Damn it! Who’s that slow dude in the car in front? Is it a learner? Someone who’s just passed their test? A baby-on-board crawler? An elderly couple who can barely see over the wheel? Nope. It’s a jittery foreigner driving in Japan, trying to enjoy a spin on the open roads of Hokkaido.
This in the news recently;
Hokkaido creates car stickers for foreign rent-a-car drivers
(The Mainichi April 16, 2016)
According to the piece, the Hokkaido Prefectural Government has prepared some 2,500 stickers for use by foreign drivers of rent-a-cars.
The wording on the sticker;
♡ in Hokkaido”
The Japanese bit; A foreign person is driving.
The stickers measure 14.5cm², and it can probably go without saying that they are emblazoned with some form of ‘character’ or ‘mascot’. In this case it’s Kyun-chan, the cute face of Hokkaido tourism. Kyun-chan is a pika (a small mammal that looks to our eyes like a kind of rabbit/rat hybrid, and potential road kill if ever we saw it), who dons a variety of masks/head gear. In the case of the car stickers, Kyun-chan appears to have a skinned deer (antlers in tact) on his/her(?) head. Charming!
The article gives no indication as to whether or not these stickers will be compulsory. Their purpose though, is to warn other drivers (presumably that foreigners may not be familiar with Japanese road rules/etiquette), and attempt to prevent road rage.
This all sounds like common sense on the surface, but it brings me to recall the gripes of a former acquaintance from overseas, who complained on many an occasion of being stopped by police while driving in Japan. The details of said driver's road handling were always vague, but the blunt nuance of each rant was that they were pulled over for being … foreign.
If there’s any truth behind this alleged discrimination, the road patrols of Hokkaido must think that Christmas has come early with these stickers, and the expected increase in foreign drivers in the region (24,000 rent-a-cars used by foreigners in 2014, up from 14,000 in 2012, according to the Mainichi article).
But maybe starting a frenzy on the part of police to reach annual targets is worth the risk. Driving a car is effectively like being on the controls of a deadly weapon, and right when we should be at our most understanding and forgiving, too many of us are actually seething balls of expletive ridden rage. Maybe the odd reminder (yes, delivered by a cute mascot), will help us to get ourselves in check.
Here’s a sobering thought; according to the Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis, there have been 38 traffic-related fatalities in Hokkaido so far this year. That puts the prefecture at No.11 in the national ‘charts’. If you’re interested (and you really should be) …
1) Ibaraki - 55 fatalities
2) Chiba - 51
2) Aichi - 51
4) Hyogo - 47
47) Tottori - 6
Let’s hope these stickers work then, and don’t simply serve to exacerbate visitor/local tensions on the roads.
Source: The Mainichi