Tag Archives: driving license

Driving in Japan: Does Cuteness Save Lives?

I had front row seats to the show. A whole two hours of what I assumed would be a thoroughly gruelingly attempt at straining my ears to follow a single word the instructor said and praying to any deity that’d have me for a follower that I wouldn’t be asked to speak in any way shape or form.

Evidently that was simply too much to ask. You see I’d found myself at the local driving license centre in the neighbouring city to mine (small mercy that it was actually that close at all) and as per protocol I had to endure a full two hours plus of administration, eye tests and a lecture on driving safety.

Fortunately my rather unhealthy addiction to anki, a bit of memorization software that is almost entirely responsible for my current level of Japanese, meant that I actually was able to follow the vast majority of what was going on in class.

Well, for twenty-minute intervals anyway. After twenty minutes of full speed Japanese, on a subject I’d never before discussed, it would be an understatement to say I drifted off somewhat.

I wasn’t fully conscious of where my mind wandered at all times (some of the locations may not be appropriate for publishing) but it at some point I’m sure it ambled towards the posters directly ahead of me in my front row seat.

Glossy, largely cartoon figures bidding me to be safe on the roads and one vaguely age appropriate poster that suggests not throwing away my driving license by drinking and driving.

Personally I’d rather they implore people not to drink and drive because they might kill the adorable little cartoon toddler in the poster next to the driving license drowning in a glass of remarkably carbonated beer.

Cuteness saves lives!

But, culturally I’m probably missing a trick here.

The reason I unfailing always buckle my seat belt, aside from the law and not wanting to die at 40mph as I go hurtling through a windshield, is because at a very young age I was suitably emotional scarred by an advert that informed me that if I don’t buckle my seat belt while sitting in the back seat I’ll probably survive… I’ll just have killed the person in the seat ahead of me.

As such, is it possible, that the emotional pull of Kawaii (cute) in Japan might be equally effective in altering the behavior of Japanese drivers?

Evidently not.

A recent editorial in the Japan Times points out that while the number of convictions has decreased as the laws have gotten stricter more still needs to be done to curb drink driving in Japan.

Yet, Japan has some of the strictest drink driving laws in the world, at least as far as what constitutes drink driving and statistically at least appears to have less of an issue with drink driving than many countries.

The thing is the stats are what bother me, because in the talk I received on the matter the focus was certainly not on lives lost, but the punishment and damage to the driver. The fines paid, the loss of your job because you can’t drive, your family leaving you because you can’t support them anymore. Little mention of the victims involved beyond the driver.

Therein lies the problem. When the focus is on the cost to the driver, how much do you think the police are actively enforcing these laws?

The driver first; unless you might run over a vaguely suicidal old person crossing the road that is.

Try not to run over old people with no sense of their own mortality.

Then there was the recreated footage of a traffic accident involving a drunk old man on a bicycle and a woman who clips him with the back of her car as she pulls into her driveway. The moral of the story? The woman should have continued to check where the cyclist was once he had passed her. While that is certainly a very good idea indeed there was no mention of avoiding drinking and cycling or the fact that that too is illegal in Japan.

Check out Surviving in Japan for a full breakdown on cycling law in Japan versus its odd reality. http://www.survivingnjapan.com/2011/09/about-cycling-and-biking-in-japan.html

But then again, this was all pretty fast and I’m sure I missed some chunks while my brain melted like an overheated computer chip as it attempted to translate at speed.

On the other hand, this is simply another reason why I found myself worried by the talk. Not because the instructor wasn’t earnest or that people weren’t paying attention, but because downstairs in the lobby where I filled out paperwork part of the form was handily translated into English; but not a word during the talk.

At one point during the talk all of the participants were asked to participate in a mock test. Asked if I could understand Japanese by the instructor I told him the truth, “Yes, I understand most of what you’re saying however, in this situation I don’t really know much of the driving vocabulary.”

He responded by trying to explain hai and iie to me (the Japanese for yes and no). Then when I assured him that yes I can read a hiragana, katakana and a fair bit of Kanji (the two scripts in Japanese and Chinese characters) and no I probably couldn’t keep up with the mock test he waved my comments away and carried on at full blast.

I didn’t have a chance in hell.

But that wasn’t important. I was there, I was participating and I had the appropriate paperwork.

What does it matter if I couldn’t follow every detail? I’m sure all the important information was relayed to me in cartoon form anyway. If that didn’t cover all the bases, well then, the awesome 80s soundtrack on the VHS video transferred to a swanky DVD will have most certainly conveyed everything I needed to know, right?

Car accident + music from The Terminator OST = Bad Driver.

Got it.


Pedantic Paperwork II: The tale of the elusive license

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?