I think I have mentioned before that driving in Japan is not my favorite thing to do. Yesterday upped that sentiment by quite a lot.
Japan has narrow roads and shoulders that are not very wide. When you drive your car has to undergo a rigorous inspection every two years where they inspect everything and it usually ends up costing you quite a bit in repairs, because everything is based on prevention. To keep you from ending up on the side of the road. This I realized, is a very good system.
But if you run over something random (we still have no idea what happened) you can still end up on the side of the road.
Our tire blew on the Chuo. Chuo is major road (think I-35 in downtown Austin only much narrower) supposedly the speed limit is 80 kilometers per hour, but we get passed when we are going 120. There are sound barriers on either side, so there is no where to go to get off of the road. We were a little concerned about not getting over in time because traffic was moving so fast, and people were not slowing, to not to eat our wheel, but it was fine after all.
We got out of the car and looked at the tire – there were little pieces of it strewn quite a ways back down the road. We walked over to the “safety area” a little inlet with a phone that says “SOS” this is a clever invention, it lets you identify where you are and connects only with roadside service. Anthony called the base with his cell phone, and I tried to figure out the box. There was a button that said “push if you don’t speak Japanese well” I pushed that one, but wasn’t sure if anything happened or not. Anthony got a hold of the base interpreter.We decided to try and change the tire ourselves as roadside service would be about 15,000 yen. (Roughly $200).
All Japanese cars have flares in them. We pulled out the flares thinking that would keep the traffic back further from the car. Except that the instructions were in Japanese only. We never could figure out how to get those darns things to work. Okay – plan B.
If you have spent any amount of time driving in Japan, you will have encountered the red-stick-waving traffic directors. They are usually quite comical to watch – so I used the flares (that we couldn’t figure out how to ignite, so they resembled red-sticks) to wave the traffic further out. To my astonishment, the cars did exactly that. Unfortunately, the previous owners of our car had put on new rims, but hadn’t bought a new lug wrench. It didn’t fit.
Anthony called the base interpreter (thank you Mr. Kobayashi!) who called roadside service and gave them our location based on the SOS box number. About this time two highway patrol guys showed up – in a combination of bad-Japanese and halting English (their English was better than our Japanese for the record) and creative sign-language, they tried to help. They also did not have the right lug-wrench. But it was fun watching the guy waving the traffic around the car with a giant orange flag! They were super nice and were seemed really intent on helping us poor gaijin (foreigners) not to get hurt, emphasizing several times to stay behind the railed area in case of sleeping drivers. This English-Japanese-gesture conversation I wish I had on video!
Eventually they got another call and left us with a big orange cone behind our car. Japan AAA showed up just a few minutes later, towed the car to the nearest rest stop and changed the tire for us (he had the right lug wrench! Finally! When we sell this car we may have to charge extra for nice rims ). The spare donut seemed a little low on air though.
We were about 30 minutes from base, so the guy just towed us back to base. (We didn’t have enough yen to pay him anyway). Mr. Kobayashi came out to the gate as Mr. AAA seemed really intent on telling us something. Turns out our other back tire was cracking and he was concerned that it needed to be changed too. He charged only 10,000 yen ($130) and gave us the lug wrench attachment so that we could change our own tire next time.
It was days like yesterday that remind me how much I love Japan. In the midst of a crazy situation, we were really blessed by the kindness of the people who helped. And thank God for getting us off that crazy road alive and unharmed!