Getting a Japanese Driver’s License, Part 4: Getting a Japanese Driver’s License

May 20th, 2010 in Daily

At last, success. Some ray of divine light shone down on me this past Monday, May 17th. I left my home at around 6 a.m. to make it for the 8:30–9:30 testing period. Only, 8:30–9:30 was just a registration and processing period, my test didn’t start until 10. Before this I was out ¥4,050 for the privilege of re-testing, and even received a scowl when I couldn’t produce a ¥100 coin for a more simple transaction. Did you really need the calculator to change 4,050 from 5,000 big guy? (Note: you’ll want to line up under the third sign in front of window 1 for this.)

Once finished paying, I was handed a receipt and test card, then shuffled to the second floor (window 6) where I had to fill in a marking sheet (scan-tron). This was full of kanji that I could barely decipher, and if not for the kind long-haired lady (who also works at GOTO DS?) I would have been totally lost. I was to drive コース1 again, which gave me a chance to correct my mistakes from last time.

Signed up and ready to go, I took advantage of the 9–9:50 time slot for walking the test course. Killed 25 minutes and kept the blood flowing. I highly recommend doing this before your test. Just before my test, my instructor from GOTO, Nakajima-sensei, came by and wished me luck. Promptly at 10, a white hot rod Toyota Comfort pulled up. I was the first MT test of the day. There was another guy waiting to take the full Japanese MT test after me and I pity his poor soul. My name was called and off we went.

To be honest, I thought I’d failed it at the first traffic signal. While checking for traffic, the light turned yellow and red ridiculously fast. I just stopped the car, apologized for not noticing, and reversed into the turn lane, fully expecting failure. Nope, the proctor allowed me to continue as if nothing happened. I finished the course, and came around to talk to him. He told me that the next time I find myself in such a situation where I have to reverse into a lane, be sure to check my mirrors first. That was it. After that, I expected to receive my testing card back, suck up my pride and drive home defeated, but to my surprise he told me to come back at 1 p.m. to finish processing my license. The look on my face at that moment must have been priceless. In disbelief, I thanked him formally and walked my way past the crowd of jittery, coffee guzzling chain-smokers, straight through the lobby and into the parking lot. 10:10 a.m. What am I supposed to do for the next two hours and fifty minutes?

I drove around and took some photos of my car near docks in Kajiki, then got lunch at Bishnu in Kokubu. Dear Bishnu, if you have the Chicken Kebab Wrap Set listed in your menu, please don’t say “we don’t have the set, order the items individually.” Come on, that’s lame. I feel like the Japanese head waitress is doing the actual Indian chefs a disservice.

1 p.m.: License o’clock. I stood in the lobby for around 10 minutes under window 2, where I was instructed to go. Suddenly I heard my name called from behind at window 5. This broke the dead silence in the building and of course everyone was staring at me, the foreign jerk who is getting service before they do. Window 5 is where I would get my license processed. There are so many windows serving specific purposes in that building, each with specific people performing these individual tasks. Bureaucratic efficiency, shining its brightest… Anyways, from here you hand over your information (alien reg. card), they type it into the system (again), then shuffle you down to another window where you confirm what was typed. Next its picture time. Look in a mirror beforehand if you care. Promptly after you are sent back out to window 1 for another payment, then its back to window 5 for another confirmation. Finally, you are seated in the room behind the photo booth where you await a lecture from a police officer. He told me “Safe Driving, ne?” around 20 or 30 times, asked about my driving school in America (despite this being on file from my first interview), made me admit that American driving is different from Japanese driving, asked what I would do in an accident, and the proceeded to tell me about his honeymoon in London and Paris. Kind of a funny way to wrap things up. I walked out with my freshly minted license, complete with obligatory terrible portrait, and the image of this guy walking around Paris with “wain” and “chi-zu”.

The entire process set me back around ¥40,000 (~$440) and nearly a week’s worth of combined time and effort, not to mention the added help of my family who had dealt with the DMV back home for unnecessary paperwork.

So, with one of my last major bureaucratic hurdles and gaijin right-of-passage out of the way, I breathed easy on the drive back. Which, as it turned out, was exceptionally clear and offered some cool views of Sakurajima’s Showa crater. Without scale it is hard to process just how massive that vent is, but the closer you get the more intimidating it becomes. The sun was very strong, surely increasing my amazing trucker’s tan, but it also highlighted all of the scarring on the mountain face caused by centuries of activity. That dark gray area around the crater is all loose ash and dried lava bombs, ready to get washed down the mountain in the upcoming rainy season.

I was hoping for a celebratory eruption as I drove past, but this time the clear view was just as good.

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