Driving in Japan presents its own set of challenges, especially for those used to roads and traffic “back home.” The most obvious challenge for many is that the traffic moves on the left side of the road instead of the right, but in addition we must get used to sudden double-parking in Tokyo, very narrow streets, and very tight quarters in car parks throughout Japan.
Winter driving in particular can be tough here. Even those accustomed to driving in wintery conditions will find a challenge or two when the snow starts to fly, or when driving through the mountains mid-winter.
We have complied a list of useful tips to keep in mind if you’re new to winter driving here in Japan.
Snow Removal Kit
This can be as simple as keeping a small windshield ice scraper, brush, and foldable shovel in the trunk. Trying to scrape your windows with a credit card while you are already late is probably one of the worst ways to start a day; not recommended.
Traction – Snow Tires and Chains
This writer is from St. Louis, Missouri, and we get a decent amount of snow every year, but there is one thing that we do that most of Japan doesn’t do enough of; salt and plow the roads. This means if you are used to “all-weather” being sufficient for winter tires in your home country – BEWARE! You may find your car unable to get up even the smallest incline on a cold, snowy day in Japan.
Because of this, snow tires or chains are imperative for winter driving in Japan. In metro Tokyo, Nagoya or Osaka, you may get away with not needing snow tires, but a set of chains to keep in the trunk is still highly recommended. Especially if you’re prone to driving to ski resorts or freak snow storms hit your neck of the woods.
If your vehicle is rear-wheel-drive, adding some weight in the trunk or cargo bed will help, since the rear drive wheels offer better traction when there is weight above them. To note, cars leased through www.LeaseJapan.com will often come with snow tires as a part of the lease package, in addition to providing English language service and even a 24 hour helpline for car related emergencies.
Make sure to drive with no less than 1/3 of a tank of gas when plying the roads in winter. If you become stuck in the snow you’ll appreciate having enough reserve gas to keep the car’s engine and heater going to keep you warm while you wait for help to arrive. Buying gasoline in Japan.
Always carry battery jumper cables in your car. In cold climates, it’s not unusual for your car’s battery to go dead. If your battery dies you may be able to use jumper cables to jump start it using another vehicle. How to avoid a dead battery? Make sure to run the car’s engine at least a couple of times a week to prevent the battery from going dead in the cold. If you have not used your cars for a few days you should start the engine and leave it running for five minutes before driving. Using jumper cables.
Windows and Wipers
You can’t go anywhere if you can’t see, and your car needs good wipers; if you want to err on the side of caution, grab a new set every fall before the snow hits. Fold the wiper blades away from the glass if you know snow or freezing rain will hit. This prevents the blades from cracking and makes it easy to deice the windshield later, as the blades can freeze to your windshield or become buried under snow. Also make sure to keep a full tank of windshield washer fluid with a winter-mix formulation, because winter windshields can get nasty in a hurry.
Don’t forget your sunglasses. You will need them to keep the glare from snow to a manageable level. Make sure you’ve got gloves handy in case you have to use that scraper. And enough warm clothes or blankets in the car to keep you safe if you break down and need to wait for help. Don’t wear enormous boots if you can help it, as you want your feet to be nimble on the pedals for to adapt to changing road conditions. Your margin for error is a lot slimmer than usual when the roads are slick, so this stuff matters more than you might think.
Keep a space blanket tucked in the glove compartment or some other storage space within reach of the driver. A shiny space blanket’s ability to keep you warm could be a lifesaver, it takes up virtually no space, and it costs less than $10.
- flashlight with extra batteries
- battery powered radio
- snack food including energy bars, raisins, and/or mini candy bars
- matches and small candle(s)
- extra hats, socks, and mittens
- First aid kit with pocket knife
- Necessary medications
- blankets or sleeping bag
- tow chain or rope
- emergency flares and reflectors
- fluorescent distress flag and whistle to attract attention
- Cell phone adapter to plug into lighter
Getting Stuck – Rock Salt, Sand, and Cat Litter
Consider keeping bags of kitty litter, sand, and rock salt in the car in case you find yourself stuck in a patch of slippery ice. Sprinkle the salt, sand, and/or kitty litter in front of the driven tires. The salt will melt the ice which forms when you spin the wheels, while the sand and cat litter will provide additional traction to get you free. If kitty litter, sand, and rock salt is not available, put the floor mats under the drive tires instead.
Getting Stuck – The Rocking Technique
Try to rock your way out. The trick here is to avoid flooring the accelerator and hoping that copious wheel spin will get the job done. In fact, it will just dig you into an even deeper hole by melting the snow as mentioned above. Try the “rocking chair” technique. See if you can get the car to move just an inch in either direction-try going forward first, and if that doesn’t work, switch to reverse. Any movement? Good, then you can start up the rocking chair. Rock as far as you can in that initial direction, and then take your foot off the gas and let the car roll back. When the momentum swings back again, give it a little gas, then let up and so on. If you find it tough going, use the kitty litter around the wheel that is spinning. With any luck, you’ll get a nice rocking chair going, and eventually you’ll rock your way right out of being stuck.
How to dig your car out after a snow storm:
If you do not have a car, but want one, navigate over to www.LeaseJapan.com and check out our selection of new and used vehicles for sale or lease, as well as car insurance. Need a driver’s license first? www.JapanDriversLicense.com has tools, tips, and guides to help you navigate the system. Happy motoring!