As you can imagine, space is limited in Japan, including in my part of suburban Tokyo. And with all the cars, that can turn parking into a real challenge at times.
Normally this isn’t a major problem as long as everyone follows the rules, which means first and foremost, parking in designated spots and avoiding parking anywhere else. Most of the side streets where I live are too narrow to just park a car on the street in front of someone’s house like in the US, so typically houses have parking space on the property to hold one or two cars. My house, for instance, has a small concrete square on the leftmost corner on the property adjacent to the street so it’s easy for us to park our car right in front of the house plus there’s room for one more car in case someone comes over to visit. It’s pretty logical and we thought about this when we built our house years ago.
The challenges come from our neighbors. Both the houses on either side of us have multiple cars. The family living to the right of us has a long skinny driveway in front of their house running alongside the right of our property, and since they have two cars, this means they have to park them end to end in front of their house. This makes changing cars is a real hassle for them. If their van is parked behind the compact and the whole family wants to go somewhere in the van, for example, they first have to move the compact out of the way, then load the van, and then finally put the compact back into the driveway. Then when they come back and someone has to use the compact to go to the store the same process has to happen in reverse. Sometimes I feel sorry for them, but usually I just attribute it to poor planning on their part and go on about my business whenever I see them out there rearranging their vehicles.
The neighbors to my left are more troublesome. They have three cars (a van, an SUV, and another compact) crammed into a space built to hold only two. Likewise, they have the same problem with switching cars, but in their case, whenever they re-shuffle their inventory the husband has a tendency to use the space right in front of my driveway to do this. I don’t care if it’s during the week when my wife and I are at work, but it can be frustrating on the weekends when we’re trying to go shopping and there’s a car idling in front of us and blocking us from getting onto the street! Or preventing us from pulling into our parking space when we come back. When this happens, we always have to ask him to move his car, as if we’re the ones who have no common sense and have broken the rules. And the way he curtly grunts an apology always gets to me; the closest thing it translates to in English would be simply, “Uh… Oh, my bad…”
We had another surprise this past weekend. This time there was another car parked in front of the house across the street, preventing us from getting into our space. I blew the horn and waited. Nothing. After a few minutes the wife came out and explained that the car belonged to her brother-in-law, in to pay a visit to her husband who recently got out of the hospital for surgery. Hearing this I felt a little ashamed at my territoriality, and waited as the brother-in-law approached, made a quick bow in my direction, then moved his car a few meters ahead so I could back into my lot. Then he returned to the house, and the woman bowed deeply to us and said, “Go-meiwaku itashimashita” (“We have humbly inconvenienced you”). A few polite words, a bow, and suddenly it all wasn’t such a big deal anymore.
Protocol is why people can live here so closely together without going at each other’s throats. When it’s used wisely it diffuses a lot of the little bumps of life. But unfortunately even in this politest of societies it’s slowly becoming a lost skill.