Saturday, November 19, 2016

I hear the train a comin'

The last day of our AOB class was essentially a drivers education class. For a few hours in the morning, we were instructed on safe driving in Japan, rules of the road, and other things to be aware of. We had been given a driver's manual to study throughout the week, but we'd really only looked at it briefly. It's a very safe country to drive in - speeds are lower than the American average and everyone is considered a professional driver. That said, accidents and other traffic violations are very serious business, so you need to do it right.

The biggest difference is that Japan drives on the left side of the road, and the controls in a car are reversed from what we are accustomed to. It also takes some visual getting used to, and I still walk around to the drivers side of a car when I'm supposed to be the passenger.

During the lunch break on Friday's AOB, they play a slideshow of road signs on repeat, so we watched and quizzed ourselves. Friday afternoon is the written examination. We passed! In fact, I got one more question right than Blake.

We both had our practical exams on Tuesday, which we also passed! So, now we are both proud owners of Japanese drivers licenses for Americans.

However, we are not planning to get a car any time soon, if at all. Japan has very reliable, safe, and cost-effective public transportation, with train stations every where we've needed to go so far. It's been easy to navigate thus far and easier still with smartphones and GPS than it was when I learned how to do international trains over a decade ago. And even better, the housing detachment we live on has a gate at the train station, which is about a 5-7 minute walk from our door.

Yes, it's not quite as easy as jumping in our car any time we need to, but we're making it work so far. We've even carried an un-assembled IKEA bookcase, two dozen eggs, and a laundry basket (not all at the same time) on the train. We do happily accept rides when offered, or ask when needed, but most of the time, the train suits us just fine, and all the walking is very healthy. We might rent a car on occasion, but the car-free lifestyle is quite doable in our region of Japan.

And if I get lost, I have a handy card to ask any Japanese person directions back to either main base (shown here) or our housing detachment, which I keep in my train card holder. The one time I've asked directions thus far (a week ago, and to a store, not to home) was met with what sounded like very thorough instructions, but I didn't understand them and we were ultimately unsuccessful in our goal. Luckily, we found the store today and felt a little sheepish when it turns out we had missed a huge sign and probably had been pointed in the right direction after all. We also missed our train stop at one point today. I was embracing local custom by dozing and Blake thought it wasn't for a couple more stops, but we figured it out quickly and turned around at the next station.

It's taking some doing, but we are learning our way around and errors have been minimal. The longer we're here, the less intimidating it is! Of course, once we do start driving, we'll be intimidated all over again, but for now, we're good!

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