Sunday, October 4, 2009

Clunker or Junker?

Many of you have asked “did you get to ship your cars?” The short answer is no. The military does not ship cars to Japan, which truthfully does make a lot of sense. I can’t even begin to imagine driving our Suburban on these roads! And yes, while I try to be Green in just about everything I do, my one earthwise vice would be that I drive a Suburban. With three active kids and a dog it was the choice that worked for us. Not that I’ll always be driving it, one day I’ll be in an energy efficient hybrid, but for the time being our contribution to being Green is we took that baby off the road and put it in storage for 3 years. Jeff’s orders enabled us to put one car into storage and given the choice we decided to sell his Honda and store the “Cleary bus.”

So what do you do when you get here? Good question. The base is relatively easy to get around, the train system here in Japan could probably get you to just about anywhere you want to go and then there’s always your bike. So you could certainly make do without a car here. But with kids and sports, I will have to admit it is convenient at times to have a car. I do ride Jeff’s bike around a lot. If I have to go outside the gate to the closest shopping area, I ride the bike – it’s faster and for many of the shopping areas there is no parking available.


In Japan you are required to have a mandatory vehicle inspection, called Shaken, when your car is 3 years old and then every 2 years after that. The cost of the inspection goes up with the age of your car – so many Japanese prefer to get rid of their older cars rather than pay for higher vehicle inspections. These older cars show up on the U.S. military bases all over Japan – because unlike the Japanese, we as citizens of the United States apparently are exempt from the Shaken. So it is an interesting way to buy a car – everyday new cars show up on the Lemon Lot here on base. When you’re in the market for a car you go by every day hoping that something will show up on the lot that you can live with driving for the time you’re here. You are buying from an individual – not the Navy – and the cars do have to pass a safety inspection before being sold here on base. Aside from that it’s really a crapshoot. You are going on what works for your family and hoping that you choose wisely. They offer free pick up for junkers on base – that should give you some idea of the quality of the cars we American’s drive around here. It’s like we’re the final clearinghouse for Japan’s unwanted cars before they hit the recycle pile (yet, another blog entry to come – Japan recycles everything). The upside to this is there is no pressure to keep up with the Joneses.


Well, Jeff and I are certainly hoping our choices are clunkers and not junkers. The Nissan Bassara that we bought as our family car started making an unidentifiable clanking sound from the rear almost as soon as we drove it off the lot. Bemoaning the fact that there’s no AAA here in Japan to a friend I found out that in fact there is a Japanese version. I will be going to the office this week to get us signed up. Stranded on the side of the road in a country where so far all I can say is excuse me = sumimasen; good morning = ohayoo gozaimas; good afternoon = konnichiwa; goodbye = sayonara; my name is jane cleary = Watishi wa Cleary Jane des; I am not sure I would get very far with help on the side of the road, but at least I could politely introduce myself! Jeff did make sure I have the base security number programmed into my cell phone – so if I am in dire straights they should be able to at least get a translator on the line and help me out. So with that confidence boosting information – I continue to drive the pathways I am only familiar with – basically driving Wrenn back and forth to her weekend soccer practices.


Most Japanese Nationals do not drive for one simple reason. It is expensive. Here is an example – on Saturday, Wrenn and Walker had a cross-country meet in Tama Hills. Not terribly far from here – just over an hour drive unless you get lost like we’ve done twice now going out there (a GPS is no longer looking like a luxury item but a necessity). We paid 2Yen at the first toll, 9Yen at the second, 1.5Yen at the third – oops, we missed the exit so we get to circle back and pay another toll – 1 Yen. That’s over 25Yen round trip (roughly $25). Ouch. Not counting gas. If we can take a train I would prefer to – but some places, like where we were going Saturday, can be challenging to get to with all the train transfers. So we continue to get in the car, fight unbelievable traffic, pay tolls every time you turn around and try your best to remember to fill up the tank before driving off base. Gas on base is still higher than what we’re used to back in the states but nothing like what we’d be paying for outside the gates.

Hopefully that clears up some of the questions re: our cars. Anything else you all are dying to know about just shoot me an email and I’ll try my best to get you an answer. Keep all the positive feedback coming! Till next time, sayonara.

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