Getting My Japanese Driver’s License, Part 3

This is the conclusion of the riveting series on getting my driver’s license in Japan, which ain’t no picnic, let me tell you! You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

  1. The Fifth Appointment (Brush-up Class #2 and Test Attempt #3)

The morning of my fifth visit to the Ishikawa Menkyo (license) Center I was filled with dread. I’ve been driving for the past 13 years of my life, so you’d think I’d be able to pass a driving test, but I’d already failed twice. What if I failed again? This process had already taken a considerable amount of time and money and I would much rather this whole experience be done with.

Thankfully, before taking the test I was able to get an appointment for an hour-long course at the test prep center next door. My instructor was an older man who spoke little English and had a brusque, no-nonsense attitude. Since the test center was closed in the morning, he took me out onto the track and had me practice the test four times, each time following a different route. I think his approach was to beat it into me through repetition, which I think I needed. At the end, I actually felt pretty good. Maybe this time I could pass. 

An hour later, at precisely 13:00 and not a minute earlier, I was in line, with all my crap, ready to check in at the reception window. Luckily, I had my Japanese coworker with me to help me with my forms, so I didn’t have to repeat my horrible kanji writing. However, I did make one stupid mistake again, by checking the boxes on the alcohol consumption questionnaire. These boxes are supposed to be marked with an “x”, so I had to do the form all over again, same as like the last time. (Why, Japan?!?!?!?!)

The waiting felt extra-long this time, and I was growing more nervous with each passing minute. It was a busy day at the Menkyo Center, and the track was busy with buses, tractors, motorcycles, and the classic white Toyota Crown sedans.

Finally, it was my turn, and I took a deep breath and went downstairs to the track, where my white Toyota Crown and test administrator were waiting.

I couldn’t remember the course at all because I’d just done four different ones that morning, but my administrator was nice and helped me out with directions. Otherwise, I was surprised with how smooth the test was going and how confidant I was feeling. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. I was stuck behind a farmer in a tractor taking his test for a good portion of it, which worked to my advantage since it forced me to drive extra slowly and carefully.

I aced the U-turn, the S-turn, and even the L-turn (though I held my breath for the last one). I cruised through the intersection. Up ahead, I could see The Parked Car. This was the moment I’d been waiting for. This could make it or break it.

Signal, count to three, shoulder check, change lanes (with the center line lined up with the middle of the car), signal, door check, lean over the steering wheel for the front check, and change lanes. I did it!!! I made it to The Parked Car!!! I snuck a glance at my administrator. He was nonchalantly checking something on his form.

I completed the test and parked the car. I looked at my administrator expectantly.

“OK,” he said, and made an upward motion with his finger, pointing upstairs.

“OK,” I replied, and went upstairs.

OK. OK? Wait, what kind of OK was that? Was it an “OK, you passed” or an “OK, go wait”? I had no idea. Upstairs, I found my coworker.

“Did you pass?” she asked.

“Uh. . . I’m not sure,” I replied. “He said ‘OK’, but I’m not sure if it means I’ve passed.”

We hunted down a Menkyo Center employee who’d been kind to us during our earlier visits and explained our confusion. In Japanese, he asked how exactly the instructor had said “OK.”

“Well, it was kind of like ‘OK’, then he did this,” I said, pointing upward with my finger.

“Hmmm, tabun. . .” he said hesitantly. Maybe. “Choto mate, kudasai.” Wait, please.

After half an hour of agonizing waiting, he came and found us.

“OK!” he said, making the universal OK symbol with his thumb and forefinger. “Pass!”

“I passed?” I said, as it dawned on me. “I passed!!! Thank god!”

We were lead downstairs to a different room, where we kept waiting. And waiting. Unfortunately, after all that waiting we were running out of time. I had a class to teach at 16:30, so we made (yet another) appointment to come back and pick up the license the next day.

  1. The Sixth Appointment (The Receiving of the Blessed Document)

The next day, my boss drove me back to the Menkyo Center for the sixth, and final, time. I got my picture taken, we waited for about 20 minutes (a short wait compared to what I’d gotten used to), signed and stamped a form with my official hanko stamp, and paid another fee.

Finally, I was presented with my Japanese driver’s license. I got the “green” license, with a vibrant, green stripe across, which is given to newer drivers and is valid for three years. I felt a rush of relief. It’s such a small piece of plastic, but getting it had been a stressful experience, one that had cost me nearly 20 hours of my life and my company around ¥24,500 ($224).

But finally, it was over.

Happy Travels,

Mo