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Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2003

LIFELINES

Drunken driving, unhappy holidays, and shaping up


Under the influence

Glen refused a drink with us on Christmas Eve with more than his usual reluctant zeal. He had just heard of someone who had been arrested in a car being driven by someone else. The acquaintance was relatively sober; the driver was not.

Then, just after new year, Alex told of three guys in a car, all with licenses, who were fined 30,000 yen on the spot for allowing their drunken mate to take the wheel when any one of them might have done so instead.

Yes, road laws in Japan have really tightened since June last, especially where drunken driving is concerned.

And the crackdown seems to be working: the figures for deaths and accidents in general -- and especially over the holiday period -- are way down. Drunken drivers are now liable for three types of penalty, depending on their level of inebriation:

* Alcohol level up to 0.15; lose 6 points, fine 300,000 yen, up to one-year suspended sentence.

* Between 0.15 and 0.25; lose 13 points, fine 300,000 yen, one-year suspended sentence.

* Anything over 0.25; lose 25 points, fine 500,000 yen, three-year suspended sentence.

Anyone receiving a penalty of over 15 points automatically loses their license and has to re-apply from scratch.

As for passengers, there are now two levels of responsibility, according to the Police Agency in Kasumigaseki:

* If a passenger knowingly gets into a car with a drunken driver, they can be fined up to 50,000 yen.

* If a passenger has assisted in the driver getting drunk (say they have been in a pub together), they can be fined up to 30,000 yen as an accessory to a crime.

Yes, it's a bit woolly, a bit confusing, and becomes more so when the NPA admits that it is at the discretion of individual officers to penalize drivers and passengers alike.

The spokesman actually did say, "It depends on the policeman's feeling. If he had a quarrel with his wife that morning, well . . . (they are likely to be in a bad mood and come down harder on offenders)." So now you know.

For more information on drunken driving, check out www.keishicho.metro.tokyo.jp

Tourist trap

Perplexed in Yokohama just had her parents to stay for an uncomfortable Christmas, and just cannot understand what went wrong.

"I knocked myself out to give them a good time, rushing them here, there and everywhere. Yet they became quieter and quieter, and were hardly speaking to me by the time they left. What was going on?"

Basically, you overloaded them. They couldn't cope, and what should have been a good experience soured and turned to a form of exhausted, confused resentment. It's a common error and one I made myself for several years until a good friend had a fit in a minshuku in Kyoto and accused me of bossiness, insensitivity, and totally ignoring her needs.

Now I am very careful to ask guests -- well in advance, if possible -- what they expect of their holiday, and what they would like to do.

Remember, guests may be jet lagged. They are certain to be overwhelmed by sights and sounds and tastes that are by now familiar to you but inevitably strange to them.

They will need to pace themselves, and do what they want to do in their own time frame, not necessarily what you want them to do within your own. Talk to them. Apologize. Explain what you think you may have done wrong and why (wanting them to experience as much as possible within the limits of their stay). Put it right. And do it better next time.

Postal savings

Following on from last week, on the subject of sending baggage, in this case from New Zealand to Osaka, in advance of arrival.

S. Anderson in Shizuoka would be very wary of bringing in unaccompanied baggage from anywhere -- not because of taxes but because of having to go out to the airport or pay horrendous "sending on" (amounting to hundreds of dollars in charges) to an agent for handling and sending the things on at this end.

She says that reader Nichola could send a carton containing, say, up to 20 kg, and pay minimum postage for "surface"' mail, and simply fill out a form at the post office saying it contains personal effects.

Under total value write: NCV (no commercial/resale value). "Send it c/o your new address, a friend's, or even to your new employer's address," she instructs.

"There are no taxes payable on goods sent into Japan worth less than $100."

S.A. has done this plenty of times, and customs have shown no interest in charging taxes. "I think Nichola should just go to her local post office and inquire."

Shape up

Alice asks if we can suggest a good place to get low-fat, low-calorie, sugar-free foods in Tokyo?

"For example, I am only occasionally able to get "0," a Danone yogurt brand, in my local supermarket. In other words, us dieters could use some help."

Your suggestions -- and any inquiries you might have -- are welcome.

So, to finish up for this week, may 2003 see as many lifelines as possible being thrown to readers in trouble or needing assistance.

Send your queries, questions, problems and posers, to: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp


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