Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Halleluia! I Can Drive - Legally!

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Japanese people across Japan celebrate with fireworks as Melissa, Ena City's best ALT ever, recieves her Japanese Driver's License.

For the city-slickers in Japan, with easy access to fun, food and public transportation, and everyone else who has no idea what an ordeal securing a Japanese driver's license can be, I say to you, be thankful, and beware! The Japanese government seems to frown upon gaijin getting their driver's license without paying a hefty fee. How much, ye ask?

First, you must have your national driver's license translated by JAF, which costs about 3900 Yen ($39). Foreign residents of Gifu must take the test at Gifu City's infamous DMV: Mitabora. Train and bus fare alone is 4200 Yen ($42) roundtrip. The actual cost of taking the test is 3600 Yen ($36), not to mention the fact that the test can only be taken during the week, between 8 AM and 3 PM (thats how long the process takes), therefore requiring most people to take a day of vacation as well. Thats already $147...and we haven't even started yet!

For a foreigner to be granted a Japanese License on their first attempt is extremely rare. I know of only one person who was able to pass the test his first time, and even then it was because another JET took him on private lessons, teaching him the esoteric knowledge necessary to succeed. At the urging of one of my JTEs (Japanese English Teachers), I took 2 completely useless lessons that lasted about 10 minutes each, costing me a ridiculous 8,000 yen ($80). Despite the fact that I was one of only two people (out of 8) to finish the course (the other 6 people were not allowed to finish because the instructor felt he was in danger), I did not pass.

Initially my instructor told me I had done a good job, and many of the other testees were also sure that I would pass. When the last test-taker, who had been practicing at the DMV school, finished the course, he was told that he would pass, and I was informed that I would not. "Your driver said that you turned left too slowly," the Brazilian interpreter told me in Japanese, after all the other drivers had finished. He had told everyone else immediately after their test what their weaknesses were, and seemed to be searching way to explain my failure. "Oh, yeah, I failed for that reason, 3 times!" and Indian man waiting for his wife chimed in. "Plus, only one gaijin can pass at a time, and this is your first time. There's no way you can pass!"

At my adult conversation class later that night, my students asked if I had passed. When I wimpered that I had "fallen" (as it translates in Japanese), they were not suprised. "Well ofcourse! You're American," they informed me, "so you will have to take it at least twice. The French have to try 3 times...Just be glad you're not Phillipino. They fail like 6 times!"

After a month of being confined to my apartment, apart from my illegal missions into the neighboring town so that I could acquire edibles under the cloak of anonomity, I was desperate and determined to pass my second time around. Another 10,000 Yen ($100) was invested into a 2 hour driving lesson, the first half of which consisted of my driving in circles around the course as my Japanese instructor thrilled me with his incredible conversational skill (in Japanese):

"So you're American? Wow, Marilyn Monroe, she was something, wasn't she? What do you think about Marilyn Monroe? Do you think she was killed? Who do you think killed her? Maybe Jackie was jealous. And what about Princess Diana? Do you think it was an accident? Maybe she was killed. Oh look! A rainbow! Do you have rainbows in America? My daughter went to America, you know. She can speak English. She wants to go back yet, but she's not married and she's 31! I hope she can get married. Are you married? Do you like Japanese guys? What kind of guy do you want to marry? Are all the women in America beautiful, like you? OK! Times up. Number 2 (the place where I should stop the car)."

So that was helpful.

My instructor for the second hour was not interested in Marylin or rainbows. He guided me through the course along the same path I would take for the Gifu test, correcting minor problems and building up my confidence. "Don't worry. If you drive like this during the test, you will definately pass. You're one of the best students I've ever had!" I wanted to tell him "Well I should be... I've been driving since I was 15!" But I just smiled and said "Ganbarimasu!" (I will try my best!)

The point is I have finally passed, and I sincerely hope and pray that none of you will ever have to experience the pain and confusion of this process...I can only imagine how much worse it must be for people who don't speak or understand Japanese.

After paying another 2600 yen ($26) I recieved my serious-faced Japanese license. ("Smile-No!" The photo man told me. "In Japan, picture, smile, NO!") Walking back to the bus stop as I embarked on my long journey home, a young mother drove past me with her infant child in her lap as she chatted on her cell phone.

Grand total of money wasted on a Japanese license: $359

Time wasted: 3 precious days of my life (2 test days and a practice day).

Ability to escape inaka (the confines of the country) to see friends, speak English, find food and have fun: Priceless!


Christopher said...

おめでと!Congrats! I've hear some horror stories about trying to get a license in Japan. Seems like yours definitely fits the bill. Glad you made it through!

Jess said...

Hey! Great Blog! Just found it today. It's always fun reading about another gaijin lost in Japan! I'm in Fukushima - which is earthquake central! It certainly brings variety to my life here! Congrats, by the way, on your license! I look forward to reading more about your adventures. Also, I likes the post about the pow wows - as a non-american I have no idea about native American Indians so it was an interesting read!

Patrick Leong said...

congrats. with the license, you can travel more. it would be nice to be able to drive while traveling places like shikoku, hokkaido and the northern part of honshu. ii na~.

Patrick Leong said...

melissa. i have asked one of my blog friends. she has been to cambodia (maybe already a few times). leave a message in her tagboard. i mentioned about you to her. perhaps, she can help answering your questions. next time, when i go cambodia, i will ask you then. :P her blog : http://primroses.blogspot.com/

Melissa said...

Chris: Yeah, it can be a nightmare, but I will never complain about the DMVs back in the states EVER again! It will all be worth it once I start road trippin! 楽しみ!

Jess: Thanks! Wow, Fukushima? Didn't you guys have an earthquake last week? I felt that all the way down here! You gotta love Japan's typhoon-earthquake summer combo. I'm glad you enjoyed the PowWow post. So few people in America and abroad are familiar with Native American culture. I hope the post will inspire some intrest! If you ever decide to go to America, you should check one out!

Patrick: Yes! I have been waiting to go to Shikoku until I could do it in a car! I plan to make a lot of road trips...My plan is to drive all the way up to Aomori, then ferry my car over to Hokkaido and get lost in the mountains! いいね!

Thanks for your help with Cambodia! You're so popular :)

Golfer said...

pumpkin, thats one vary costly DL.enjoyed vary much reading your blog. but iLOVE hearing your VOICE !!MISS YOU! LOVE YOU!

Aunt carm said...

awesome story of gaining driver's lisence. Likewise pics and story of climbing mountain and rice fields. Mucho talent missie!
love ya.

Ever consider free lance writing and photography as a side? You could be phenominal!

Lindizzy said...

Congratulations, you made it!! Wow, that's like the gladiator of driver's licenses...I'm having visions of Clueless, lol.
"You can't be the absolute, final say..."
But you did it! And without wiping out any bicyclists, very impressive...
Well I must say I'm a little jealous. While you're looking to escape FROM inaka-ville, I only wish I had a car so I could escape TO inaka once in a while.

I've gotta figure out how to buy a train ticket today so I can go visit my aunt & uncle in Penn for Thxgiving. I guess we're going to visit my uncle's family in West Virginia...

So I met my roommate's friend again yesterday, Mizuki. And guess where she's from? Ehime! She and Mitsu are destined to meet someday, I just know it lol.

Well, thanks for your amazing blogging. It's so nice to be able to hear what you've been up to even though I'm so far away now. Keep it up! If my computer ever get's debugged and I don't have tendonitis or carpel tunnel from all the data entry I've been doing, I might start one of my own.
In the meantime, I'm gonna take a walk in Central Park (my inaka, lol) TTYS,