How to Sit “Professionally” in the Passenger Seat on a Driving Trip in Japan?

Japan is not only about the center of big cities like Tokyo or Osaka, there are also lots of unique spots you could enjoy if you go traveling by car with your friend. Have you experienced going on a driving trip with your Japanese friend? I have some tips to share if you sit in the passenger seat with your Japanese friend as a driver. 

The passenger seat is the front seat beside the driver. So you may wonder how come it needs techniques for just sitting there? There is, at least from my ten years of experience living here. 

My first driving trip in Japan

I still remember when I first had a driving trip with a close Japanese friend. Sitting in the passenger seat, viewing the scenery passing by, little by little, I just fell asleep. When we reached the destination, the friend confessed to me that there are specific responsibilities when you sit beside the driver in Japan. 

You’d better check the best route forward for the driver so that they are able to focus on the current road condition. Then, driving alone should be tedious, especially when it is a long trip. Keeping the company with the driver to cheer them up by talking is still crucial for a safe and fun drive. 

I found that they don’t do it by following fixed customs

It surprised me when I learned these tips because, in my culture, driving a trip with friends is such a relaxing thing. I never thought I should keep a close eye on the routes and try my best not to make the driver feel bored. Of course, if it is a trip with colleagues or not-so-close friends, I will monitor everything instead of being too casual. But for close friends or family? I thought making myself at home was the best answer. 

But then I found it was different. In Japan, people don’t think they follow fixed customs when guiding the road and talking about exciting topics to make the driver feel better. Instead, it seems like just a natural behavior from the heart for them. So it doesn’t go to the level of rules.  

I found this is complicated and weary to feel like making a check box in my mind even though relaxing should be the most leading theme on a trip. But now I found that if you get used to it, you can enjoy the journey better than before. Who said the driving journey is not a part of the trip itself? Talking along the way, you could find more fun facts about each other and deepen your friendship with your Japanese friend!

The most important thing is…

Saying all of this, you may have a big picture that it is pretty common sense in Japan. However, it depends if the driver has a preference. One day I talked about my episode with another Japanese friend. He said he prefers people to sleep while driving from experience driving with his wife. Every time he decided on the route, his wife would comment that the other would be a better direction, and he felt like being checked as a driver!

Interesting. There is never just one correct answer. But I believe, as my favorite Japanese word says, “思いやり(Omoiyari)” is the best policy.

*The word Omoiyari means having considerable thought about others.