This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
A couple of Japanese car-sharing services realised something weird lately: that their customers were renting cars but clocking in unusually low miles. After several of their cars came back with “traveled no distance”, the two companies—Orix and Times 24Co.—conducted surveys to find out what people were doing with the cars if not driving them.
It turns out that a sizeable number of those renting cars were doing it to escape the chaos and commotion around them, and give themselves a few moments of peace. Some of them used the automobile to take a nap in during office lunch breaks, away from bosses who would not approve of their siesta. One user admitted setting up an “office” in the front seat of the car and working from there, while another left their luggage in the car they rented after failing to find a locker at the train station.
Yet another poor soul just could not find a place to eat his lunch in, except in a rented car. ”I rented a car to eat a boxed meal that I bought at a convenience store because I couldn’t find anywhere else to have lunch,” a 31-year-old male company employee, who lives in Saitama Prefecture, close to Tokyo, told Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun.
Reports have also shown an increased use of rental cars to charge phone in the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami.
In a similar survey in 2018, vehicle-sharing service NTT Docomo Inc. had found that people were renting their vehicles to watch TV, get dressed for Halloween, practise singing, rapping and English conversation, and even do facial yoga—an asana practice that originated in Japan itself.
One of the main reasons this has been a growing trend is because of the rented cars’ easy availability and cheap prices. It only costs around 400 yen (less that $4) to use one for half an hour, and a car can be picked up at one of the firm's 12,000-plus parking places across the country. This means that car operators are losing cash because customers pay more for driving longer distances. Another problem with, say, taking a nap in a car, is keeping the AC running without actually having to resort to such desperate measures, adding to climate change. But with tiny living spaces taking over Japan's urban areas, maybe the insides of a car are actually considered roomy enough to chill out in.
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