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Saturday, April 20, 2002


Japan traffic, one of life's little screams

I have always wondered why people insist on driving in Japan. This country just wasn't set up for moving vehicles. First of all, it is too small to have a portion of the population rallying around, flirting with momentum and dodging buildings. Imagine cramming 125 million people into land the size of of Montana. Now imagine giving them all a vehicle.

Driving in Japan is like driving through a putt-putt golf course. There are various obstacles to maneuver through, such as bridges, tolls and parking spaces the size of telephone booths. There are places where the road suddenly narrows, so that you have to back up to let an oncoming car get through. Country roads have gaping rice fields on both sides. Many a time I have seen a car hanging off the road, ready to drop into a rice field and become someone's future "onigiri" (new onigiri flavor: "salaryman with tie").

I also wonder why Japan, a nation plagued by sleep, allows its citizens behind the wheel. Not only is it dangerous to drive while sleeping, but I suspect this is the cause of all the traffic jams: drivers oversleeping at red lights. Japanese are known to nod off during the slightest interval of inactivity. Every time I see people sleeping on the train after a long day at work, I thank God they are not behind the wheel of a car.

Surely, God made Japanese small to enable them to accommodate their tiny country. And surely, God did not expect them to buy SUVs. Strangely, scientists remain adamant about learning to clone humans rather than large land masses such as Australia. Sadly, no one has even come up with a steroid for tiny nations that wish to increase their land size. Thus, Japan will always be crowded.

Until someone comes up with answers to Japan's transportation problems, traffic here is going to remain one of life's little screams. No worries though: That someone is me.

Four solutions

1. Make better use of luggage racks in trains. Every morning I pack into a crowded train and suffocate between the chests of hung-over salary men, I think of the solution. Call me a piece of luggage, but I look with envy at the empty rack above the seats. If you're small like me, you could enjoy lying on that rack up there, away from the crowd, and even get some sleep. If they would just install a ladder at the end of each rack . . .

2. Layer the airspace. They have already done this with the bullet train by elevating the tracks. Cars run on the road below the tracks and never have to stop for the train. To eliminate congestion on the roads, why not add a few more levels of road? Forget accessing the levels with long highway entry ramps or curly exit ramps like parking garages have; just build a vertical road with an intersection at each level. With layered roads, the stratosphere is the limit. Bring your own oxygen.

3. Use single-seat cars. Most of the time we don't use the passenger seat or the back seat of cars except for luggage. Stick a rack on top of a single car for luggage and babies, and there would be a lot more room on the roads. If you want to go somewhere with someone, single-seat cars could be hooked together like train cars. This would cut down on wheels (single cars only need three wheels) while encouraging cuteness, a national obsession.

4. Use unicycles. Since all Japanese learn to ride unicycles in elementary school, we should encourage people to continue using this skill. With streets for unicycles only, children could transport themselves at an earlier age and adults wouldn't be able to nod off. Besides, sharing the streets with children would be all fun and games. Move over road rage -- here comes the road sage.

Contact Amy at amychavez2000@yahoo.com or visit the "Japan Lite" home page at www.amychavez.com

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