Precarious Parking Options in JapanJun 17th, 2009 | By Aimee Weinstein | Category: Lifestyle
Parking is a rather precarious pastime in any country, but in Japan it seems to take on mythic proportions. There are as many types of parking lots as there are types of cars, and each one varies with location, price and method of holding the car.
The Slide-Out Parking
One of the best car parks is at the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi Hills. The driver pulls up to the curb and the car is whisked away to heaven-knows-where, but upon returning and then paying at the valet desk, the car magically appears, sliding out from inside the building with a move reminiscent of Tom Cruise in “Risky Business.”
Big Brother is Watching…
Another favorite is under the Shin Marinouchi Building in central Tokyo. It is a little more mundane in that drivers pull a ticket from a machine as they enter, and then pay at a machine in the elevator lobby. But somehow the machines know the car and if the driver has paid or not, because upon exiting, even though the red and white gate at the top of the ramp is down, if it “recognizes” the car from the photo it has, the gate rises automatically.
Can’t Run Over Me!
Some parking lots are just commonplace. The driver pulls into the spot in the lot and within a few minutes a barrier rises underneath the car. Upon returning to the car, the driver must insert the correct amount of money as calculated by the machine to force the bar to lower under the car so he can leave.
There are parking lots where the driver must drive onto a Ferris Wheel of sorts and the car is taken for a ride of its own. The operator of the lot must make all the cars go around until the right one appears when the driver is ready to leave!
Car Vending Machines
In some places, there are complex machines that layer the cars one on top of the other. To get them out, the parking attendants much do some car jockeying, pulling cars in and out so the right one is reunited with its owner. Of course then there’s the computerized ones where the attendant pushes in the right number for the parked car and it is lowered automatically to the ground after moving other cars on their metal plate to the right positions.
In certain cases, the parking lot is inside the building, but there is no street entrance to get to the actual structure. In this situation, drivers drive the car onto a circle in the floor. The circle spins the car about ninety degrees so that the car is facing the right direction to enter the parking structure. Often this means that once the car is turned, it will go forward onto some sort of Ferris Wheel parking, or stacked parking structure.
Not So Do-It-Yourself Parking
At the new building in Aoyama, aptly named the Ao building, the parking works in a combination of methods. After the driver pulls into the lot and down the ramp, the attendant motions him into a little box-like area. Passengers are ushered into a parking lobby where a different attendant helps them get a ticket from the machine, so the shoppers can go on their way. After people do their shopping and return to the parking lobby, the attendant puts the ticket back into the machine, collects the money and puts it in the machine. Instantly, the car/ticket number appears on a little screen with “notes” attached to each number. “Retrieval in progress” “Car is next in line” “Car approaching the gate.” It’s all reminiscent of the airport. There are even benches on which people sit while waiting for their car to magically appear, watching the update screen all the while. The car comes out a side entry and the number is announced. Drivers collect their cars and drive out up the ramp. It’s all very civilized and pulled off with a minimum of fuss. I wonder if the building and parking owners don’t trust the drivers to use the machines themselves or if they just want to make the experience that much simpler. Given the level of service that we’ve come to know and love in Japan, I would bet on the latter.
The price of parking varies by area and proximity to the main street. There can be two parking structures right by each other, but the one closest to the restaurants can cost double of the one just one street back. Often there will be one price for mid-day parking and a less-expensive one for after 4pm or before 8am. Make no mistake though: with the sophisticated machines in charge, the price can be calculated differently over different hours. Do not assume that because you entered the garage before 4pm that all of your hours are calculated at that price; more than likely you will have the post-4pm charges calculated at a higher price when you come get your car. On average, parking can be between 100 yen per hour for outside of the city and 800 yen per hour in a central spot. It varies widely.
One thing is for certain when driving and parking in Japan: it’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. However, I can guarantee that it will never be boring.
This article is by, writer and writing professor, Aimee Weinstein. You can read more from Aimee on her website The Weekly Weinstein: Tales of Tokyo Life where she blogs about Tokyo, parenting and the intersection of the two.