Road trips are getting more and more popular within tourist especially for destinations like Okinawa or Hokkaido. As an experienced driver, it is still nerve-wracking to drive in another country due to differences of rules and manners. You may not speak the local language, or you don't want to break a law that you didn't know about.
Here are 5 things you may not know about driving in Japan, but will be glad you did.
1. Flashing your lights is a good thing
When another driver does something nice, like letting you go first at an intersection or letting you pass them on a busy street, you can flash your hazard lights to say "Thank you!"
Normally, drivers will smile, give a slight bow, or raise their hand to show gratitude to the other driver. But if the car you want to thank is already behind you, they can't see you anymore.
When that happens, you can give a quick flash of your hazard lights to communicate your thanks. This is a common custom in Japan, and the other driver will appreciate the gesture.
2. Take the high road
Japan is full of narrow, winding roads. If you're used to wide roads with clearly-marked lanes, you may need some time to adjust to a new way of driving.
Some roads have space for only one car, yet cars still come from both ways.
If you're driving on one of these roads, you may notice a car approach from the other direction. When this happens, it's best to pull onto the side of the road and let the other car pass by.
If you keep moving forward, you may reach a point where neither of you can move forward anymore, forcing one of you to back up and find a place to pull over.
If in doubt, stop and let the other car pass by first.
3. The pedestrian is always right
Thanks to Japan's convenient train lines, many people choose to walk or bike to a train station every morning to get to work. While driving, you will most likely encounter a lot of pedestrians along the way.
At every pedestrian crossing (one marked with thick white lines like the Beatles' Abbey Road album cover), you must let the pedestrian go first.
Many of these crossings won't have a stop light or sign, but you must always stop for pedestrians. This is not an issue of manners, but of law.
4. Stickers tell all
You can always tell when someone is a new driver because they can't keep up with the traffic around them.
Japan, however, has devised a more obvious way to identify beginners by placing a big, bright sticker on their cars.
This yellow and green leaf-shaped sticker is mandatory for all first-time drivers in Japan, and stays on the car for the entire first year of driving.
If you see one of these stickers, you'll know that you're dealing with a new driver. You can avoid them or give them a break when they don't drive as quickly as you'd like.
You may also see a colorful, clover-shaped (water drop-shaped with orange and yellow for the previous version) sticker on cars. This sticker is mandatory for drivers over 75 years old.
5. Beware of mud
This final tip isn't crucial for your safety but may save you some money on a rainy day.
According to Japanese law, if you splash someone with mud while driving through a puddle, you are eligible for a 6,000-yen fine. Not only will you pay a fine, but you may need to cover the pedestrian's cleaning bill.
Now that you've learned some basic manners and lesser-known rules of driving in Japan and the ones mentioned above are just a tip of an iceberg. But I bet by knowing just a little bit, you can feel more confident the next time you're in the driver's seat.