Monday, April 04, 2005

Learning to Drive

I have to get a Japanese license to drive. My international driving permit expires this Summer, and I need to drive to get to work (not every town has public transportation to every possible location).

But getting a license here is difficult. It is generally accepted that you will be failed the first few times you try. That's just the way it is. Even if you drive perfectly. They need the money from repeated attempts, apparently.

My kouchou sensei, the Board of Education, and some of the JTEs called around and figured out where I had to go, and what I had to do, and even arranged a specific day for a teacher to go with me to translate.

And they all told me I didn't have to take the driving test, just the written test.

I can't tell you how happy that made me. Everyone said the written test was a piece of cake, and the driving test was a motherbrat. The appointments were made for Monday (preliminary paperwork) and Wednesday (THE TEST). These aren't normally days I work at Itou, but the kouchou arranged to swap with Asahi.

It's quite the drive to the testing station (only one testing center in this area conducts the written in English). I felt like it was an imposition on the JTE who took me, because I didn't know whether or not the kouchou had forced her to accompany me, or if she volunteered (and I didn't ask). The poor girl had absolutely nothing to do for most of the time at the center, besides sit and read magazines. I'd say "Now you know how it is for ME during the breaks!" except she's not the Asahi kouchou.

Anyway, paperwork was done on Monday, and surprise! I get to take the driving test after all! Joy.

Wednesday rolls around, and the time of the tests arrived.

The written test is just as easy as everyone says it is. I had read the Rules of the Road (in English, $10), and that's all you have to do. I would be surprised if I didn't get 100% (but they didn't give me my score, so I don't have proof). The hardest part of the test was trying to understand the poor Engrish questions.

One question was something like "If there is a yellow line on the road, with a white line running parallel to it, in your lane, is it possible to change lanes?" This is not the actual question. The actual question was about three times longer, but that's the essential point, AND the essential problem. In which lane is the white line? If it's in your lane, you can change lanes. If it's in the other lane, you can't. Those darn commas render it ambiguous. The actual question was even worse, and worst of all was the picture! They included a picture, but colored in the WRONG LINE (I know it was the wrong line because I actually read the Rules of the Road). Sigh. Anyway, I figured it out eventually.

Then came the driving test. Actually, then came waiting for forever, and THEN came the driving test.

The driving test is on a closed course behind the center. A TINY closed course. Like, the size of a soccer field. So, you loop around a bit. And you take the test in one of their cars. My car is a Daihatsu Mira. I'm not saying it's small, but if it ever broke down I could put it in my back pocket and walk to the nearest service station. So, I'm saying it's TINY.

The test cars are huge in comparison. True beasts. Also, another fun fact is that if you take the test in an automatic, you can only drive automatics. My car is a manual, so I had to take the test in the manual car. That a bit sensitive, and you aren't given time to get used to it. Maybe I'm just used to my car, but I stalled the test car while PULLING OUT to take the test. I'm pretty sure I was failed on the spot, but the instructor didn't say anything.

Then there are the side mirrors. Or, I should say, the FRONT mirrors, because their on the front corners of the car. This was another thing I wish I had had more time to get used to. I kept looking at the sides, where the mirrors are SUPPOSED to be, and nothing was there. Plus, perspective-wise, the mirrors didn't really tell me much, being that they were so far away I could barely see anything.

Anyway, I had read notes about the test and the course from other JETs who took it previously, so naturally they changed the course for this year, but it was close enough that I understood. But, one thing the notes suggested was looking at the side mirrors when making a turn, even the mirror on the side you are turning away from. Well, apparently, that's a no-no, and was one of the reasons listed why I failed.

That's right, I FAILED. Sigh. Anyway, the reasons were:
  1. I looked at both side mirrors when making a turn.
  2. I didn't get close enough to the side line before making my turns (apparently, you still have to get close to the line, even on a four-lane road when YOU ARE IN THE TURN ONLY lane, which makes absolutely no sense to me).
  3. My bumper went over the stop line once.
So there you have it. Clearly, I'm unfit to be behind the wheel. Of course, I still drive to work, legally. Hmm.

I go back again this Friday. I don't know when I'll go back after I fail that one; I'll have to see how my schedule fills up.


  1. I'm so glad I don't have to take the test - it sounds like an absolute nightmare.

  2. I had a comment, but it was too long, so I made it a post.