Car Elevators and Mini Gas Stations

Garage

There are a lot of people in Tokyo–basically the population of Canada–so traffic can be intense. They drive on the same side of the road as the UK and are a lot more aggressive on the road than you would expect. Though I have to say, there is a lot less honking than I’ve experienced in any other city that has even a fraction of the population.

Gas stations use far less real estate than we do; usually they are on the side of the road in a small pull-out (similar to Europe). Drivers stay in the car and are served by a team of attendants (kind of like a racing pit stop) and most Japanese drivers are not well versed on the basic maintenance needs of their car. In fact, when I was learning Japanese from the Mormon missionaries back in 1990, the Canadian Mormon had partnered with a Japanese businessman who moved his wife and family to Vancouver. They bought a car. He proudly mastered the use of self-serve gas stations; however, no one told him about the importance of oil. He blew the engine. He was quite surprised and said to me, “I guess oil is important for the car’s engine…we don’t learn this information in Japan.”

The customary parking structures we use in North America are not viable in Tokyo due, not only to a lack of space, but to the astronomical cost of that space. When I lived there in 1990-91, many of the executives who were clients had cars and drivers but those who really made it had parking spots in addition to the company car and driver. In Shibuya, one of my local parking garages has a full-time attendant who drives the cars in and out, mostly because it’s a little more complicated than our local EasyPark in Vancouver. In Tokyo, you drive in the parking lot onto the spinning round “automobile lazy Susan” you get out, get your ticket and leave. The attendant then spins the car around, opens the elevator door and backs the car in. Cars are either stacked on a revolving ferris-wheel like structure or the elevator is used to transport cars between levels, eliminating the huge amount of space used for ramps. Many people even have two-layer structures in private homes.

One thing more… Parking has gotten a whole lot cheaper in Tokyo! I noticed on the sign that it’s only about $3/hour…way less than it was back in the day!

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