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Parking Tickets in Japan

The other day I got a parking ticket.  My first in Japan and, come to think about it, the only parking ticket I ever recall receiving.  Not such a big deal but I live in Japan so of course there is a story that goes along with it.  Here it is. 

My wife, Christine, was having some friends over and since they were driving, I thought I would help out by moving our vehicle out of the parking area in front of the house so they wouldn’t have to drive around an unfamiliar neighborhood looking for the elusive available spot.  I chose a place around the corner, next to a field and on a side street not frequented by traffic or people.  In point of fact, I knew, or at least suspected, that the area was a no-parking zone if for no other reason than because legal, free, parking in Japan is an oxymoron.  When it comes to parking, Japan is a nation of scofflaws.  I hardly bat an eye when someone I am following stops their vehicle and buys cigarettes from a roadside vending machine while traffic backs up behind them.  I don’t look twice when I turn in to a narrow street only to find the way blocked by a car parked in the middle of the road.  And, I can’t count the number of cars I pass by parked right in front of no parking signs.  About the only thing I do take note of these days is the rare sight of someone actually getting a ticket for any of these activities. 

So when I noticed the ticket upon returning to the car, I was taken aback.  I passed no less than three cars parked on the main road and several other cars along the road I was parked – none with tickets and all presumably illegally parked.  In America, you take the ticket, mail in the twenty bucks, stew about it a little and move on.  Not in Japan.  This ticket was attached via reinforced plastic, inside a bright florescent yellow plastic envelope and firmly locked to the side mirror.  It directed me to “immediately” go to the police station to explain myself.  Immediately?   What country gives out traffic infractions and then requires immediate, personal, disposition of the violation?  Ah, but this is Japan. 

I wasn’t able to “immediately” go to the police station so I prayed that their definition of the word was broader than mine.  I drove to my appointment, feeling extremely exposed with my florescent LOSER envelope flapping in the wind.   

The next day Christine and I had another appointment so along the way we stopped by the police station (having passed, I might add, an uncountable number of illegally parked vehicles on the road).  I had thought about a plan and figured Christine and a one week old baby would elicit more understanding than if I handled the ticket.  Since I was responsible for the ticket you might find this an unfair favor to ask of Christine but she owes me for an unfortunate incident early in our courtship whereupon I was banned for life from a certain national rental car agency.  

So, it was agreed that Christine would talk to them in English and Japanese while I stood behind her holding a wriggling baby and acting ignorant (not too much of a stretch).  We walked in to the building expecting it to be filled with hapless souls waiting to discuss their parking infraction with the authorities, having duly, “immediately,” rushed to the station upon receiving their ticket.  The lobby was empty and there was no waiting at the counter.  Empty??  Until that day, I had never been in a government office building not spilling out with weary people, all holding white slips of paper with numbers written on them.  Was there a sudden, inexplicable, outbreak of lawfulness whereupon I was the lone individual to have been issued a ticket?  Was my case so egregious that others were dismissed in preparation for my appearance?  Do I have a special FOREIGNER decal on my car that marks me as one targeted for special attention?  I’m still mulling these questions over as I stew over the incident. 

In the end, as you might have guessed, there is no sympathy for mothers with newborn infants.  Arguing does not help.  Speaking English does not help.  Looking pathetic, apologetic, angry or helpless does not help.  The ticket was $150.  We left the building and Christine punched me in the shoulder.