Friday, October 2, 2009

WARNING: American Drivers!

One thing that still scares me a little is driving. In America, we are used to the roads, the cars, the speed limits, the stop lights. Over here, all bets are off - even the most seasoned driver is apt to make some big mistakes, because he (or she!) is out of their element. The day we moved into our apartment last week was also the day, coincidentally, that we were able to pick up our new car from the dealership out in town. Matt couldn't wait to drive first, and to be honest, I was scared to take the wheel just yet. However, let me tell you - just because you're not the one behind the wheel, doesn't mean you aren't scared. I was, admittedly, quite frightened being the passenger in a car with a first-time American driver in Japan! To my surprise, Matt did pretty well driving, and even got us back home safely:) He also takes the car to work, so he is getting more comfortable with driving on the left side each day. Since we got the car about a week ago, I have only driven it twice, but both were out in town and decently long drives.

Matt's first time driving

Me driving for the first time (sorry the quality is poor - it was night on my iphone)

What is it like driving on the other side of the road and defying everything that has been engraved in your American Driver mind since you turned 16?? Awkward!! Confusing at times. You have to really THINK about every little thing you are about to do. It is hard to recognize stop lights and look for speed limit signs - it may sound easy, but they look different and are located in different places than American ones. Everything is also opposite - you reach over your right shoulder to get your seatbelt instead of your left; you look up and to your left to see into your rear-view mirror instead of to your right; Oh, and did I mention that you also have to drive in the left lane instead of the right? Obvious? Yes. Hardest part? YES! Everywhere I go, I have to keep saying to myself, "LEFT, LEFT, LEFT". Your turn signal and your windshield wipers are also on the opposite sides of the steering wheel as well - wipers on the left and turn signal on the right. I must have turned on my windshield wipers about 30 times during my first drive! I'm getting better, though. I think I only hit the wipers a couple times tonight. Progress!

As soon as we had the freedom of our own car, we started to drive around town and check out a lot of the places we've been seeing while driving around with our sponsor. Here are a few of the first places we checked out:

American Village

American Village is a large outdoor shopping area out in town that the Japanese on the island created to... hmmm... remind us of home I guess?? It seems like it is what the Japanese consider to be "American shopping". Anyway, its actually pretty cool, and I think I may end up shopping there quite a bit while living in Okinawa. While part of it includes the Jusco Mall that I talked about in a previous post, the other part is a really pretty riverwalk type area with shops and restaurants along the water. The shops include everything from clothing and toy stores, thrift shops, hotdog stands, a movie theater, another indoor mall, and even a Baskin Robbins! They also have a HUGE "Coca-Cola" branded ferris wheel that takes an hour to get all the way around, or so we've heard... We can see this gigantic ferris wheel from the balcony of our apartment at night when it lights up! We ended up looking around more than shopping, but the other indoor mall was pretty fascinating, and that is where we were first introduced to something called "Doctor Fish", which I will explain in my next post!

Some cool trash art displayed there - note the Michael Jordan statue in the background!

Some fish we were feeding in the "river" along the shops

Check out this video of American Village that Matt took:

Some of the outdoor shopping
Plaid is very popular

A sign for one of the stores named 'American Depot'

Baskin Robbins Japanese style!

Some more trash art

Coca-cola ferris wheel

I just liked the name of this store :)

Inside the mall - I felt like I was at a trade show - the "stores" are more like "booths"

Some Shi-Shi Dog stuffed animals

These are hair ties - does anyone really use these??

Macuno Naduno (McDonald's)

McDonald's is never really one of the places we like to go to for dinner, however, we just had to see what the differences were compared to American McDonald's. First of all, their workers all dress in cute little dresses, nothing like American food service workers. They also deliver your food to you at Japanese McDonald's. Ketchup comes in little containers like hunny - no packets (why don't we do THAT in America?) The portions are slightly smaller than what you are used to, and I think the most significant difference would be the taste. Everything tastes like a healthier version of what is served in America. The hamburgers taste beefier, the ketchup tastes more like tomatoes, and the fries actually taste like potatoes! They must use less oil and salt on them than American McDonald's. Okay, starting to understand why Japanese are so thin...

Counter shot

My drink and teeny tiny hamburger - only slightly larger than a White Castle Slider!

Ketchup containers!

Our receipt

Monkey Hardware

Okay, so "Monkey Harware" is not the actual name of the store, but like I mentioned before, Americans here like to make up their own names for things that don't have english names, so "Monkey Hardware" it is! This is the Japanese Home Depot combined with a Wal-mart type store, a pet store, a scuba store, a dollar store, and a gardening store all in one! I'm starting to realize that Japanese people like to combine things as much as humanly possible. Anyway, Monkey Hardware is AWESOME! I found so many cool things! The dollar store section was amazing compared to what they sell at dollar stores in the US, and I was even intrigued by some of the things in the hardware store section, which is not at all like me! We originally went there for some masonry drill bits and anchors for mounting our TV to the concrete wall in our apartment, but left with a whole lot more! Beside being in Kanji (Japanese symbols), everything was also in metric units. And try explaining to a Japanese sales associate (who speaks absolutely no English) that you are, "looking for masonry drill bits and anchors". Not easy!

We found the drill bits!

Matt pretending to be the monkey on the sign
Some gorgeous Orchids they were selling in the gardening store section

I thought these large planters were pretty cool

Some more colorful planters and pots

A baby pomeranian in the pet store section

And now...

Things I Learned in Japan Today:
1. Japanese roads are slippery even when dry, and extra slick when wet - they are made of ground up coral from their reefs.
2. Honking is illegal here unless someone is in immediate danger.
3. The slow lane is on the left, and the fast lane is on the right, although there usually isn't a significant difference between either.
4. I haven't seen a speed limit sign here above 60 Kilometers per hour, which is about 37 mph.
5. Street lights make a chiming sound when they are displaying the "Don't Walk" sign for crossing pedestrians. It almost sounds like some sort of clicking alarm - took me forever to realize what that sound was! (If you listen to the first part of the American Village video posted above, you can hear the "bing-bing, bing-bing" of these lights in the background)
6. License plates are normally white in color. If you see a car with a yellow one, that means they have a smaller, more eco-friendly engine, and you need to give them extra time to excellerate.
7. Good Will is a store here that sells electronics - doesn't have anything to do with driving, just thought it was interesting!

Stay tuned for more!


1 comment:

  1. How informative and your writing is very descriptive! You helped me visualize so well (eg the "honey" Ketchup) that when I saw the picture, it was as I pictured it as I read! I "heard" the birds in the background when the video started now I'm wanting to return and listen if that's the "Don't Walk" sign.
    Whew...driving sounds challenging as does shopping. I couldn't imagine needing assistance yet not being able to communicate in the same language. Don and I enjoyed reading this together. We love you both and pray for you daily! Hugs! xo