Archive for the ‘automotive’ Category

Two Straight Years of Increase

2012年 2月 17日

A title like this could be a sign for hope, if only the increase in question were something positive. Arriving at school this morning I found a memo addressed to all the Principals in Tsu regarding traffic accidents for Board of Education employees. The year ending March 31st, 2010 had the fewest reported accidents over a four year period at 62 incidents. Last year shot up to 95 incidents making it a record year, but a short-lived record. The purpose of the memo was to highlight the fact that figures through the first ten months of this year show 104 incidents, on pace for more than 120.

Following their typical pattern, the memo explains the trouble which will be caused by this trend and makes an appeal to change the problem. As usual their worry is not what people with common sense would focus on and there is no constructive evaluation of why the problem is occurring nor how to affect the desired improvement, merely a demand that the situation improve. Rather than concern about safety, increased costs to the school system, insurance problems, etc. the concern expressed in the memo is that students and guardians will have trouble trusting the Board of Education.

Since the change is so extreme – doubling in two years – I am very curious about the cause, and think it would be instructive in the process of reducing accidents. Has there been an increase in off-site business activities which increased the number of kilometers traveled? Has something increased the number of solo trips or trips using individuals’ vehicles? Has there been a change in time pressure applied by Principals?

While this problem is not pleasant, it actually does not come as a surprise since I often see dangerous activities and try to address them at the schools. In one case, I was almost struck by a Principal leaving a parking space without looking. I really wanted to discuss this incident; however, the Principal never mentioned it at all and I was afraid to bring it up myself since I felt his action was unacceptable. Generally, my observation is that our Board of Education is amply staffed with people who feel they are exemplary; hence there is little chance for honest discussion about improvement.

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On Hold and Backing Up

2011年 10月 25日

Many people think Japan is a kind of wonderland filled with cute cartoons, fancy food, robots and pretty women. While I can’t disagree on any specific point, people who live here for awhile often find themselves complaining about various problems. I have decided that only one of those problems is unbearable. At first I was going to say two, but I have come to accept one.

The two problems were:

  1. Hold music plays loudly from phone (rather than in the line)
  2. Alarm sounds inside car while backing up

Before I go further I should honestly say this is meant to be a little humorous, but still serious – let’s say humerious – since I really have accepted both of these.

School offices are rarely quiet places and the phones are no help. Often calls come in for people who are in classrooms or otherwise need to be hunted down, which means the phone is often put on hold. Doing so plays music in the line so the person on hold realizes they are still connected; however, it also causes loud music to be played from the phone. Personally, I just don’t see such a strong need for it. Contrarily, generally when I use hold it means I need to have another conversation, so I would prefer not having some annoying electronic sound interfering. Clearly this is something one can adapt to, so it’s not so bad. At one’s own place, I’m sure the volume can be reduced or shut off… hmm… perhaps I can do it at the schools as well: I doubt anyone would notice.

Backing a vehicle carries risk of striking something unseen, particularly people are unpredictable. Anyone not realizing a vehicle near them is backing up, dramatically increases the risk of an unpleasant incident. Large trucks or other vehicles with poor visibility in America often have some kind of alarm behind the vehicle to alert people in the area. In Japan, most vehicles – without regard to the size or visibility – also have alarms. Unfortunately the alarms are on the inside of the vehicle serving no beneficial purpose. There is no warning for the pedestrians nearby and it makes noise inside the vehicle, decreasing the driver’s ability to hear what is going on around the vehicle. Some people defend this as “warning the driver that the car is in reverse”; however, any but the least skilled driver should know which gear they are in and  as soon as they release the brake it should be obvious to even the unskilled.

Officially, my opinion is: engineering design is backward and decreases margin of safety. Classification: noisome bother.

Cycling Safely in Japan

2011年 9月 29日

Just over two years ago, I was taken off my bike by a car on a safe little back road. In my Mie prefecture, safety for bikes and pedestrians is not a given, we must be very alert and responsible for our own safety. Not only drivers’ habits, but also physical conditions here are different: awareness of those differences is critical.

On my morning commute, one of these came to the forefront as an Audi pilot repeatedly did her best to scrape me off on a stone wall. Fortunately, I foiled her efforts so I can bring my tale to you.

We were on a road with a clearly marked centerline and lines demarking a shoulder area. By American standards this road is narrow; however, there is plenty of width for a car to easily travel between the lines. The shoulder area is also wide enough for even an amateur cyclist to ride without trouble (although there are a few sign posts and power poles obstructing the shoulder, requiring forays into the roadway). Traffic was heavy and halting, so with little effort a bicycle is swifter than the cars which creates interaction and hence risk. I always enjoy roads where bikes and cars are moving at the same rate, minimizing reaction, but we all know that is the rare case: congested areas favor the bike; and open areas favor the power of the engine.

As I was passing by crawling cars, one driver repeatedly swerved into the shoulder as I was attempting pass, with her final move to the edge as she braked for the red light. Eliminating the suggestion that the driver was maliciously seeking revenge (an extremely rare occurrence here) my assumption is that the driver was not looking at her passenger side mirror nor making head checks. I protected myself by braking each time, which a cyclist should always be prepared to do (the car always wins in an accident).

Understanding why this happens helps to alleviate some of the frustration, if not the fear. Many Japanese roads – especially in the more countryside areas – are very narrow. Many times in our city, there are roads on which opposing traffic can’t pass without someone leaving the roadway. As a result, people are taught to pull to the outside edge of the road whenever possible. This practice becomes habit, with many drivers continuously using the shoulder as part of their lane regardless of how much free space there is on the road. These drivers are obvious, but this morning’s driver is the more cautionary situation. Something – perhaps brake lights on the car ahead – were, I assume, triggering her response of pulling to the side of the road when stopping.

While looking for drivers suddenly entering the roadway from the left, don’t forget to watch for drivers suddenly veering left from the roadway.

Cold Turkey Commute

2011年 6月 9日

When the current majority party wrested control from the LDP they did it by promising just about everything to everybody. Naturally this won’t work with the current budget problems. One of their promises was to make toll on the expressroads free. Personally I don’t like this idea, because these roads are expensive to maintain and the funds will have to come from somewhere. Rather I would prefer that they try to adjust the tolls in different areas to maximize income and keep traffic flowing on these roads. But, I digress.

The free tolls didn’t appear for awhile and everyone was wondering what would happen. Then about a year ago, they announced a trial program in limited areas. One of the areas was between my house and work… convenient for me, I guess. The program had approximately a 9 month window. When that was expiring, I was expecting to have to cough up money; but, just before the period ended they masked out the end date on all the signs. Here we are, almost 3 months later, filled with assumptions that it will go on and on…

This morning I was reading the announcement boards as I whizzed under them on my way to school. 無料化終了 appeared in lights. June 19th, they will end the free program. Short notice indeed. Now I will have to make some tough choices.

I wonder if going back on this promise will sting the Democratic Party’s support.

The Seatbelt Convincer

2010年 11月 11日

We enjoyed traffic safety day at school today. Police liaison officers come to school, mark out an intersection and crosswalks in lime on the playground, set up remote controlled traffic signals and run the kids through some training.

Only watching from the warmth and safety of the office, I can’t inform about the spoken content; however, low visibility around large trucks (yes, they drove one onto the playground) and properly stopping before using crosswalks were on the agenda. However, just like the fairgrounds, there is always one ride which is king.

JAF (the Japanese equivalent of AAA or CAA) drove their truck out with The Seatbelt Convincer written boldly on the side. After opening the sides of the truck to make a stage displaying the contents, the fun began. A few students at a time climbed into a mock-up of the traveling compartment of a car. The car rolled along at 5 km/h and then was abruptly stopped to simulate an accident. Being shook up by this jolt, the students are presumably likely to understand that not wearing a belt in a 60km/h accident is deadly.

Considering I still see many toddlers climbing around in cars every day, I think this presentation is beneficial. Many people need convincing.

Five People, Five O’Clock

2010年 9月 30日

Tsuitachi mochi (朔日餅) and Tsuitachi gayu (朔日粥) are, respectively, special rice desserts and special porridge breakfast which are only sold in the morning on the first of the month. Ingredients change each month as does popularity. July and October are known to be in demand. Tomorrow’s mochi dessert includes chestnuts (栗) which are considered a symbol for October in our textbooks.

Readers may recall that I picked up this practice as a way to enjoy my new life in Ise. Before moving here, I enjoyed the porridge with my wife, who ultimately was my reason for moving. That was back on November first, 2008. Generally my wife can’t join me because she is working; whereas, I can finish in time to ride the train to work. My first solo venture was June first, 2009. I also went in July and August; however, riding home from the last one I was struck by a driver. Resting up from my injuries (and a little fear of riding my bike on what I formerly considered a safe street) I missed several times. February this year marked my return since I could drive safely in my new car and picked up an interested friend to pass the time better.

Tomorrow will be a special trip, my wife is off work, her friend is visiting from Kyoto, my regular friend is up to the task, and a new teacher wants to ride along. We are expecting to be a party of five. Hopefully, heading out at five in the morning will give us enough time to buy mochi and sit down for a nice meal with porridge.

Rumors Exaggerated

2010年 3月 4日

Just for the record, I am still alive. Wanted to get that straight unless any rumors were milling about. So, why haven’t I been posting?

  1. Busy planning my wedding (May 15th and 16th)
  2. Getting ready for new school year (April 1st, er… 6th)
  3. Pondering how to write up potentially offensive posts
  4. Playing a stupid game on Facebook
  5. Just plain tired

Good news/bad news

  1. Lost three schools so I will miss the students, but with only four schools I can focus on my lessons and build relationships with teachers and students.
  2. Got 100,000 yen back from the government for my ‘eco’ car.
  3. Restarting Japanese lessons. My teacher slashed her prices in half because of the poor economy. I think she should have raised her prices, but she is too kind.
  4. Ordered silver Mavic rims with flat spokes and purple tires for my bike. The frame is mostly white and the bar tape was changed to purple after the accident. This is to celebrate being able to ride again. My neck and hip are still a little sore, but I think we are at the time-to-tough-it-out phase. (Photos will be posted after the shop work.)

Most likely, I won’t be posting before Sunday.

Something for Nothing

2010年 2月 8日

Last year the government in Japan changed hands. It was decades in coming, but it was earned at the cost of numerous promises to about every demographic group (with suffrage) imaginable. Some of the promises – like public education through high school – seem reasonable to me. Well educated citizens are more easily employed which generates revenue to pay back for this cost. Additional benefits of this path are not difficult to imagine. Other promises; however, don’t meet with my approval (not that my non-voting opinion carries much weight.)

Free toll on the expressways was a strong promise made. Most people were ecstatic about this because everybody wants something for nothing. Prices for the toll roads are quite high which means people often choose alternate routes resulting in nearly vacant sections of roadway. From an optimization perspective, lowering the tolls enough to make a dramatic increase in usage seems like the best approach. If dropping the price by a third, doubles the number of users, then revenues would increase by 33%. Of course, dropping the fare to free would also drop revenue generation to zero, but maintenance fees would increase dramatically with the increased usage. In many areas, the increased usage would also cause traffic jams, negating the purpose of these roads.

We have automated toll-paying machines in cars which give us a 30% discount on fares and 50% discount during rush hour. I ordered up a card to use in my “ETC” machine. The price is still a little high for my commute, but gets in that range where I’ll use it a couple times a week depending on my schedule.

Last week we got the news announcement that from June to December, low-usage areas will be free on a trial basis. Guess what? My stretch of road is on the list. Although I am opposed to free toll as a system, you can be I’ll be trying it out. My commute on the days I go by car is trouble free… I wonder how many cars will be on the road in June…

Sunday Soundcheck 67

2010年 2月 7日

Sound number two in the R column is ri. We write it in hiragana as り and in katakana as リ. These are one of the pairs of kana which are closely related in appearance. We find that they are virtually identical, but the hiragana is more curved and sometimes the brush is dragged to connect the two strokes.

Rikooru (リコール) comes from the English word ‘recall’. It can be used in the same senses of recalling a public official or a car with problems. Naturally, in light of Toyota’s current troubles, this word is getting used a lot. Japanese people are very set that such a thing could never happen in Japan and clearly it is an American industry problem; even though Mitsubishi suffered horribly for two separate cover-ups of brake and clutch problems.

Rihabiri (リハビリ) is short for rihabiriteeshon, which is from the English ‘rehabilitation’. Often Japanese words from English words are close, but the abbreviation methods are intriguing. Of course, in English we shorten to ‘rehab’.

Rinjiressha (りんじれっしゃ・臨時列車) is a term for ‘special train’, as in specially scheduled. Normally trains stop running a little after 11pm and don’t run until after 5am in the morning; however, on special days, trains sometimes run outside of that schedule and also sometimes on a higher frequency. New Year’s Eve is one of these times when the train runs all night to get folks to the Grand Shrine in Ise.

Show Me the Money

2010年 2月 4日

2 Million YenStaring at huge stacks of money is a lot of fun, so here are a couple photos of two million yen. Japanese cash machines will allow a one million yen withdrawal, and up to two withdrawals per day. The tremendous disparity with American ATM limits is predominantly because Japan is traditionally a cash-based society.

2 Million YenCredit cards are becoming more and more prevalent, but most transactions are still handled with paper money. About 25 years ago, I started switching over to credit cards for most transactions for convenience, a month of free money, and ability to track expenditures; however, since moving to Japan, I rarely use credit. One reason is that using credit in Japan usually requires some rigmarole, and it turns out being more convenient to pay cash. Another reason is difficulties in making payments without transaction fees.

Counting CashWatching professionals count money in Japan is a blast. Here we see a moneyhandler in action. She grabbed the bills just over 50 at a time, pinched them between her left pinky and (oh what a) ring finger, rocked the bills back and forth to fan them, folded them back under the left thumb and snaps them up with the right thumb. The right pinky is always extended, but I don’t know exactly why. Perhaps it is just an affectation, like sticking it out when sipping wine; however, I’m sure there is a mechanical reason for it. The rapidity with which she counted out four stacks of 50 bills each was quite impressive.