Dokodemo Door!

Monday, March 23, 2009

HAIL JEEBUS! I have a new drivers' licence!

Am I ever glad that today is OVER.

Ahh, the Japanese DMV. Where sinecured bureaucrats enjoy astonishing levels of petty and unchecked power. For life.

Today was the day to get my licence renewed. This would be no small feat, considering that it expired back in 2006 and I needed to show-up within one month of my return if I was going to qualify for the "out of the country" excuse for failing to renew it on time.

Maybe some of you have heard my stories about how I got a 100% on my 5th road test and was still flunked for some reason that I cannot comprehend. In all honesty, I would rather run through hell in a magnesium G-string than go through all that folderol again.

And if you poke around the online expat forums, there are plenty of horror stories out there...

The reason I failed the first time? The guy says I didn't take my foot completely off the clutch. That Is How I Failed My Driving Test.

The many and varied reasons I failed --
1) My left leg (mind you, the one hopefully NOT used in driving) was bent.
2) My arms were bent...but not enough?!? I don't recall. I stopped listening after #1.
3) When I was checking for traffic, I turned my shoulders. This is a no-no. You are supposed to turn your neck...but not your shoulders. So much for getting a really good look.
These were the BIG infractions.

Yea, the big joke in this country vis-a-vis the driving test, is that the testing system is not transparent. They tell you you failed, but where's the FECKING math? In the States, if you fail, they show you exactly what criteria you failed and how many points deducted for each--total it up to get a score. Here, it's your arms were too bent; you fail. Wait, huh? How many points was that? We can't tell you.
All in all, at roughly $80+ per road test, it's not a pleasant (or cheap) experience. It's either a Kafkaesque nightmare or a hilarious example of wacky performance art-- some kind of Dadaist prank-- in which only one or two people manage to get the joke.

So here's what happened to me today...

Preparing for the Japanese DMV requires you think ahead. You need to bring every kind of ID they could conceivably ask for, photographs, your hanko and photocopies of pretty much everything. After a 40 minute train ride (in which I happened to pass under the Akashi-Kaikyo bridge) and a 15 minute bus-ride, I arrived at the testing center at 830 AM.

The building was, surprisingly, new and clean and pleasant, despite its drab grey exterior. It was quite unlike the mildew-infested, charmless, two-tone institutional-colored tissue-boxes I'd seen in Aichi prefecture and heard about elsewhere.

The building was packed full of noisy high school juniors. I got at the end of a laughably long line, whipped-out my iPod Touch, and listened to music as we moved forward at a seemingly glacial pace. I got to the information desk at about 9 and presented my pre-memorized speech (thanks Mari!) about what I was out to do. I was unceremoniously handed four forms and was instructed to fill 'em out in the corner. Thank God I brought my own pen because they're not willing to give you one.

Figuratively, every 'i' needs to be dotted and every 't' needs to be crossed on these forms. If you mess-up one teeny item, they might very well rip-up the paper and give you a new one to fill-out from scratch.

As you can imagine, no English versions of the forms are available. It took me about 25 minutes to slog through them. Just to be jerks, the forms used 2 different dating systems in which I had to express my birthday. (I was either born in 1975 or in Showa 50. The forms were not helpful in specifying which systems to use; you simply had to figure it out.)

I was given a tiny slip of paper which detailed which windows I needed to go to. I had to go to windows 2, then 3, then 4, then 1, then 5 (section C), then 6, then back to 1, then back to 5 (section A). The numbers had no relation to where the windows were located. 1 and 5 were across from each other and 3 was around the corner. 2 was upstairs. 6 was in a building 30 meters down the street, for God's sake. Best of all, Window 3 was nominally open from 11 to 1130; it opened five minutes late and the four people in front of me took more than 15 minutes to get processed.

Before the eye test, about 20 of us were trotted into a hall. We were told to put our hands in front of us and squeeze our fists. Then, we had to bring our fists into our chests a few times. Then, we had to hop up and down on one foot, then hop up and down on the other. I AM TOTALLY NOT MAKING THIS UP!

After the eye test, we had 90 minutes for lunch. All the windows snapped shut like clockwork. At 130, we had to attend a 2 hour lecture about safe driving.

The lecture was in Room 6 in that other building down the street. The building looked a lot like... well... one of those mildew-infested, charmless, two-tone institutional-colored tissue-boxes.

As for the lecture, do you remember the guy in the Micro-Machine commercials back in the late '80s?

Imagine him speaking in Japanese.

That's what the lecture was like. It could've been in Kurdish, for all I know.

Plus, there were a few pie charts which I couldn't read. He would occasionally gesticulate at them energetically with his index finger.

And about 40 minutes into the lecture... whoa man... one of the young women in the room fell asleep. I mean REALLY asleep. Like, lying face-down and snoring and everything.

That's when Micro-Machine Man interrupted his speech, walked down the aisle, and politely prodded her to wake-up.

Maybe it's a good thing I could barely understand him?

The ordeal was over by 430. And behold, the anticlimactic fruit of my labor...


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