It started one Friday evening. It was a pretty good day; I was home before 7 pm.
You need to understand that this is Japan. The work day starts late, but for so many, that work day never seems to end. In a former life in this country, I had a job that nearly did me in. I started the day at 9 am, but didn’t leave the office till midnight, every night, including weekends, for months on end. But I digress, and who really wants to hear yet another jerk complaining about work?
It was a good night because I was home early. The only bad part, the electricity was off in my building, something about a regular maintenance check. And that meant that the garage wouldn’t open. OK, fine, I say to myself. People park on the streets all the time here.
It was also pretty rare in .jp where there are 120 million people living in the land area the size of California. It is dense here, 10 times the population density of the United States. And 73% of the country is mountainous, which argues that it is 20 times the population density, maybe more. But my neighborhood’s streets are a trick of the legal system that hasn’t caught up with the times. The land here is reclaimed, and belongs to Chiba prefecture. It was supposed to revert to Chiba city ownership some time ago, but never did. Chiba city is broke, and can’t manage what it already has on its plate, much less deal with this place. The streets are closer to private ways, and so they don’t have parking restrictions.
So I parked on the street that Friday evening, fully expecting to put it in the garage as soon as the power turned back on. Only… I forgot. But that’s ok, right? The streets are closer to private ways, so they don’t have parking restrictions, right? No, apparently there are laws that say you can’t have your car parked anywhere except a parking space for cars, for more than 8 hours in the evening.
Well I’ll be a monkey’s ojisan.
I go out to the garage on Monday morning, open up the garage to see that my car isn’t in the regular spot. “Oh, yeah!” I say to myself and slap my forehead properly. “I left it on the street. No problem,” I thought. And then I saw the ticket. Only it wasn’t a ticket, it was a request to come to the police station.
So naturally I ignored it.
And then I got a summons in the mail. I’m to go to the police station on Xmas Day, Merry Xmas! While it is not a holiday over here, I take the day off when I can. The past couple of years have been good. I took it off the last 3 years in a row. So I was free.
I go to the police station, Chiba Nishi, a 10 minute drive from my home. Two really nice old officers come out and ask me what happened. They say that they understand, oh that’s understandable. They make me comfortable in a plastic chair, sit down next to me. They’re kind, respectful, deferential, polite. Do I know that it’s illegal? Yes I do. I see. So it was on Friday night? Yes. The electricity was off, couldn’t get in the garage. Yes, that’s right. They take it all down.
It was the most pleasant encounter with the police I’ve ever had. I’m sure that the fact that I speak the language passably well helped the matter, but still. The level of deference and civility was great. Then they tell me I have to go to court to plead my case. Could be a fine of up to $800 USD. Yes, 800 bucks for a parking ticket, for parking it on a street where everybody parks. The big question is what happens tomorrow. I’m hoping to get away for under $400. And there’s the rub. The court decides what to fine. So who knows, maybe some kind judge will take pity on me J