Driving in Japan

For Sendai ALTs, having a car isn't really necessary, given the good public transport links and closeness of facilities. It can also be pretty expensive when you add up parking, insurance, and mandatory maintenance checks. However you may want to hire a car during vacations to get to some of the more out-of-the-reach areas of Tohoku. In that case, make sure you have either a valid International Driving Permit or Japanese Drivers License. If you live on the outskirts of Sendai, you might consider buying a car, but few Sendai ALTs bother. If you are thinking of buying a car, there are a few things to consider first: please check out “Owning a Car in Japan”. See the links on the left, for more information on the ins and outs of driving in Japan.

Permission to Drive
ALTs do not need permission from their schools or Shidoka to drive during their free time. Permission, however, is necessary to drive to school. If you will commute to school by car, you must register your route and submit copies of your compulsory and optional insurance policies).

Traffic Rules
By Japanese traffic rules you should drive your car on the left side of the road and pedestrians should walk on the right. Please remember that right of way is always given to pedestrians, especially at crosswalks without traffic signals. Take special care when turning until you are used to driving in Japan.

The law requires that the driver and the front-seat passenger use seat belts at all times. Children under 6 years old must use child safety seats. It also requires that motorcycle riders wear helmets.
You can buy a rule guide explaining Japanese traffic laws in English, Korean, Chinese, Spanish, Persian, and Portuguese from the JAF. It costs ¥1,000 for each rule guide.

Penalties 
Traffic offenses are essentially the same as back home: speeding, running red lights, reckless or drunk driving, failing to signal a turn, illegal parking, etc. The penalties incurred can be a fine or a certain number of points upon your license. Gather six points and you will be suspended for 30 days. If you commit a minor violation, you will be issued a blue "Violation Ticket" and a fine, which you will be required to pay within seven days after its issue at a bank or other financial institution as designated on the ticket. Fines for speeding can be extremely high, so much so that one JET had to sell his car to pay a speeding fine! If you donft stop at a railroad crossing and check both ways you can also be heavily fined. One Japanese specialty is 'Safety Driving Week', a special week when the cops are out in force waiting to catch anyone who makes a mistake. Be extra careful at these times!

Drinking and Driving
The legal limit for alcohol is ZERO. Driving after drinking any alcohol, even a small amount, is strictly prohibited. Severe penalties such as imprisonment with hard labor or fine, as well as suspension or cancellation of your driver's license will be enforced. (Japanese teachers are automatically fired and barred from ever working in the public sector again).  ALTs caught drinking and driving have been deported after spending time in jail. So it's just not worth taking a chance over! If you drink, take a daiko(‘s) home. These special taxis have two drivers, one who drives you and your car home, and the other who follows behind in a taxi and brings his buddy back. 

Gas Stations
Gas stations are easy to find, but most do not operate 24-hours a day. Petrol/gasoline prices can vary and may be up to ¥150 per litre. A full tank of gas for a yellow plate car usually runs about ¥4,000. Self-service stations aren't so common, and usually the gas will be pumped for you. Most attendants will also wipe your windscreen and take away any trash you have! To ask for a full tank of regular unleaded gas, say 'mantan regula onegai shimasu.' They will probably ask if you want to pay by cash (Œ‹‚ genkin de). Not all gasoline stations post prices including consumption tax.

Japan Automotive Federation
The Japan Automotive Federation (JAF) has a publication on the rules of the road in Japan, which can be purchased at their website http://www.jaf.or.jp. Membership in JAF is approximately ¥4,000 per year (plus an initial membership fee), which provides unlimited 24 hour towing and roadside assistance.

Maps
Japan Bilingual Road Atlas (Shobunsha) can be purchased in book stores in Sendai or on the internet at Amazon Japan. Mapple Miyagi, available at any convenience store or book store, has much more detailed maps of Miyagi prefecture. Main town and city names are in English and Japanese.