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Driving in winter

When driving in the snow in Japan, there’s a lot you can do to prepare yourself and others in case something goes wrong. I was 5 months into my JET experience when I tried to drive my car after the first snow of the season. The sun was up and the snow was melting, but what appeared to be a black patch of clear road, turned out to be ice. The moment my tires hit the ice, I lost control over my car. I was stopped from falling into a deep road construction site by a seemingly flimsy guard rail. It actually turned out to be very strong and my friend and I were able to walk out of the car untouched. The fact that I was driving very slowly definitely helped. I had to get over my fear pretty quick and start driving in the snow again. Here are some things to remember if you are going to be driving in the snow in Japan.

  • Firstly slow down.  Keep your speed low but never break suddenly.  I was lucky that my car didn’t go too far once it hit the barrier, but a big factor of this was I was travelling at a very slow speed.
  • Put the car into over drive if it’s an automatic so you can restrict the gears and therefore your speed.
  • Be wary of what might appear to be a clear black road when the snow starts to melt because it might actually be ‘black ice’.  Learn how to steer the car in snow conditions so as to maintain control of your vehicle.
  • Allow an extra 10 minutes in the morning before heading to work to prepare your car.  Use an ice scraper to clear your windows before driving and make sure you have ample wind shield washer fluid to combat any further snowfall.  Never put warm or hot water on your wind shield if there is ice or frost because the glass may break. If your car doesn’t start immediately, pump the gas 5-10 times then try starting the engine.  In very cold weather, it’s also best not to run your tank completely empty.
  • Always have your supervisor’s contact details on hand, so you can inform your school/office if  something happens to you/your car.
  • Make sure you always adhere to the law by having  your license and and insurance papers (or a copy of the papers) in the car at all times.
  • Check what precautions others around you are taking regarding car maintenance.  Snow chains are not practical in Fukuoka but special tires designed for increased safety in light snowfall are available.
  • Particularly if you are in an area of Japan where it isn’t meant to snow much, being able to drive in the snow is often not a stated prerequisite. It never snowed where I come from, so I had no experience. So if you are uncomfortable/worried, speak up. Generally people will be very understanding, and it’s always ‘better to be safe than sorry’, so do not hesitate in speaking up about your requirements. Maybe someone can drive with you a couple of times when it starts snowing and help you get used to it. Your co-workers may even offer to drive/pick you up, especially if it only snows a few days of the year where you live.

Your  co-workers and peers will want the best for you. So just ask, because asking, is FREE!

Wishing you all happy and safe driving in Japan!