A word of advice - even though your drivers license doesn't need renewing for another few years, mark your calendar as you may forget like I did. Wanted to take the car out one day and realized that it was invalid! "Bollocks" as they say back in ol Blighty.
Went along to the license test center the next morning to see if I could renew my license - turns out that because I was late renewing it, my license became invalid indefinitely. But the process to get another one this time round was not as painful as I initially imagined.
Britain and Japan have some chummy thing going which means that British drivers license holders don't need to take any road tests to get a Japanese drivers license.
All I needed to do was to get my British drivers license translated into Japanese by the Japan Automobile Federation. The JAF then give me a document outlining my drivers license details in Japanese.
I then took this document to the drivers license test center, took an eye examination and was given my license on the same day - pretty painless.
There are services who help foreigners in Japan get or renew a license but I notice how they try to intimidate you by making a big thing out of getting one - thus encouraging you to pay for their services.
I personally would encourage all gaijin to go through the process for themselves - a great learning experience.
Anyhow, I need to get a new license. Up at the cutter machine which cuts out a nice square from my photo - this goes on the application form. 5 mins.
After paying the money, I'm given some stamps to stick on a form to prove I've paid my dues. Stamp buying process - 2 mins.
Next up is the eye test. In Japan, eye tests are done by showing you a "C" either facing left, right, up or down. You need to reply "ue" (up) if the gap of the "C" is facing up or "migi" (right) if the gap of the "C" is facing right etc.
"Hidari" = Left.
"Shita" = Down/Bottom.
"Shita-pai" = the bottom part of oppai.
This test takes less than 2 mins including lining up.
In many Japanese facilities such as hospitals and ward offices, you will see different colored lines on the floor which guide people to different rooms.
Then its off to take a photo. They be not keen on me smiling too much ^^; Process time = 2 mins.
Some people end up being at these test centers all day long - I think people getting a license from scratch need to spend longer there.
Water disposal unit. I hates these traditional toilets. You often see hard matter resting on the side for those who missed with their photon torpedoes. You often find manga inside toilets too - beware when touching as it may be rigged with skid marks.
While everything was quick n painless, they make folks renewing for the first time take a class which goes over traffic regulations - for 2 hours!
Luckily I had Kagami to keep me company. The class is conducted in Japanese - not sure what sort of services they provide for non Japanese speaking folks. Handed out are various booklets to be used in class. No water or snacks allowed.
The guy giving the lesson moves around magnetized cars on the board. But before he starts he says that he wont give you a stamp if he catches you sleeping.
To be honest, I'm not sure how I managed to stay awake for the whole two hours.
Then its break time and I wander around to take more photos. These machines are used to read the IC chip in the new drivers license.
Some folks waiting for something or other.
A class that just got emptied.
Then its back to my classroom to watch an incredibly depressing video. The aim of the video is to deter drunk driving. The short dorama was as follows:-
A young married man lives happily with his wife and kids. They live in a nice house which they just bought.
One day, hes out drinking with colleagues but gets a work related call. He's had a few pints of beer but heads to his car and try's to shake off the drowsiness by drinking tea and waiting it out.
He gets another call and decides that he can handle the car. It starts to rain heavily. After driving in the rain for a while, he hits two kids. He panics and drives off.
He later learns that one of the kids dies and the other paralyzed from the waist down for life.
He gives himself into the police after a few days. The young man is sent to jail for 5 years. But He also has to compensate the family of the deceased which ends up being over a billion yen (loadsa money with many trailing zeros).
His wife has to sell the house and she ends up doing arubaito part time jobs to make ends meet. Their children start turning out being affected by the incident. The little girl bites herself while the young boy rips up family photos. The mother cant take life anymore and jumps infront of a train to kill herself.
The young man learns of his wife's death while he is still in prison...
The final message of the story - just a small mistake is enough to ruins ones life forever - and not just ones own life but others too. Dont drink and drive.
I get my ticket stamped after two hours meaning that I can swap it for my new spanking drivers license.
The license collection hall. Many other gaijin getting their bits n pieces done too.
The line moves quickly and I've got my new license just a few mins after entering the hall.
A peek outside the window to see the driving test grounds. This is where Japanese folks typically start to learn how to drive before they are let out onto the roads. Is this the same in your neck of the woods or do you learn from day one out n about on real roads?
Now to test out my new card - I place it at one of these units and touch the screen.
I confirm that my details are correct and I'm done for the day.
The front of the license test center. These centers are run by the police.
These numbers can be seen at every Koban (police box) and show how many people got injured or died in traffic accidents. 166 people were injured yesterday. 4 people have died so far this year and 1675 people have been injured.
A few mins to take in the scenery at the river nearby. If it wasn't for the lesson in class, I would have been out in less than half an hour.
My wife has a US drivers license that she acquired while we we living in Seattle. Unfortunately the "US and Japan" are not as chummy as "Britannia and Japan" and US license holders need to get a Japanese license from scratch (could be different now). She took lessons at a test center and then out on the roads with an instructor. Cant remember how many hours she done but passed first time.
This was very different to what it was like back in the UK. From day one, my lessons where done on real roads with real traffic and people.
Took me many hours before my instructor decided I was ready for a test. He kept insisting that I do a reverse-around-a-corner-and-park move properly. In all my years of driving, I have never had to do that move!
I ended up passing first time round too but was berry berry nervous. Was in tears when the instructor told me "congratulations" ^^;
Whats the driving lesson, license acquisition process like in your neck of the woods?
And a look at some of the booklets that I received that day. This map of Japan shows that the most traffic accidents have been happening in the Aichi prefecture.
Drivers in Tokyo are generally well mannered but I was pretty shocked at how people on Osaka drove - even the bus drivers! many of them seemed to have a "I'm first" attitude. Whats the general attitude of drivers in your area?
As with many Japanese instructions and booklets - cute illustrations.
In Japan by law, one *has* to show proof that they have somewhere to park before anybody will sell you a car. We had to show details of our house to prove that there was a space in the front for a car. Anywhere else in the world with similar restrictions?
One of the guides features anime characters in the form of Chibu Maruko-chan. Anybody watch this? Its actually quite funny - usually watch it on Sunday evenings during din dins.
Oji-chan and Maruko's sister teach us the ways of the roads.
Some of the signs to remember.
Continue reading more about Tokyo in the A Week In Tokyo weekly series.
Time for Saber to take her driving test.
Saber actually took her test last year and passed with flying colors.
This post is just one of a series of living in Japan guides. More listed up below.