Cherry Blossom Insight

As mentioned previously, K's Toyota is 15 years (and two months) old and has lots of city-driving kilometers on it. We've known for quite a while now that it's useful life was nearly over, so we've been looking at a replacement. After researching and test driving cars for a year and a half, we finally put in an order for one in early March. Due to labor cut backs caused by the economic situation, it would take several weeks to produce. Last Sunday, we dropped off the venerable Toyota for recycling and picked up our new Honda Insight hybrid. At the time we ordered it there were about $1500 in government incentives involved, but then, in response to the economic slump they decided to offer an additional $2500 for people who scrapped a car 13 years or older for an efficient new model. Good timing.

The Insight is almost exactly the same width and length as K's 1994 Toyota Ceres, but a little added height, hatchback shape, and clever interior layout have created a much roomier car.

K had Monday off so we took it out to run some errands in Kamisu City, stopped for lunch at our favorite haunt (Wordsworth - I had pasta with urchin, scallops, and asparagus that was soooo good, but which will, no doubt, contribute to my expanding waistline), and then headed north to Naka City, north of Mito, our prefectural capital. The destination this day was Shizu Shrine (no Momo, it's Shizu, not Shih Tzu) and neighboring Shizumine Furusato Park which has some 370 cherry trees.

Together with Shizu Pond, which is across the road from the entrance to the shrine (and frankly isn't much to crow about), these sights are on the list of Ibaraki's 100 best. Sometime I'll have to check off the Ibaraki 100 sights we've visited. The day had started off pretty sunny, with just scattered clouds, but by the time we reached Naka City, it was mostly cloudy.

While the cherry blossoms of many trees in Japan are long gone, the trees at Shizumine Park, while past the peak, still had lots. Why? Because most of the trees there are yaezakura - a late blooming variety with multiple layered blossoms.

K parked in a lot across from the shrine. Happily, the parking lot was nearly empty. The Insight has a rear camera and when one selects reverse the view behind the car is shown on the navigation screen on the dashboard along with grid overlay lines to make backing into a parking space a snap. (Reminds me of the '2001: A Space Odyssey' shuttle docking sequence at the orbiting space station.)

The shrine's first sets of steps aren't at all daunting, but that view is deceptive. At the top, one is greeted by - of course - many, many more steps. (Pant, wheeze - man, I need more exercise.) As we climbed the steps, a hawk was calling from high above in the ancient cedars, perhaps laughing at me.

Shizu Shrine was once one of the three most important in Eastern Japan - the other two being Kashima Jingu and Katori Jingu - as the Mito clan which ruled the area were its patrons. The buildings were consumed by fire in 1841 and rebuilt.

Inside, one can see the large round mirror in the honden (main hall). Mirrors are a common object of worship in Shinto shrines. This one is on a partition of clear glass, allowing one to see much more of the interior space than visitors do at most other shrines.

The park next to the shrine is fairly new, with many water features, a large round stage, and playground in addition to paths among the cherry trees. Admission is free (though parking will cost you ¥500 ~$5.00).

There were food vendors along the main path and we shared some fried sweet potato strips - sort of like French fries, but they leave the skin on and roll them in sugar - too much for our taste. I much prefer a plain baked one, which are often sold as a snack in Japan.

The trees are lighted at night and there were several of these bamboo lanterns about, which are topped with shoji paper decorated with leaves. Wouldn't they look nice lining a walkway?

It was a long drive home. Coming back took about an hour and a half or so, but the Insight proved to be very comfortable, and quiet. The seats have good back support. What about fuel efficiency, you ask? Well, K was learning to follow the lighting cues of the Insight. In "Eco mode" (which tells the computer to control the variable transmission accordingly and activates a special display system), when you drive efficiently, the background to the speedometer glows green. If you are too quick with the gas it turns blue-green, and if you really step on it, it turns blue. The computer keeps track and rewards you for being easy on the gas and smooth on the brakes with a display of leaves - the more leaves, the better you've done. Actually, this would be a good system to have any car, not just hybrids, to encourage less polluting, more fuel efficient driving habits. [By the way, my view is that NO car is "environmentally friendly" - that's just marketing spin. Some cars are just less environmetally-UNfriendly than others. The less we rely on cars, the better.] I jokied with K that in future models, instead of color changes, they should give drivers who use too much gas an electrical shock. ;^)

The estimates that the EPA assigned this car in the USA (40 city/ 43 highway) are WAY out of wack with reality. That might be realistic if you drive mindlessly with the eco mode off. Several professional tests by car magazine editors have shown rates in the mid 60s in terms of miles per gallon, and new owners are experiencing not much less than that under real world conditions.

We put a little over 180 kilometers (112 miles) on the car Monday and finished with an average fuel use of 24.1 kilometers per liter. That's 56.7 miles per gallon. Not too shabby for the first time out. We went about twice as far on a liter of gas than we would have in the older car. Way to go, K!

For a cool interactive demo showing how the ECO Assist system works and the results of three types of drivers - aggressive, hypermiler, and average - visit this Honda page: ECO Assist Demo


Hypatia said...

That sounds like a wonderful way to spend a free day trying out your new car! Nice to get a roomy small car...we have a Nissan Versa which is great for my 6'2" Snabby!

We spent a day last Sunday at the local aboretum, and there were still several Cherry trees in bloom, with Crabapple blossoms on the way!

Don Snabulus said...

Congrats on the vehicle. I am glad to hear it exceeds EPA estimates...I wish our Versa did. Sadly, they don't name cars after huge asteroids/microplanets anymore.

As always, the photos are quite beautiful and the prose thoughtful.

The Moody Minstrel said...

That sounds like a cool machine. I've heard there's a hybrid version of the RAV4 available, and I've wondered if it comes in BLUE...

My only concern is reports I've read recently about some Toyota Priuses (a small percentage, true, but...) suddenly accelerating out of control with the brakes disabled. Toyota keeps claiming that these reports are unverified and tries to give explanations that at times seem just plain daft (sweep...sweep...sweep...) but they are appearing consistently enough to indicate that a flaw exists in a small percentage of them. As of now I've only heard about this with regard to the Prius and not any other hybrid model.

They're still pretty tempting!

Pandabonium said...

Hypatia - the Versa does have a surprisingly roomy interior. The car is 4 inches taller than the Insight.

Love the flowers this time of year.

Snabby - Take heart, the Versa in Japan is called "Tiida" - whatever the heck that is. I always liked "Belchfire 88".

Thanks for the compliments.

Moody - that happened to my former wife in a Honda Accord. She swears it went off on it's own, but no problems could be found, and the car never did it again. Our youngest daughter was in the car (I was about 20 feet in front of the car and jumped out the way). It crossed the road and stopped with the parking brake just at the edge of a 20 foot cliff, a tree branch breaking the passenger window. Happily, no one hurt. Such accidents are pretty common and investigators say almost all are caused by putting the foot on the wrong pedal, while virtually all the drivers claim they know they were on the brake.

It is theorectically possible to have a computer programming error cause that in a Prius, but my money is on human error. Not that Toyota wouldn't try to dodge the issue if it is true.

We were pretty much set to buy a new Prius until Honda came out with the Insight ahead of them and we checked it out.

A hybrid RAV4 would be cool. They already offer the larger Highlander as a hybrid.

HappySurfer said...

Nice new car. Congratulations!

Those cherry blossoms are so pretty and in such abundance. Thanks for sharing them.

Pandabonium said...

Happy - thanks. I hope the car lasts as long as the previous one. :)
Hard to go wrong with flower pictures. Glad you like them.

Martin J Frid said...

Congratulations, that's great mileage and must feel great to ride. I can't help but wonder why the EPA still fudges the numbers so badly. Anyway, as you put it, no car is environment-friendly... Smoke and mirrors!

Pandabonium said...

Martin - I've learned that people can expect the EPA numbers to be right if they don't use the ECO mode. Worse if they drive like an idiot - accelerating hard off the stop and waiting until the last moment to brake.

Today, we had errands in town - city driving. Finished the day with 27.3 kpl (67 mpg). K is having fun trying to beat her best averages.

Martin J Frid said...

"Beating her best averages" - are you calculating that or does the car have some device to do it for you? Sounds like it should be required standard equipment. Not just for hybrid cars but for others as well. It's been over 20 years since I drove, but I don't remember anyone teaching me how to save on fuel.

Pandabonium said...

Martin - there is a small screen - about perhaps 5 cm square - just above the steering wheel with many various displays that the driver can select with the touch of a button on the steering wheel. One of them shows your current kilometers per liter as you drive, another lets you set two trip odometers to keep track of km driven. The car's computer can tell you the kpl for a given trip.

So, for example, you can set the trip odometer "A" to zero when you fill up and (in fact you can program the car to do that automatically) and keep track of your kpl for each fill up. And you can set trip odometer "B" for individual trips you want to measure and see what the kpl for that trip is.

Another screen one can select is a
bar graph showing the kpl for the last 4 times you started the car.

There are many forms of feedback to help get the very best efficiency from the car, so the driver can decide which they find most helpful.

The main feedback methods - the background color of the speedometer, and an indicator about the battery and engine, are ones that don't involve any concentration at all, so one can keep one's eyes on the road, yet still keep the car performing well.

I first learned to think about saving fuel during the oil shocks of the 70s. The best trick I learned improved my commuting mpg by 4 times! It was called car pooling. 4 people got to and from work for the price of 1. ;^)

Children of Fiji said...

As always, stunning images..awesome!!

Pandabonium said...

Children of Fiji - thank you and thanks for dropping by. Hard to miss with pictures of beautiful blossoms.