Up until now, I had been using an International Drivers License that I bought at a AAA on the way to the airport in America. However, it expires after a year and under Japanese laws can’t be renewed. This means that I had to embark on the quest for my actual Japanese license, not an easy task. Due to some travel I took, this process took at least 2 months start to finish.
As a county with more bureaucracy and red tape than other other county I know, as well as horror stories I heard from others who went though the process, I knew that this was not going to be fun. Countries in the commonwealth have the luxury of going in for an interview, and then receiving their full license same day. I on the other hand had to do the the same interview but also notoriously difficult driving test.
The first part of the process was the interview, and being in Japanese I dragged my supervisor over from the city office. He was happy to help, since I couldn’t possibly live without my car out where I live. At the interview, I was asked every question imaginable: ”How many questions were on your driver’s training exam?”, ”What kind of questions were asked of you? ”What was your permit made of, a card or a piece of paper?”. It seemed that the bulk of the questions were designed to confirm that my former education was legitimate, and up to par with Japanese road education, but some of those questions were so nitty gritty. Of course, on the many occasions where I didn’t actually know, I just inflated certainly things to my benefit. This whole ordeal lasted an incredible, and unexpected hour.
Also at that interview, I had to submit a great number of documents. Michigan license, International license, my foreigner registration card, passport, translation of my Michigan license, and also had to prove that I was a driver in America for at least 6 months. For the last one, I submitted a notarized letter from State Farm saying I had been a licensed driver for some several years under them. Denied. Had to submit a license from when I was younger in order to appease them.
After this, I signed up to take a lesson on the driving course. Unlike America where the driving test is merely a formality – assuming you don’t blow a stop sign or attempt a hit and run you pass, the Japanese one is really specific. The rules are all counter-intuitive and in no way representative of how the Japanese (or I) drive on a day to day basis. Not only that, but it is actually a sort of obstacle course at times, including narrow snaking roads, where any fault represents an instafail. Thus, I needed to commission a driving school to take me out, and basically pass along all the knowledge in an hour that the Japanese are mandated to pay about $3,500 to receive. I had to come back another day for this, but was smitten with a 120 dollar bill for that hour, just to teach me everything I would need to know. It was really helpful, but it was hard to cough up so much money for something I didn’t necessarily have to have to pass the test.
An ugly overhead of the course
Fast forward a month and a half due to my summer travel. My International license is now expired, and I need to get on the road immediately, else I can neither live nor do my job. I was driving anyway, but remained quiet about it. I got an appointment made at the driving center which was great, since it meant I could leave work at no additional cost to my vacation bank. This driving center is well on the other side of town and I wasn’t about to waste eternity on the bus, so I opted to drive over there, but park a block away. I looked at the course, studied all my notes and basically ran the difference courses through my mind as I waited for them to call my name. I was also responsible for memorizing the different course routes, and perform whichever one my proctor wanted.
Before this could all happen though, I had to take an absolute joke of a written test. All true false, I had to get 7/10 correct. The questions were all of ”It is acceptable to drive above the speed limit, if there are no other drivers on the road” caliber and the guy actually seemed surprised when I got a 10/10 within about 30 seconds. The Japanese would need to take a full 100 question test, asking legitimate questions. I don’t even know what half of the Japanese road signs mean.
For the driving test, I had to pay 20 dollars to ‘rent’ the car. Once the test starts, they don’t say anything to you and only the sound of their pencil is audible. A bit nerve racking. I went through all the motions of checking under the car, swinging my head to and fro, driving on the left side of the leftmost lane (driving in the middle would be a failure), and basically being paranoid about everything. I did manage to not slow down going through a pedestrian walk, which is a big no no. Who knows how many people I would have put under the tire. Back inside the office, I was waiting for my likely negative results. Called into the room, I was informed I passed. Complete shock. I know I wasn’t perfect, which this test nearly demands, and only about 33% of people pass the first time. I am sure that the vast majority of my success came from me being very personable with my proctor, who spoke some decent English.
With a joy joy joy joy down in my heart, having attained the Holy Grail of Japanese foreigner accomplishment, I had to pay another 55 dollars for processing, get an eye test, and at long last get my disappointingly bland card. I drove home legally that day, in high spirits having put a rather stressful saga behind me.
And here it is, notice the AT in the middle designates Automatic. I would need to take a separate test for manual. Also notice my date of birth in the upper right utilizing the Japanese calendar. Last, I really don’t know what happened with my hair in the shot.