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The first few days we spent way too much time finding internet stations and checking weather forecasts for the meteors. We needed to find surely clear skies, and if none were to be found in Japan, we would jet to Guam or Taiwan or somewhere that had them.
We found four sources of weather for Japan, all using different methods, and none of them would agree. Nowhere could we find a place in Japan that all the forecasters had as sunny for Sunday and Monday. In addition, light pollution in Japan was very high, but we had a map showing were dark skies could be found.
We planned to use the Shinkansen, which can get almost anywhere in the country in 4 hours from our central point, to get quickly to clear skies and rent a car there.
Fortunately it cleared up and on Sunday it seemed most of Japan would get a show. That left us seeking dark skies nearby. We chose the Mie prefecture, the rural half, on the south-east side of the Kansai peninsula. This turned out to be south of Nara, which is where we had spent the night. We could have taken the train to Nagoya or a town in northern Mie and rented a car, but it seemed that it would be just as long a drive as from Nara, and it looked like there were highways we could take directly. "Why not rent the car in Nara?"
Big mistake, as it turned out. The tiny Toyota at the Avis franchise in Nara was 7,000 yen per day, plus 1500 for "something" and another 1,000 (this time well worth it) for the GPS navigation system.
The GPS computer was entirely in Japanese of course, so we asked the agent to program it to guide us to Kii-Nagashima, the fishing village where we had booked a small "recreation hoteru" for the night. We also asked him the best route independently, and he said the southern route was definitely better.
That road, it turned out, never got rural. We got to see a lot of suburban Japan (which is most of Japan) and took six hours, instead of the predicted 2.5, to get to Kii-Nagashima. And he hadn't programmed the GPS, which would have taken us by the faster northern route. In addition, once we got to the coast, it was expressway for a while, which is nice and modern and much like North America. So take the train as far as you can go and rent the car only for the last leg if you have to.
But we had to have a car, to get to a dark spot, and possibly provide a warm spot if it got very cold.
Modern Kyoto | Old Kyoto | Nara | Driving to Mie | Leonid Meteor Storm
Miyajima | Hiroshima | West Honshu | Takayama | Tsukiji Fish Market
Ginza | Modern Tokyo | Tokyo (Misc) | Bridges of Tokyo 12 | Tokyo-above
Since I had not rented in a left-side country before, my 25 years of driving instincts were of course telling me the wrong thing. K. was watching and saying, "think left, left, left" at every corner, which actually did help a lot.
And the GPS did help, once we figured it out. The first time we pushed a button we got Japanese prompts we could not understand, and for a while it kept jabbering trying to direct us to the spot we had been. Eventually we had the guts to try to figure out how to set it to a spot on the map. We could not read the map but we had the English "Japan Road Atlas" which had Romanji and Japanese in it, so we could map. Also my regular GPS had Japanese towns in it, in English so we could figure where we were.
Without the GPS it would have been utter chaos. At least it would tell us if we were on the right road, going to the right town, and it was a big help once we figured out how to program it to get back to the Avis. (We begged but we had to return it to the same location. The lost time from bad directions meant we returned it 5 hours late and paid almost a full day extra. Sigh.)
Then we got into really rural Japan. In spite of the low population, public works were everywhere. The lightly driven coastal road still had an impressive array of long tunnels and bridges surpassing what we might find on the heavily traveled California Route 1. In fact, for our observing location, which we had to scout out in the dark, we picked a closed section of road that had been replaced by a fancy new bypass with 3 tunnels and 2 bridges. The bypass wasn't the only route to that section of the coast, either, so who knows what pork got it built.
In really rural Japan there is not a lot of English, though there is lots of Japlish on store signs etc. Nobody at the Hoteru spoke any, but we managed to get by with our trusty phrase-books.
We stopped at a drugstore for supplies and casually asked where the "recreation hoteru" was, giving its address. The guy drew a map for a while, and then decided he would lead us there in his car. We couldn't stop him and he took us several miles. Good service at that drugstore for people just buying $10 worth of snacks.
(We had tried to buy cheap sleeping bags or an air mattress and were thrilled to see a Sportmart sized sporting goods store right after we got on the road. The store was packed with stuff, including hiking stuff, but oddly no sleeping bags or airbeds. Tons of snowboarding though.)
I'm probably scaring you, but you can drive in Japan, especially if you already can handle left hand driving easily. For me it was good I had a narrow car, since I didn't lose the instinct that says you don't let people pass you really close by on the right. In a wide car I would have gone off the road, and that means going into the narrow drainage trough that is right at the side of most roads.
The expressways are pleasant but expensive -- about $10 for a 20 minute ride.