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I'm an American living in Japan for three years while my wife is on assignment here. (Three years has come and gone so I should probably say three years and counting.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I hate tests!

Well, we did it. Yesterday Marcia and I took the road test for our Japanese driver's license. The last time I took a driving test I was sixteen years old! I think I was more nervous this time. Of course, everything was spoken in Japanese and the whole day was spent being told to go from one building to another to register here, pay there, wait over there, follow this group there, wait here, listen for your number to be called, etc. It's very disorienting when you have no, or little idea, what's going on, but you have to understand or you won't know where to go. We were very lucky and met some other people who were taking the test who spoke Japanese. They could see how bewildered we were and befriended us.

You may have noticed earlier that I said spent the whole day. We left our house at 7:00 AM and did not return until 3:30 PM. This was our second long day in the process of getting a Japanese license. Last week we spent most of a day applying to take the driving test, having our eyes tested and taking a written test. (The written test is the only thing in English that we will see for the rest of this procedure.) Anyhow, yesterday we took two trains to get to Futamatagawa and then walked fifteen minutes in the rain to the testing facility. Earlier we were told that we would go to a vending machine in building #2 and buy a registration coupon and then exactly at 8:30, go to window #2 and turn in our registration form. This window is only open from 8:30 until 8:45 for this procedure. After turning in our forms we went to building #1 to the examination waiting room. We were told to wait for the examiners to arrive.

Waiting for the examiners to arrive.
I'm very lucky that it's always easy to find Marcia in a crowd in Japan. See if you can find her in the picture below.

When the examiners arrived, they broke us into groups. This is where things started getting confusing for us. There was a lot of announcing over the loud speaker about what group to get into. Well, we didn't have a clue. Luckily, our new-found friends jumped to our rescue. They told us we were in their group and told us where to go. We were in the "foreigner" group. We were taking a test that is designed for foreigners or Japanese who are getting a license transferred from another country. This test is actually easier than the test for people applying for a new Japanese driver's license. The assumption is that if you already have a driver's license from another country you must have some idea how to drive a car. The Japanese people who we met were in this group because they had lived in the USA and while there got a license. So transferring their American license would allow them to take the easier road test.

The examiner led us to a map of the course and gave us a long detailed explanation of what he expected us to do while taking the test. Since this was explained to us in Japanese, most of it was incomprehensible. We were then told to wait until it was our group's turn to go downstairs to the test course. Because we were the foreigner group, we would be the last group to take the test. Over an hour later our group was finally lead downstairs to the course.

The test is conducted on a closed course, not on city streets like in the US. It's like being on a miniature golf course -- nothing is full scale, including the width of the streets and the length of the blocks. Many cars are on the course at the same time including trucks, buses and even a backhoe! Not all vehicles are following the same route, so we drivers had to be very aware of oncoming traffic, cross traffic, etc.

This course reminded me of the towns that my son Stephen used to build with his Leggos. As with most areas of vegetation in Japan, it's extremely well manicured.

This could be a set from the movie "The Truman Show", don't you think?

You start the course with one hundred points and must finish the course with at least seventy points. Points are deducted for everything from proper attitude, proper driving posture, rules of the road and driving skill, including maneuvering a car in tight spaces.
One example of proper procedure. To make a left turn:

1) check rear view mirror, 2) check left mirror, 3) turn on blinker 4) check rear view mirror, 5) check left mirror, 6) look over left shoulder to check blind spot for (imaginary) motorcycles passing on the left, 7) move close enough to left curb to block these imaginary motorcycles from passing on the left, and ......... finally turn left.

This must be done exactly in this order or you lose points. You can burn through points very quickly! Each examiner takes two applicants with him to take the test. One applicant rides in the back seat while the other one takes the test. Once the test is finished the two applicants switch positions and the second test is given. I was assigned to the back seat so I was able to observe my partner (a nice woman who was taking the test for the SIXTH time) take her test. She was about half way through the course when the examiner told her to stop and return to the beginning of the course. This meant that she had failed--again. She had not done anything dramatically wrong but I guess she had been losing points steadily from the beginning. Not real encouraging for me as I slid behind the wheel. I've been driving for many years and I could not believe how nervous I was. I finished the whole course so I figured that was at least a hopeful sign. The examiner explained to me what I had done right and what I had done wrong. Since my Japanese is very limited I only understood a little of what he was saying. Then I went back to counter #2 Building #2 to find out if I had passed or not. More waiting.....

I found out that I had passed and needed to pay a license processing fee and then get my photograph taken and then wait to pick up my license. I had to wait another hour before it was time to get my photograph taken, because everything shuts down for lunchtime. Then ...... another half hour wait to pick up my license. Five and a half hours after arriving at the licensing facility, I was the proud owner of a Japanese driver's license. The bad news part of the day is Marcia has to take the test again -- scheduled for Friday the 13th. Perhaps turning "tight right" onto the wrong side of the road rather than "wide right" onto the correct side of the road as her very first move cost her lots of points! (She is still trying to get used to driving on the "other" side of the road.) She was allowed to continue for awhile, but ran out of points so had to return to the start. The other woman in Marcia's car failed even sooner, as did many other people there. People just don't get upset about this as they expect to fail at least 5-6 times.

One last comment. This was a great group experience. The Japanese speaking people, both Japanese and foreigners, who helped Marcia and me were so friendly and helpful. We were all concerned for each other and congratulated those who passed and commiserated with those who didn't. They certainly made the day go by more quickly and were an invaluable help. We decided we should document our success with a group photo. There were many more people who helped us, but unfortunately they did not pass. So they had already gone when this photo was taken.

Ja mata,

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