Friday, February 09, 2007

The Driving Ceremony

The Fuchu Licence Center: My enemy A few days ago, I turned 25. Although this is a scary age to turn, it does come with a small benefit in the US: namely, lower car insurance rates and ease of car rentals. You would think this would be a good time to go driving. That is, unless
1) you were in Japan
and 2) you were me.
This is because my driver's licence just expired.

I had been content driving on an international licence, available from AAA for $20 and very little hassle, and merrily getting used to driving on the left side of the street, using the right hand instead of left hand for the blinkers, and the disturbingly unsafe feeling of the driver's seat being on the other side of the car. Although they are only good for a year, I was under the impression that you could keep renewing them as long as you needed. Back in the good ol days of carefree driving, (ie July), I got a new one while I was back visiting. Confident I had done my drivers duty, I continued merrily terrifying Takeshi getting used to the quirks of driving in Japan.

But! One day, surfing the internet for some other foreigner-related info, I found this scary warning: "THE LAW HAS CHANGED! As of 2002, the new Japan traffic act states that you can only drive legally using an international driving permit up to 12 months from your entry date into Japan. Bottom line, you need to obtain a Japanese Driver`s license."

Hmmm, I thought... it is now... November. I have been driving illegally for... oh, 6 months now!! ...Awesome! >_<
Anyways, I made my mind up to get a Japanese licence ASAP. Little did I know this was going to be the most timeconsuming, painful process imaginable.

I soon discovered that the licence center was only open weekdays, and 8:30am to 3pm. Of course. Oh well, I can take a morning off of work, I thought, and browsed the net to find out what documents were required. a valid drivers licence, passport, alien registration card.. "Oh yes and you will need a translation of your drivers licence. This is available from the AAA-like agency of Japan. Open only weekdays." Of course.

Due to this arrangement, when I found myself with a bad cold and called in to work sick, I struggled, thinking "can't waste my day off...gotta..*wheeze*..get the translation..*wheeze*" and staggered over to the agency.
A few weeks later it had been significantly long enough to get time off of work to go to the licence center.
There are two tests, trials, if you will, involved with getting the prize I sought. One was a written test, I took it on the first day I was there. It was a joke.

There were ten questions, (only ten!). One of them was actually the following:
"True or false: It is OK to drive after drinking alchohol if you only have a little."
Regardless of your personal opinions on this issue, you can probably guess what you're supposed to answer on a DRIVING test. I grinned as I signed up for the driving portion of the test, to take place two weeks later. This was now January, getting a bit risky as my American licence (and my chance of getting a Japanese one) would be due to expire in a month. Before the test, I was hungry for information. I heard the test would be hard. I would have to remember all the tricks from the licence test I had taken almost ten years ago. "My friend said you should wear your hair in a ponytail so it swishes when you check the mirrors!" Peet advised me, back when we were both in high school.

I found a great site with all the tips and tricks. The test course was a private road, and the test route and some pointers for the course were online, so I printed them out. Go slow through the curves, but fast on the straights, you can fail for going too slow... I repeated to myself like a mantra, lining up with the other foregners. I was gonna pass this thing! The instructor doing the test even grinned at us and looked like one of those buddha statues with the big lucky bellies. "Relax, just follow the rules, and you'll do fine!"
I resisted the temptation to rub his belly for luck, and borded the car. I went slow on the curves, I went fast on the straights, and my ponytailed hair swished smoothly as I checked my mirrors at every turn and lane change. I was in the zone!
Which was why I was surprised when the instructors passenger brake went on and we jerked to a halt.

"Weaver-san! Do you know why I applied the brake?!" He said, half annoyed, half amused.
I was honestly at a lost and could not answer his question. He shook his head."What side of the street is this?"

...crap. That wasn't the only big embarrasing mistake I made either. I drove on a curb at a tight corner, and I turned right from the left lane. My only excuse for driving this badly was that there was no traffic on the road. It's hard to vigorously check for vehicles and drive courteously for other drivers when you KNOW THEY AREN'T THERE. Ah well.

The second time (and consequently the third morning off of work) went better. I was smooth, calm, confident, and this time I stayed on the left side of the street the whole time. ! I was, in my opinion, perfect.

But not in the opinion of the test proctor. Apparently I had to get closer to the left side of the street when I turned left "to block bicycles. If one gets past you while you're turning left, you could kill someone!" my proctor scolded me. "but I checked for bycicles, there weren't any.." I protested weakly. "That has nothing to do with it, you have to block them." ahhhhhgh. Fine fine fine. Third time is the charm, right? I was running out of time. My licence would expire in a week. But this guy was the strictest of them all. Out of eleven foreign test takers, NOBODY passed. Not a one! normally it was a ratio of about 3 out of ten, but this guy was rediculous. His reason for failing me?? "The way you held the steering wheel when you turned the corner was not correct." He could see my face drop, and a confused and (probably pitiable) look replaced my beaming glow of confidence I had passed. His cold heart must have thawed a tiny bit, because he looked a bit embarrassed as he explained. "There was nothing else you did wrong, you just have to work on that one part! Good luck next time!" WHAHHHHT?!?!?! did he really just fail me on my third try for HOLDING THE STEERING WHEEL INCORRECTLY?!?! I was SO incredibly annoyed. I had had to take off work for this! We all did! And this guy didn't pass any of us! we were all experienced drivers, give us a frickin' BREAK!!!

I must have sounded approximately like that when I was explaining my plight to Takeshi. "Want me to come over and punch them for you? I will!" Takeshi said in his scary angry voice. I think he may have been serious.

"NO!" I said giggling, scandalized. But I felt better immediately. ^_^

The fourth time (and last chance) was scheduled for the day before my birthday at 8:40 AM. I normally took me an hour to get to the test center. I woke up at 8:02. I think I felt that crazed rush only once before when I was a half hour late to my english final. Luckily for me, Takeshi had the late shift this week, and drove my sorry late ass over to the test site, muttering "we're not gonna make it". We got there at 8;45, and I rushed over the pedestrian overpass at the speed of light and handed in my papers just in time.
The girl who went in front of me turned left on a red light, ran over a curb on three seperate occasions, and parked about half a lane away from the curb at the end of the test. It was now my turn.

I think my heart was audible from outside the car, probably for the whole test vicinity. I wouldn't have been surprised if people inside the building had turned around and stared at me thinking "what's the test car with the subwoofer?!"

I drove,in my opinion, the exact same way I drove on the third try. I did everything right, and blocked imaginary bicycles and everything. I decided not to even think about my "wheel turning technique".

I parked the car the perfect allotted 30 centimeters away from the curb, stopped the engine, and prayed.
"Did I pass?"
A grunt emmited from the driver.
"So I did?"
Another grunt, this time accompanied by a nod!!
"YATTA!!!!" I screamed. This time I'm SURE it was audible from ouside the car, because Takeshi came running. I had passed!!!

Happy! It's Kyra with a Japanese driver's licence! In conclusion, I hate that frickin place and I am glad I never have to take that test again. new licence has kanjis on it! I must admit I think it's pretty cool. *^_^*


Anonymous Stef said...

Congratulations, and happy belated birthday! ^.^

7:19 PM  
Blogger Catherine Weaver said...


11:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you drove us back to your house, I TOTALLY noticed that you weren't holding the steering wheel correctly. ;)


4:18 PM  
Blogger Kyra said...

shuddup Viet!!

9:14 PM  
Blogger Nikhil said...

Wooooot! Mighty congratulations on holding the steering wheel and cutting off bikers! And on surviving another rotation 'round the sun!

5:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sheesh - clearly you deserved that license! Congrats!

And hope you had a great birthday!


10:06 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home