Driving In Japan

5/12/17

Our vehicle for the past two Street Plant Japan Tours has been a van fronted, mini-motorhome: The Isuzu Fargo. Unlike any other vehicle I have ever ridden in or driven, the Fargo looks like something that the Jawas might have scavenged on Tatooine. Its wheels seem too small for its hulking body and its engine lacks any hint of power, but somehow it has proven its merit and transported us from Tokyo to Sendai, to Yamagata, Niigata, Toyama, Kanazawa, Fukui, Zushi and then from Osaka to Kanonji, Kōchi, Saga, Sasebo, Karatsu, Kumamoto, Izumo and Kobe. That’s a lot of kilometers.

Road Mirror en route to Kurume.

Kristian Svitak compares riding in the back camper to “rocking around like a boat in rough seas.” He sat in the back at the table, facing stoically forward out the front window, it’s all he could do all day long to keep his lunch from making a return trip up his esophagus.

When I have taken my turn behind the wheel, relieving our faithful Tour Manager Hiroshi to rest, Kristian has joined me up front, and you’d think by his shit-eating grin that he’d just won the lottery. Nope, just a few hours in the front cabin.

Though expensive, due to tolls, driving in Japan is a very pleasant experience. First, the landscape of mountains, hills, forests, rivers, seas, tunnels, villages and cities is forever stunning. Secondly, Japanese drivers are courteous, they do not suffer from the disease of entitlement, they respect the passing lane and thus traffic flows orderly and peacefully. In fact, I don’t remember ever hearing one horn honk, nor have I ever seen any sign of road rage while in Japan. Without the usual American manner of the highway being a pressure cooker, and an added stress to one’s life, driving truly becomes a much more enjoyable experience.

Scenic Overlook en route to Sasebo.

Over these past two tours, the Fargo has become an integral part of our experience, a 6th member of our touring party. I’ll never forget turning the corner, 4 hours late to arrive at Evolin Izumo. As we made our way down the street with the shop in view, we heard a loud cheer from the parking lot ahead. The locals had recognized the Fargo by sight.