One of the things that always struck me about Japan and Japanese cars are that there are a lot of small cars, more than in most places. This isn’t to say there aren’t large cars as well, there are lots of them, in fact I can’t recall seeing as many Bentleys and G-Wagons in any other place recently as well as lots of larger JDM iron. While I was there I spent a lot of time just walking around and literally losing myself in various neighborhoods just taking random turns and looking at everything I came across.
When I’d had enough I would pull my phone out and have it get me back to my hotel. Lots of these neighborhoods had single-family homes that were fairly (very) compact by western standards and interesting parking situations/limitations. As parking is extremely expensive in Japan it behooves one to purchase a car that fits in the garage or the parking spot, as there generally are not driveways or street front parking in the typical Tokyo neighborhood.
There are obviously other reasons why small cars are popular in Japan but I’ll just focus on parking at home for now. A lot of these pictures feature cars that are familiar to us, otherwise we can’t get a proper sense of scale. In addition to the limited parking a lot of these houses are on “roads” that to the typical westerner are narrower than the average footpath that we wouldn’t dream of driving on. There is no passing with even the smallest cars and a lot of the corners are completely blind 90-degree ones with walls up to the edge without any land buffer. How so few cars have body damage is beyond me, but small size, good visibility, and a tight turning radius are highly prized.
This picture of a Mazda Demio (our Mazda2) shows a house with a garage that is partly underground, these are fairly common, however the driveway angle is generally steep and the opening is not very tall. This particular one was a bit abnormal in that the car was partly in the road, which as far as I could tell is a no-no, it needs to fit within the property line. That road was not very wide, getting in and out would be tough in anything much larger. I think there was stuff behind the car, my impression was that the roof would just clear the top of the opening but many cars would not make the cut here.
As with the VW Golf a few pictures up, this guy has to back into a tight spot and even has a pole to contend with. The Golf on the other hand has to clear a curb. It’s quite likely he was very busy with the measuring tape when car shopping. His only saving grace is that it’s a right-hand drive car, as the left side was snug up against the house.
Thank goodness for small CUV’s, this is probably the largest generation RAV4 that this person will ever own. Those dreams of a Ford Expedition? Not gonna happen.
This is one of the largest cars on this block by far. Pulling in the first time had to be a nerve-wracking experience. Just fitting a new set of tires likely has the owner making sure the tread isn’t abnormally deep.
This was the parking in a very nice new and modern residence. In this case the driver is exiting through the passenger door. Oh, nobody seems to pull in headfirst either, it’s way too difficult or dangerous to back out again.
Here’s a slightly larger shot for context. There’s also enough room for a couple of scooters and a passel of bicycles, also very common.
This one’s at the end of a cul-de-sac. No, no huge turning circle expanse of asphalt, just a curb and driveway area for him and another one across the (one-lane) street.
Here’s a two-car spot, the car on the left is a Suzuki Hustler, a very popular little Kei car, the car on the right obviously a BMW. There’s nothing angry looking about the little Suzuki SUV-let, but the BMW on the other hand looks ready to take its lunch money. Both fit pretty well but if you had two BMW’s it’d be tougher.
A 3-series wagon and another great illustration of why having a car dealer bring the car to you at home for a test drive is a great idea. Let the dealer demonstrate how it fits into the garage. I think this was the only one I can recall seeing pulled in head-first and when I was eye-balling it thought it must be due to the little fin antenna on the back.
All the short and boxy shapes with practically vertical sides start to make a lot more sense. A lot of space is wasted by having the upper body of a car taper in as we are used to it doing and a long hood is a complete liability and waste. Anyone who has seriously looked at a newer Ford Transit or Ram Promaster van vs the old E-150 and current GM offering sees the obvious shape advantage immediately.
We’ll finish with the lead image again, with another Suzuki Hustler. This guy has a deep tandem parking area but this is also very representative of the width of a lot of the narrowest back streets that I was on, just imagine houses and “driveways” on either side. It all helps explain why the only full-size crewcab truck I saw all week was a current generation USDM Toyota Tundra on a major road. This owner also exits through the passenger door for some reason, I’m not sure why he isn’t just up against the other wall. In any case, I hope this helped to explain part of the genesis of the small Japanese modern car. None of these examples were in any way unique, there were literally hundreds to choose from during my walks, it was the norm.