HOW TO: Survive without a car in Japan

Perhaps this “how to” seems a little unnecessary, considering the vast array of impressive and reliable public transportation in Japan. Subways, rail and buses weave intricate networks through large metropolises. Shinkansen, or bullet trains, along with regular train networks connect most of the country. Even in smaller, but still large, cities, bus systems efficiently transport the population. When a regular bus system cannot be found, there are still more people who travel by bicycle or mopeds – as common as cars. And, let’s not forget the ubiquitous taxi. In fact, surviving in Japan without a car isn’t that difficult – unless perhaps you live out in the inaka, (i.e. country, sticks, boonies) far from civilization. Owning a car in a place like Tokyo or similar seems pointless, especially considering traffic.

You may think getting a car right away is the best idea, if you aren’t living in Tokyo or another gigantic metropolis. Ah, dear reader! If only you knew! Let me tell you how possible it is to survive without a car in Japan. That is, unless you really are truly out in the inaka where biking anywhere would take you DAYS and you are forced to live a hermitic life. Unless you want every day to be a pilgrimage, a car is probably a better option.

So, some possible ways to survive without a car if you so choose:

1. Buy a bicycle.
Why, WHY, would you consider surviving without a car, AND without a bike? Foolish. Those granny bikes (mama-chari) everyone rides are cheap, albeit slow. If you want something a little faster and high class, invest in a mountain, road or cross-country bike. Some folks argue for the mama-chari basket, but using a backpack works just as well if you prefer speed. Or attach some bike bags to the frame. Oh, and don’t forget a helmet. “But, no one else wears one!” you say. Did that excuse ever really work with your mother? Just be more conspicuous than you already probably are and wear one. It just may save your life, and all those other save-your-life mantras.

2. Shop online.
This will make your life ten times easier – no need to worry about carrying mountains of bags home. Or large furniture. Or about asking those you know WITH a car to take you to the store just to get one large item. Buy online, have it delivered, pay cash on delivery – easiest thing in the world (even if you do have a car).

3. Utilize home delivery.
You really don’t need to carry a futon 5 kilometers from store to home, attracting the obnoxious attention of, well, everyone. Or incessantly bothering car-owners to be your personal chauffeurs (and then worrying about how to repay their kindness).

4. Buy a waterproof backpack cover. 
If you bike around all the time, make sure you have a waterproof backpack cover (and rain gear, but isn’t that obvious?). Even if you walk, have waterproof gear (and an umbrella, of course).

5. GPS.
This helps when biking/walking to keep from getting lost. People use it in their cars for everything anyway. An iPhone will probably be the best for this, unless you already own some fancy GPS device.

6. Pre-program a taxi’s number into your phone - multiple locations a plus. Never know when you might be stranded somewhere, late at night, in the dark, or after you’ve been out for a fun night on the town.

7. Learn how to look up bus schedules.
Check out how to find bus routes/schedules online. Probably should learn how to look up train schedules as well, perhaps with Hyperdia, Jorudan, or another website of your choice.

8. Become best friends with someone who owns a car.
Never feel awkward again! They’ll feel so sorry for you, especially if you have to walk or bike somewhere in the rain and odds are good they will freely offer their help. Bake cookies or something once in awhile to thank them.

9. If applicable, send your significant other on errands when it rains.
Feign illness. Or explain you have a huge pile of work to do. Or some other excuse reason that will suffice and persuade them to brave the elements on bicycle or foot. (Unless you live in a major city with subways and/or underground walkways…).

10. Buy a large backpacking-type backpack (if you don’t already own one). 
You can fit just about anything and everything in these, aside abnormally large purchases. All your groceries will fit, as will various household items, including tall/thin space heaters and laundry poles (watch above you though when carrying those around). You’ll never need plastic bags – and it's hands free for biking.

All right everyone, your turn. For those of you without a car (or who have lived without a car) – how did you manage? Feel free to share your tips in the comments.

*Just a note: I am not necessarily discouraging the use of a car – although not using one if possible IS better for the environment. They can be more convenient, especially depending on the location and other variables. After two years of living without a car in suburban areas and with a baby on the way, we bought a car, which has come in handy with the little one.

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