Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Most Dangerous Game - Japanese Edition!

I'm being hunted for sport!

There are places in Japan where someone like me takes his life into his hands each and every time he ventures into such places. Visible heat waves waft up from the ground in these locations. Scorched earth. Pockmarked here and there. The smell of tar and hot rubber never far away. Tons of rolling steel parade about the circus. Fleshy loads encased within. Noxious fumes lifting into the air. It is a place of decisive action and deliberation. Of careful calculation and consternation. Near to bursting by day. A vacant landscape by night.

Parking lots, of course. The Japanese variety. You go first!

Called chuushajou in Japanese, I am convinced these are the most dangerous places in all of Japan. On two separate occasions, drivers here in Oirase Town have very nearly pancaked me in the parking lot. I don't know what else to call it except attempted manslaughter. Can Japanese people see out of their car windows?

Both times this occurred I was moving across the Universe parking lot next door to my apartment. It's a small lot that can hold maybe 70 to 80 vehicles at a time. The first time, I was walking through the lot on my way into the store. I had already been told about the unforeseen dangers of the Japanese parking lot by my fellow ALT, Ruairi, and so knew to be on my toes, but I knew where I was going and it wasn't far away so I didn't bother to fire a flare off before entering the danger zone (cue Kenny Loggins!). Then it almost hit me. Like a vehicular ninja, this minivan backs out toward me like he is coming off starter blocks. My only recourse was to turn on one heel and spin backward (Reflex save) in the direction I was heading to avoid that face-on-fiberglass feel. I swear, the driver had nooo idea I was there, just kept on rolling out of the stall and on his merry way like nothing happened. And nothing did happen, I suppose. (But this guy must have been a rebel or something, because he actually backed out of a car stall, something most Japanese drivers are loath to do as they much prefer to back in—making the prospect of walking behind a stall no less dangerous.)

Rule the First: You have to watch out for them, they don't watch out for you.

The other time I wasn't even technically in the parking lot, more like on the periphery. I was returning home from the office, and each day I have to walk in front of two entrances to the Universe parking lot as I proceed to my apartment. Ahead of me I can see some slow moving traffic flowing into and out of the lot, so I wait for a break in the traffic large enough for me to cross. (And surface streets are downright narrow in Oirase, two-way width rarely approaching anything greater than single lane.) Ah, there we go, plenty of room. I'm clearly moving now, in plain sight, and everyone has passed so no one is waiting on me as I cross. Then it comes out of no where. Well, that's not true. I saw the oncoming car plainly enough, but apparently she didn't see me. WA-DUMP! No, I hadn't just bounced off the hood of the car, but I did hear something thump around inside the driver's trunk as she was forced to press on the brakes. I thought I heard her mutter an apology (or maybe a mild rebuke) as I calmly continued on my way, not exactly resigned to my inevitable fate but too coolly disinterested to stop and gesticulate in alarm. I just queried an eyebrow in her direction and ambled on (though it might have been because I pooped).

Rule the Last: When in or near a Japanese parking lot, drivers behave like ghosts from Super Mario World—they only move toward you if you're not looking.

Needless to say, you roll the dice each and every time you step onto a Japanese parking lot.