.

Luciana (an Italian JET who lives in Sabae) invited me over for dinner with a few of her Japanese friends, so I popped round to her apartment at about 8, straight after I finished my Japanese lesson. She lives in a fairly small two-storey apartment building, which has a row of parking bays out the front.

When I got there, about half the bays were empty. I had a look to see if there were any markings on the bays which would indicate that they were restricted. There weren't any, so I decided to park in a space which was near to Luciana's apartment. Luciana has been car-less for the past couple of months (following a bit of an accident) so I figured that there was going to be at least one space that was definitely free. Plus it was past 8pm on a Wednesday, so it seemed unlikely that the car park would fill up whilst I was inside.

After a fantastic meal (thanks Luciana!) I decided to head on home at about twenty to 10. After saying my goodbyes I walked to my car, only to discover a tiny Suzuki totally blocking my car in. There was absolutely no way I'd be able to get my car out. "Damn," I thought, "Maybe someone parked there because the car park was full."

I looked around. The car park was still half empty. There were spaces everywhere. I was a little confused now, so I headed back up to Luciana's apartment and sheepishly rang the bell. "Forgotten something?", she said as she answered the door.

I explained the situation and she immediately recognised that it was her neighbour's car. "You've parked in her space", she explained. "Sorry, I should have told you that the guest space is here" (she pointed two spaces to the left).

Now I was a bit confused. "If there's a guest space, why didn't your neighbour just park there instead of blocking me in?", I asked. 'And why isn't it marked as a guest space?' I added to myself.

At that point, the door to the upstairs apartment opened, and a grumpy looking women in pyjamas emerged. She began talking to Luciana in Japanese in a very serious voice, which Luciana responded to with a bow and a "Sumimasen". I followed suit. Then the pyjama lady went downstairs to move her car. Luciana called me over and explained in a whisper: "She said that this is a great trouble and inconvenience for her. She's really mad".

Now I was even more confused. Surely it would be less "trouble and inconvenience" to just not block my car in in the first place - that way she wouldn't have to get up and drive her car round in her pyjamas. I just walked to my car shaking my head - there was probably some logic in the situation somewhere, but for the moment it had escaped me.

Looking back on the situation, I should have known better. A similar thing happened to another JET in Fukui a few months ago. She was visiting a friend in the city, and thought it would be OK to park outside her friend's apartment, but when she returned she found another resident had deliberately blocked her in. The resident turned out to be the grandma from hell, and immediately launched into a tirade of abuse directed at the unfortunate JET, as well as threatening to call the police. No amount of bowing seemed to calm the oba-san's rage, so the plucky JET, who was now on the verge of tears, tried to manouevre out of the space, Austin Powers style, all the while listening to a typhoon of insults in hundred-mile-an-hour Japanese.

If there's one thing you should learn when you come to Japan, it's this: Parking Spaces Are Sacred.

Japan is incredibly crowded society - every square inch of land is used for something. Even in a so-called "rural" prefecture like Fukui there's no real open countryside. Apart from the mountains, every possible space is occupied by a house, road or factory, and the bits left over are filled up with rice fields. Back gardens don't exist - if there's enough space for a back garden, it'll have rice growing in it instead.

This results in two things:

1) Parking is extremely scarce, not to mention expensive.

Many people have to pay every month for the rental of their car parking spot, which can be hundreds of pounds if you're in the city. Plus, the law says that when you buy a car you have to register a parking spot for it as well. A photo of the parking spot has to be delivered to the police, along with an application fee, and then a valid sticker must be displayed in your car at all times. Luckily, this doesn't apply to the really small cars (yellow plates), so I don't have to register.

It also means that things like this are popular in cities:

It's a robotic parking system which can fit into small and narrow buildings where there's no space for a car park. They're pretty ingenious - but the fact they're needed at all shows you just how scarce parking space is.

2) Being packed into a country like sardines means that people can get a bit uptight.

For such a crowded country, it's amazing that people don't flip out more often. The notion of harmony, or 'wa', runs deep in Japanese society, meaning that everyone tries their best to hide their grievences for the sake of the smooth running of the community. This, however, doesn't apply to car parks. And when Japanese people flip out, they really flip out.

One thing I've learned from this whole experience is that the perception of a parking space in Japan is very different from England. In England, a space is just a bit of tarmac. If someone parks in front of your house or apartment it might be a little irritating, but usually you'll just go and park somewhere else round the corner. In extreme cases, a strongly worded note under the windscreen might be called for.

In Japan, a car parking space is perceived more like a front lawn... You're paying for that space. That space is yours. Your apartment may be no bigger than a postage stamp, and you may have to sleep standing up in a cupboard, but at least you know that bit of concrete out front is yours.

So when some gaijin idiot like me comes along and takes your space, it's a bit like someone driving onto the front lawn and pulling donuts in front of your bay windows. Which is when 'wa' goes out the window and is replaced by "I'm gonna teach that gaijin idiot a lesson in manners".

So the moral of the story is this: if you want to go and visit one of your friends at his/her apartment, don't park in the parking spaces provided. Instead, try and leave your car hovering a few feet off the ground, or better still, pay a local street urchin to drive your car round and round in circles for the duration of your visit, thus avoiding the ever thorny issue of where to park, and, more importantly, keeping the 'wa' intact.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You neglected to tired about their need to BACK into any space, anywhere, even if they come to a deserted shopping center carpark at 6 in the morning.

9:36 am  
Blogger The Funky Drummer said...

Good Shit Lewis.

PS Your "Why can't they drive" song in JETfuel was superb.

11:57 am  
Blogger Lewis said...

Thanks Sam!

12:56 pm  
Blogger James Gallagher said...

Amazing. Very amazing. I guess she showed _you_, huh?


2:12 pm  
Blogger papa said...

I just found this post and made some comments about it on my new blog, papa no ibasho.

3:55 am  

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