“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land…a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing.” Deuteronomy 8:7-9
When one considers the many facets of parking a car in Japan, scarcity is probably the key concept that underlies all related discussion on the topic. Since land is a premium in overcrowded Japan, there is a scarcity of parking spaces in a country that increasingly depends upon the automobile. Despite Japan’s incredibly efficient mass transportation system, the number of cars on the road continues to multiply and this increase creates the problem of where and how to park these cars when not in use. This ongoing parking problem creates an environment where strict controls, parking manners and creative technological solutions work together to manage the situation.
The regulation of parking in Japan begins with the purchase of a vehicle. To obtain legal ownership of a car, everyone is required to have the local police confirm that you actually have a designated place to park it. To discourage illegal parking, fines are quite exorbitant and may cost over $200 plus additional fees depending on the circumstances. Paid parking lots tend to be rather pricey, which explains why some drivers are tempted to look for inexpensive or even illegal alternatives. In the more congested areas, some parking spaces may cost as much as one dollar for every ten minutes. This of course is in addition to the $100-300 a month one may already be paying for a personal parking space near their residence. When we moved to Tokyo and were looking for a place to live, someone tried to interest us in their apartment which had a “cheap” parking spot for $250 a month and was “conveniently” located only a half mile away!
The scarcity of land and potential parking places has given rise to a few innovations to ease this chronic problem. For example, modern parking garages that are typically several stories high will automatically place your car on an elevator for storage. Upon your return, it is easily located and retrieved through a computerized identification system. Unmanned local parking lots often feature a wheel lock device that rises from the ground, which is released when you pay your fee at the nearby machine. Some apartments come equipped with individual two-tiered parking lifts that double their parking capacity. Many who live in older neighborhoods not designed to house modern automobiles painstakingly park their cars in almost impossible tiny spaces. Major shopping complexes often offer two hours of free parking for customers who make purchases and then charge a set fee for any extra time. Parking spaces throughout Japan are generally narrower and designed to accommodate smaller cars.
To facilitate traffic flow in cramped parking lots, most drivers meticulously back their cars into an empty spot for easy exit and enhanced visibility when they pull out. All newer cars come equipped with a button to retract outside mirrors to minimize potential impediments for others trying to reach their parked car and these are routinely used. Here is a link to a video that captures most of these practices: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQj_a6ByEhA
While scarcity of parking is a common annoyance in many parts of Japan, we are often faced with other shortages in life that can be far more distressing. A lack of employment, housing, transportation, clothing, finances or education can invite a sense of desperation that all too easily leads to despair and hopelessness. But just as God led his people, the Israelites, to a “good land” where they “lacked nothing” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9), He delights in providing what we need as we learn to trust Him… even a parking space.