Thursday, July 18, 2013

Filling Up

If you drive at all in Japan you will at some point have to buy petrol for your car. Where I'm from gassing up the car is a pretty mundane experience. Here however, refuelling is one of those "only in Japan" activities that really must be seen to be believed. 

There exists here two types of petrol station. The first is the fully automated "self service" type which is fairly common throughout the world while the second is the "full service" type that has largely disappeared from the western world. Even when you do find one in NZ it usually consists of a greasy teenager sauntering around the forecourt in a HiViz vest saying "you allright there mate?" If pressed they will pump the petrol for you but that's about all you will get from them. Contrast that with the experience I had recently at a ESSO station in Kameoka. 

As you drive on to the forecourt you will see a group of people in red overalls directing you where to park. Once you have stopped one will approach you and ask what you want. You just roll down your window and yell "MANTAN". What happens next is like watching a Formula 1 pit crew at work. All the aforementioned guys in overalls swarm all over your car cleaning the windows and mirrors, emptying the ashtray and taking away any rubbish your hand over to them. You will be handed a damp cloth for you to wipe down your dashboard. One of them will take your credit card or cash and place a small vinyl banner on your mirror. This is to tell the guy actually pumping the gas what grade of fuel you want...regular in my case. The pump operator will fill you up while the cashier man will swipe your card or fetch the correct change for you. This is all done with great enthusiasm and speed. You don't even need to get out of the car at any stage. Once you're fuelled up, the crew will ask which way you are heading and will then run over to the roadside and guide you out on to the road, sometimes even stopping traffic so you can ease on into the flow.

It's all very amusing and thought provoking for foreigners used to the indifferent staff and lacklustre service that they are probably used to. One other notable thing here is that the price of petrol can vary wildly from one station to the next. Just driving down the street a few hundred metres can see a Y10 per litre spread.  It also amazes me that, for the first time ever, petrol is actually cheaper in Japan than it is in NZ. The downside to gas stations here is that they only sell Gas and Oil...if you want an icecream or a pair of sunglasses you are out of luck!

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