Using Google Maps in Japan

Some many years ago when I got my first car in Japan, I also bought an external GPS which I later gave to a friend after I sold my car because that friend also wanted a GPS. That GPS wasn’t a very good one to be honest, as it gets lost when I enter tunnels which means I wouldn’t be told where to exit. The newer ones are constantly able to track your location even in tunnels but they cost too much.

This year, when we got Jiffy II, I didn’t get a new GPS as I decided Google Maps is ample to get me around, which it is for the most part. When I was back in Singapore a few months ago, I used my dad’s previous lorry to get to D’s place once and it served me pretty well. However, I gradually learned that Japan’s roads seem more complex than Singapore’s and at times, it fails to give me accurate information. Case in point: Yesterday, D and I attended Sam Smith’s Tokyo leg of his The Thrill of It All World Tour at Saitama Super Arena (I know, it’s really Saitama and not Tokyo). We drove there because 1) we didn’t want to get caught in the packed train after the concert and 2) it’s cheaper to drive there than to use the public transport. And when we’re about to arrive, Google Maps told me to “take the slip road on the left.”

No, we didn’t “take the slip road on the left” because it takes us to the highway heading home!

At times, Google tells me, “In 5 kilometers, continue straight” but it doesn’t tell me which lane to take in 100 meters when the lane splits in two. Hello Google, prioritize please? I mean, OK Google, prioritize please? I really don’t need to know what to do in 5 km if I’m not able to take the correct lane now to lead me to the location you’re describing 5 km away.

Sometimes, it tells me to “turn left” when I just went past the point that is possible for me to make the turn. There are also times when “turn right” doesn’t make it clear whether it’s at the junction 20 m away or 50 m away or when there’s more than 1 direction turning right (i.e. 45 degrees right or 90 degrees right or even 100 degrees right) because yes, Japanese roads are really complicated especially in the city.

But to its credit, even when I go underground and the tracking image stops moving and I hear a “GPS signal lost,” it appears to still track my location as I can see the distance reducing as I drive. And then it will announce for me to exit the tunnel at the appropriate time. But I strongly suggest glancing over which direction you should take next every now and then because sometimes it goes haywire and tell you to make a U-turn even though it showed for you to make a left turn just a couple of seconds ago. And you should always trust the original direction you see.

At the end of the day, I still like driving in Japan not just because of the greenery and nice views outside the city, but because Japanese drivers are really kind and make the roads a pleasant one to drive on (see this post). But ending the post this way might bring me some complaints on abrupt ending so, next time you use Google Maps while driving in Japan, do look out for that. You don’t want to pay extra toll fees by accidentally entering or exiting the highway.

Oh, and also do remember to apply for IDP before coming over because contrary to some people’s belief, you can’t drive with a Singapore licence here. For your reference, Singaporeans can get their IDP here.

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