When it comes to getting a driving license in Japan, it’s all a matter of timing. The window that you need to get to in the giant mess of a bureaucratic testament to 1980’s flat pack architecture (part of Japan’s peculiar, let’s make buildings that last for precisely twenty eight years and nothing more, attitude to construction) is only open for an hour and half in the morning and after lunch.
Presumably the rest of the time is consumed with filing the mountain of unnecessary paperwork they produce, or perhaps cleaning and polishing their fine array of government issued stamps and stamps. No that isn’t a typo, the first variety are of the wooden handle, rubber base variety. The other are of the, we couldn’t possibly trust more than one person with real currency, lets convert all cash into government issued stamps that are of equal value only within the confines of these four hastily constructed walls, kind. Walls that they do not in fact leave as these currency stamps are issued by the state and returned to the state within mere minutes. Going hastily from the little window nudged into the far corner from where you purchase them, across the corridor to the slightly larger office in charge of producing the flimsy bit of card and minimal plastic which your mug will be digitally plastered onto.
And you thought the post office was a mess? O ye of little faith. There is more madness in Nippon than you have ever dreamed of in your society.
There is of course the endless stream of paper, the details of myriad national licenses held in an enormous folder that quite literally bursts at the seams. The amazing stamp collection, both wooden and paper, the endless people performing quite patently simple tasks, in triplicate and then passed back to the desk behind them to be inputted into a computer that in all likelihood is not connected to any grand database. It is that burgeoning bureaucratic machine, designed to perform every function in the longest fashion possible.
Back at the window for ‘foreign driving license conversion’ I was asked a seemingly never-ending list of inane questions. How much did your driving lessons in the UK cost? How long does it take to pass? What driving school did you use? What is the test course like? What the hell do you mean you drove on real roads? Are you mad?
After this ridiculous inquiry I was beginning to get rather…perhaps… well just a touch impatient. There was an oral exam to go and an eye test and frankly I was bored of waiting. But the gent behind the counter sprung a small surprise. That had been the oral exam.
Huh, I hear you say.
Apparently there has been a spree of (considering there were a sum total of three foreigners getting a license that day, a spree may have been an exaggeration on his part) foreigners forging British driving licenses in order to bypass the driving tests that individuals from other nations such as America have to go through. After this bit of storytelling was voiced my boss noted that she could indeed see how a piece of plastic as poorly constructed as the British license could easily be forged. Shoddy foreign craftsmanship.
One eye test later and I was handed my new, somewhat shiny, mostly cardboard Japanese driving license. Finally free of the red tape I looked at the piece of hastily constructed rubbish in my hands and thought to myself, why would anyone try and forge the British license, when forging the Japanese one would be far easier?
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Japan sounds like it might actually be worse than France for paperwork – that’s an impressive achievement! They’re bound to be more efficient though. (I’m still waiting, 9 months later, for a social security number that was supposed to be issued within 3 months. I’m wondering now if it will arrive before I leave!)
Indeed they are Nic, as daft as the system can be I still managed to get hold of a driving license in about a month. The time for translating my license into Japanese taking up the majority of that time. Japanese bureaucracy is probably my major pet peeve if I’m honest, because most of the time it strikes me as unnecessary intrusion into my private life that is not legally required but clearly something the staff are encouraged to do.
On the plus side it often makes a funny story.
Funny stories are what keep us all going in the face of apparent idiocy – and god knows there’s enough of that when dealing with foreign bureaucracy! Still, I’m sure that the UK is no better, it’s just that we don’t have to deal with it as often. I shall experiment, since I’m moving back in less than a month now. (The secu people had better get their act together.)
How long are you in Japan for, indefinitely?
We’ll see I guess. The original plan keeps changing, getting extended etc. How come you’re moving back to England then? A life of sunshine and wine not agreeing with you?