The Open Road

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Driving in Japan and my first week’s adventures.

Being from the States, there are obvious driving differences that I knew were going to make themselves aware. Like, say, driving on the opposite side of the road in the opposite side of the car. I’ll admit, I was rather anxious about my first drive but once I sat down and got going, it wasn’t anywhere near as difficult as I had blown it up to be in my head. What’s difficult are the little things you notice later.

Driving slow on… every morning actually. A lot of Sunday drivers in the inaka.

Not that anyone was supposed to, but no one told me about the interesting driving etiquette that happens here. Sure, the streets are narrow but the cars are typically smaller than what I’m used to back home. And sure, the lights are sideways but the colors are the same. It’s the people that are so different. When the light turns yellow, and there’s still someone trying to make that turn, they let them go turn on red without a fuss. There are very few turn signal lights around, at least out here in the inaka (countryside). When driving on a particularly narrow street with two way traffic, cars take turns pulling onto the side in whatever way they can (like driveways to homes or dirt) to let cars pass.

Air view from a garden to the city of Nanao on the east side.

The inaka - a sunset over rice fields.

It’s like many things in Japan where it’s become this well oiled machine. As long as everyone conforms to the system, that is. I’ve come across a jerk here and there but I think it’s more just people not paying attention, distracted by screaming children in the back or voices in their heads. Then there are the ji-chan trucks (Grampa trucks) who don’t have a whole lot of power or are carrying heavy loads usually and tend to slow up a lot of traffic. Passing cars in the inaka is pretty easy as long as you’re careful, however. Oh! And everyone backs in to parking spaces. I always know where I park. I’m the only one pulled in. And I probably won’t bother to try backing in just for that reason. I had my own brush with a telephone pole as well… nothing serious, I probably wasn’t doing more than 15kmph and a truck came down a hill and around the corner a bit fast. Ah well, at least there was no visible damage to the car. It just smacked the side view mirror. Needless to say, I take those types of corners a bit more cautiously now.

My first week was a LOT of driving. Thankfully, I carpooled with some fellow ALT’s so it wasn’t so bad. Typically the day would begin by picking a random destination and seeing what we ran into along the way. Like the aquarium for example. My friend Nicole and I headed in that direction and along the way found our very popular local hot spring area, Wakura Onsen, then a Hawaiian styled cafe that later on we found to be very tasty, called Mahalo, then another onsen once we got on Notojima, Hokuriku I think, then a Glass Art Museum, the Notojima Aquarium itself, and then afterwards we hunted down a beach on the east side of the island. It was a glorious excursion. This was just one day, by the way. Each day had similar outings. I remember one day we just started driving down 159 until we ran into something interesting. Turns out there’s a whole other mall area down there in Nakanoto. Keep going to Kahoku-shi and you get our nearest Aeon mall. That baby is massive.

A shot of the dolphin show at the Notojima Aquarium.

I hearted this octopus. He danced for us.

The heart of Nanao is well packed with little places but also has a nice vertical mall next to the station called Patria. It houses a Mister Donut (think Dunkin’ Donuts but smaller donuts), a small patisserie, omiyage shop, grocery store, department store, hyaku-en store (think Dollar Store), a stationary/random fluffy things store, and… other things I don’t remember. Usually, when in need of something, I either head there or to Nappy Mall on route 159. I know, awesome name. We giggle frequently about it. But it houses a yama-ya (foreign food store/booze), a Dontaku (grocery chain), book store, a nice sushi joint that I love (likes to pretend it’s a kaitenzushi but it’s not), a hyaku-en store, okonomiyaki restaurant, and curry restaurant. Then there’s a bridge that leads to route 2 and a whole ‘nother collection of eateries and shops… like Book-off and Coco’s Curry. Both very dangerous places.

But alas, like my boyfriend recently noted while visiting, much of what there is to do out here is spend money. Not a whole lot of activities outside of that on the surface but I think we just need to look harder for them. I’m debating about investing in (or printing out myself) a large map of the Noto Peninsula and mapping out all the cool places. I guess it would be easier to do this digitally but I enjoy having things physically present. There are lots of little parks and hidden gems all over Nanao and the Noto area. I don’t want to miss anything while I’m here >.<!! Already we found the castle ruins and the pavilion area at the top of the mountains on the edge of Nanao. Spectacular views. And the ever popular obstacle course/death trap park at the base of said mountains… can’t remember the name of it but it’s pretty big. You can rent a multiple person bicycle type thing and ride around this big track.

Let’s see… next time I think I’ll start discussing some of the school interactions like the teachers room and so on. Need to do one on food as well but see my friend Nathalie’s blog for a more in depth look at food in Japan.

With love – M

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