Monday, March 15, 2010

Japan does it again

Over the last 3 weeks I have experienced a number of feeling and emotions related to living in a foreign land. Sometimes life here can be pure bliss with aspects of it so easy, enjoyable and rewarding. At other times it can be so frustrating and painfully different I wished I owned a teleportation system so I could escape for an hour or so!

As you are aware I use a speedy scooter to race to and from work. About 3 weeks ago I found out I was driving my scooter illegally, not only breaking the rules of my contract, work visa and licence but also meaning I had no insurance cover...eeek! For some strange reason an international driving permit does not allow the use of a scooter in Japan, even though my NZ licence does (and an international licence is just the NZ licence translated into Japanese). Not even any of my teachers could understand this with one of them even saying "what's common sense in Japan is just crazy anywhere else in the world".

After some investigation my only option was to get a Japanese licence! Oh boy I thought, now the fun starts. I knew from previous experience (like when we moved here) that any official type thing is a painful and tedious process.

First step was to put together all of the documentation I needed; NZ licence, Alien registration card, Passport, Certificate of Alien Registration, special drivers licence photos and application form. Second step was to have my NZ licence translated into Japanese, this required a 2hr trip to the only Japanese AA centre in the whole prefecture and more cash. Third step was to book an appointment at the drivers licence centre and after waiting 2 weeks thats where I headed to today.

The licence centre is a massive building with a driving course the size of 2 rugby fields. The system in Japan is very different (as you can imagine) and you don't actually sit a test on the road. The driving course is complete with traffic lights, railway crossings, bridges, lanes, pedestrian crossings, in fact it is a complete replica of a real street. This is where they sit their driving tests! Because NZ and Japan have virtually identical road rules Kiwis don't have to do a driving test (hahaha Americans!) so I expected the process to be quite simple. I was told it would be a short interview. 4 hours later I can assure you it was not a simple process!
20 odd people on scooters practicing on the course
I won't bore you with all the details but here is a sample of some of the questions during my 'interview' and my mental responses in ( ).

-When did you first get your licence? (how the hell do I know, look at the piece of paper in front of you!!!!)

-And it expires in 2014? (I guess so...look at it!!!!!)

-When you sat your learners how many questions where there in the test? (Holy shit your kidding right???! I have no idea, if I said 5,000 would you even understand me!?)

-Tell me what you were tested on in your restricted test? (lets seeing, oh yea, flying a kite with my hand tied behind my back! What do you think mate? Driving)

After half an hour of this I was beginning to wonder if it would be easier just to get in the car and drive around the course!

But finally I walked out with a Japanese licence!


Lauri said...

Uh, I have sympahty for you! The phrase "what's common sense in Japan is just crazy anywhere else in the world" is proves to be true almost too often.

Did I get it right, if you had a car it would have been ok but a scooter was no-no?

Rachel said...

Contrary to popular belief it's not the similarity of the road rules that means we Kiwis (and some others) get away with not having to sit the written or practical test. There are other left-hand-drive countries who have to! It's because of our more extensive testing and graduated license system (learner's, restricted, then full license), upon which Japan decided we were educated enough about the road and signed some kind of agreement allowing us to get a Japanese license off the bat. Whereas countries like the US you can get a license with just one short test, and the Japanese don't like that, not enough hoop-jumping involved apparently. Anyway, THAT'S why you get asked what at first seem really bizarrely irrelevant questions about how you got your license and what kind of learning or testing you went through.