Daiko: Chariot of the Gods…almost.


“Of all vices, drinking is the most incompatible with greatness.” ~Walter Scott

Daiko can help you avoid trouble with the law, but it won’t help urinary incontinence.

We left the Butler O’Club looking quite dapper in our formal attire, our spirits buoyed by both the company of the night and the copious drink we enjoyed. Remember, the drinking “rules” the military places on us here in Okinawa, the ones I find so hard to swallow? Well, most of ’em don’t apply on base, where apparently it’s still acceptable to be a drunkard. Mixing drink with driving can make for a dangerous cocktail, no matter where you are. But a typical taxi can’t get your car home…. The obvious solution? Have someone else drive your car home while you enjoy the convenience and comfort of a Japanese taxi.

Pre-Rickshaw Taxi Days

Pre-Rickshaw Taxi Days

Leave it to the Japanese to work out the perfect solution. Just outside the main entrance of the Club is not just a taxi queue, but a service unique to Japan, one tailored to avoid DUI/DWI: Daiko. Daiko is a Japanese word that translates to “surrogate,” and implies a meaning of “to do something for someone.”

Daiko service is a substitute driving service. When you drink, you must not drive. So we drive your car and we take you and your car to home, safety,” reads one Okinawan website. Having just vented my frustrations with the military’s fetish with drinking and driving on Okinawa in Sober and Sobering, I realized that Japan actually is just about the easiest place to imbibe…and never have to worry about driving!

Taxi-2

For people who are unfamiliar with Daiko service, which to my knowledge probably includes the whole of the United States, literally two life savers are dispatched to wherever you happen to be and take you along with your car (separately) to your next destination. Whether you want to go home or to another bar, doesn’t matter; Daiko will gladly take you where you want to be, and they’ll do it on the cheap. Because the service is to popular and affordable, there can be a wait on the weekends.

A Daiko Day-in-the-Life

A request for the service results in two licensed drivers showing up, one to transport you the patron via taxi, and the other to drive your car. As you’re being whisked away via private chauffer, your car follows closely behind. No matter how plastered you may be, in the morning’s hangover haze you’ll find your car securely at home.

An actual game.  Lucky for you the Japanese drive...gentle.

An actual game. Lucky for you the Japanese drive…gentle.

But of course you never get some’in for nothin’. “But what’s the cost,” I hear you pleading. The fee is generally 1.4-1.6 times the price of a single taxi ride, cheaper than roundtrip via cab. So in our case, the normally 2,000 yen taxi ride home (~$17.25 at the current exchange rate) came to 2,800 yen total. At just over $24, it’s a small price to pay! I’m not sure how the Japanese work a profit margin into this cost; it’s got to be one of the best deals around.

These Girls got a thang for Mr. Taxi. With Daiko, so do I….

So, there’s really no excuse to avoid a good holiday shin-dig if you want to drink, with the brilliant and convenient Daiko service. All you need is the phone number to Daiko: 645-8888 (on-base) or 098-970-8888 if you find yourself off-base. Do yourself a favor: put the number in your cell phone. Right now. The service may, one day, literally save your life.

But make sure you watch out if this guy shows up....

But make sure you watch out if this guy shows up….

Red Lights Running: Johnny Law in the Far East


traffic2

“A careful driver is one who honks his horn when he goes through a red light.”  ~Henry Morgan

“An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while a pessimist sees only the red stoplight.  The truly wise person is colorblind.”  ~Albert Schweitzer quotes

“Shut the front door!” I scream in my mind as I accelerate through the intersection, realizing I’m actually running a red light…with a Japanese police car right behind.

“Great, just great,” I think as I contemplate braking, but just as quickly realize that I’ve gone too far to stop.  If I did, I would have to back up, which would not be good if the cops had started to follow me through the light.

But the police car didn’t move….

And for the next block before my right turn, and even after that right turn for the four or five blocks until reaching the sanctuary of my condo building’s parking garage, I scanned my rearview mirrors much more than I did the road that lay ahead.

ledtrafficlight

You see, in Japan, the crosswalk signals for pedestrians utilize the exact same colors as the traffic lights intended for vehicular traffic.  In practice, this similarity might instead result in vehicular manslaughter for an inattentive American…much like me…and others I’ve seen doing the exact same thing.  Modern crosswalk signals in the United States generally use pictograms of an orange upraised hand and a white walking pedestrian.  Notice that the color scheme is just enough from our traffic light color convention that it’s not so easily confused.

28213368-realistic-pedestrian-traffic-lights-off-illustration-on-black-background

Most secondary or tertiary roads in Japanese neighborhoods signal a green “walk” to pedestrians only when all traffic lanes have a red and are stopped.  There is no turning on red either, so in essence, pedestrians have complete right of way by design.  Sometimes there are even diagonal crosswalks, which allows for 6-way pedestrian traffic all at once at busier intersections.  Cars in Okinawa are a much more recent technological invention, and with an older and much more island-time generation on the move, there is simply too much respect for pedestrian right-of-way that the “get out of the way!” attitude that can be prevalent in an inpatient ambulatory America.

paper-trafficlight1

So, drivers here can find themselves sitting at a quiet intersection at night with a red light up over the car for traffic, and while looking at the cop with his emergency light on in their rearview mirror, the same driver can spy out of the corner of their eye a red light quickly flash to green…which means go, and go indeed we all do.  Green means go, right?

A Traffic Intersection in my Neighborhood

A Traffic Intersection in my Neighborhood

You see, the cop and his red swirling light distracted me.  One might think I was already in trouble, but seeing emergency lights in Japan is a much more common occurrence.  Why?  Simple:  Japanese police cars, both marked and even unmarked, routinely patrol with their red lights ON at night.  It’s almost impossible to resist the urge to pull over here when you see these lights; we Americans are so ingrained (at least if you attempt to follow most traffic laws) to pull over for emergency vehicles that it really is second nature.  However, in Japan, pulling over for mere red radiance is actually reason enough for the Japanese to, well, actually pull you over!

Police in Japan (like everywhere else in the world) pull over drivers because of suspicious action.  Ironically, suspicion is often produced when unknowing Americans slow down or pull over for a Japanese police car with their emergency lights on.  Pulling over in this Far Eastern nation for no apparent reason when trailed by a lighted police car may itself be probable cause enough to cause one some unnecessary troubling delay.

police-lights-japan-1062

A major – and perhaps the major part of law enforcement in Japan is to DETER crime and to ensure good public order.   The police in Okinawa are nothing like the cops and robbers of American television where the priority is on enforcing the law and catching criminals in the act…or shortly thereafter.  So, red lights in Japan don’t mean an emphatic and immediate “pull over!

“No, it’s a cardigan, but thanks for asking!”  ~ Harry Dunne, in Dumb & Dumber

When Japanese police do wish to ruin your day they use their siren and/or Public Address (PA) system, through which they can bark out instructions like the voice of god.  In fact, in Japan, emergency vehicles of all kinds seem to always be talking.  Some of it is a recording, but some are actually live announcements, like an intention to travel against a red, or to scold someone off their cell phone.  It’s a lot easier to issue a warning if you never have to leave your patrol car.

pull-over-1062

BTW, the Japanese take driving and using a cell phone much more seriously than we do.  It is against the law, and punishments here don’t toy around with mere tickets or traffic school.  Instead, you simply lose your license.  The Japanese are, in fact, so weary of this that when they want to use their cells while driving, they simply place their hazard lights on and literally stop along the right of way, pulled over slightly, but still double-parked.  This often results in a nightmarish blockage of traffic…for which they should also lose their licenses.

Luckily for me, vehicle stops are relatively rare in Japan.  Hell, even seeing a police car actually patrolling the roads is relatively rare…compared to the states.  Japanese drivers do speed (but not by much), but are almost without exception polite and safe while on the road.  The most common reason for a traffic stop here is speeding; no surprise there.  But most of these “stops” are sweeping radar speed traps where you are actually waved off the road and receive punishment assembly-line style.  And Japan, like many other first-world countries, is moving more and more to traffic enforcement cameras.

Bicycle theft takes up more man-hours than traffic stops.

In Japan, bicycle theft takes up more man-hours than traffic stops.

I have no idea why these two particular cops, red running lights on, decided not to follow and stop me having literally run a red light.  Perhaps they saw my Y “Yankee” license plate (which only Americans have) and deduced my mistake…having surely seen it many times before.  That, combined with the lack of pedestrian and opposing traffic, probably was enough for them to shrug this off.  I wouldn’t have been so lucky at home.

Have you had a run-in with the law in Asia?  If you have, tell me about it here!

“Protected Green?” Diving in Japan


Any excuse for a party....

Any excuse for a party….

“I’ve stopped racing to get to the red light.” ~Kyle Chandler

“Experience is by far the best teacher. You know, ever since I was a little girl I knew that if you look both ways when you cross the street, you’ll see a lot more than traffic.” ~Mae West

“On a traffic light green means go and yellow means yield, but on a banana it’s just the opposite. Green means hold on, yellow means go ahead, and red means where the hell did you get that banana at…” ~Mitch Hedberg

My money is on these being invented in Japan

My money is on these being invented in Japan

I have an issue with driving in Japan.  No, it is not the “American Vehicular ‘Hello’…” which is flipping on your windshield wipers in the middle of a perfectly clear day when turning.

Think about it.

Right!  We drive here on the “other” side of the road, and thus we sit on the other side of the car to drive.  Since your shifting hand must be the more free hand – to shift, but more obviously to be placed on your main squeeze’s thigh and other important biologic landmarks – turn signals in cars are usually, by-in-large, on the outboard side of the steering wheel, opposite where the manual shift would be.  So, here in Okinawa, it takes some of us a long time (or longer than others) to break the habit of signaling for a turn…using our windshield wipers.

The American Vehicular Hello:  Windshield Wipers

The American Vehicular Hello: Windshield Wipers

At least it looks as if our car is waving.  That’s the charming thing about the Japanese:  they are able to always see the bright and cute side of things!

Happy Crab Crossing is as Cute as it gets.  Real Sign.

Happy Crab Crossing is as Cute as it gets. Real Sign.

No, it’s about traffic lights in Japan.

“How different can they be?” one may think.  Different enough, in some very important and potentially disastrous ways.

Confusing Traffic Lights

Confusing Traffic Lights

In Japan, by convention for which I really can find no clear reasoning, a green arrow is never displayed with a circular green, or even on its own.  Instead, green arrows must be shown with a circular red, which denotes that opposing traffic has come to a stop, protecting the flow of traffic in the direction of the displayed green arrow.  What results is the potential for a traffic signal to display green arrows pointing in all possible directions, along with a steady circular red!  At first this is very disheartening; when glanced while driving, your brain can quickly thin-slice your consciousness into believing you are running a red-light, or worse, your equally unfamiliar gaijin passenger cries out in terror assuming that a red light is being run!  Nah, this hasn’t happened to me….

Yes, another actual traffic signal.  The red denotes the arrows are "protected."

Yes, another actual traffic signal. The red denotes the arrows are “protected.”

Indeed, here is what a Japanese government site has to say about Arrow signals in Japan:  “Even when the traffic light is red, you can proceed in the direction of the arrow.”  Okay, so maybe they only want us to figuratively stop and think about the meaning of the conflicting colors.

For the Older Gen, I Guess

For the Older Gen, I Guess

In American, our turn signals are referred to as “protected greens.”  This means, basically, that the green arrow is “protected” by a red light applied to oncoming traffic and pedestrians, with the implication that you are protected in making such a turn across opposing traffic and through crosswalks.  In Japan, a “protected green” is displayed quite differently, with green arrows and a circular red combined.

Do I Stay or Do I Go Now?

Do I Stay or Do I Go Now?

However, something even stranger happens at certain signals in Okinawa.

Waiting to turn left at Hwy 23

Waiting to turn right at Hwy 23

At such dubious signals without turn arrows at all, you find yourself with a green circle waiting for a break in oncoming traffic to cross in the Far East’s version of our left turn – actually a right.  Suddenly, you see the oncoming vehicles slowing…and then stopping…without much reason.  Your light remains a steady circular green, but with no arrow to indicate a “protected” status.  Or, more eccentrically, you are waiting to turn at an intersection with a circular red and a straight green arrow, which then shifts to a steady circular green…while the oncoming cars remain stopped.  Such intersections actually are “protected” as the oncoming traffic light has turned or has remained red; it’s just that you, in the all-too-dangerous position of having to make that turn across traffic, has absolutely no indication of “their” red.  So you end up hesitating, wanting to believe that oncoming traffic has stopped, starting across very slowly while you remain very unsure…all the way through the intersection.  Sure, once you learn the location of these traffic signals you’re in the know and can zippidy-doo-da your day away on the mean yet slow and polite streets of Okinawa, but until that point, it is a very unsettling feeling indeed.

Same Signal, now green, but with no indication that opposing traffic is still stopped!

Same Signal, now green, but with no indication that opposing traffic is still stopped for the right turn!

Stop for Fire Hydrants? These signs will get'cha sooner or later.

Stop for Fire Hydrants? These signs will get’cha sooner or later.

Oh, and try and pick out the stop sign, the give way sign (actually, it translates to “proceed slowly”), and a fire hydrant sign!  These can really throw you for a loop, as you’ve probably never stopped to think about how much you subconsciously “read” traffic signs simply by their shape and color.  Catching a glimpse of a partially obscured fire hydrant sign can lead to a passing instant of panic since it is, during your first weeks here, misconstrued as a stop sign….

This is a Japanese Stop Sign

This is a Japanese Stop Sign

Driving on Okinawa is actually a very pleasant experience compared with home, ignoring the previously discussed eccentrics.  There is NO road rage here; the Japanese are very polite and professional drivers.  And that’s simply not just lip-service.  Chances are if you are pissed off on the road, it was due to a Yankee-plated American….  Okay, so it’s illegal here to make a left on red (our standard right turn), which can be very frustrating at times.  But, the speed limits are all very slow; the “expressway” is the fastest road on island, clocked at a blistering 50 mph (80 kph)!  And, using your horn is illegal unless for emergency, and oddly enough, people here actually follow their traffic laws.  It’s refreshing to see a community and country appeal to the greater good for everyone and set aside any narcissistic driving tendencies so prevalent in America.  Jody, who I believe was very anxious about driving here, had absolutely no issues with the driving, technically that is.  Driving naked certainly helps.

However, navigating around the island is a whole different matter!!  More on that later.

Okinawan GPS Spaghetti

Okinawan GPS Spaghetti