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Driver’s License

As a missionary, I’m supposed to be culturally sensitive and open-minded, understanding some things are done differently here.  Leave behind my ethnocentrism.  What is not in and of itself sinful I should respect and try to love for its differences.

But the driving test?  Not happening.

My new license! Worth the trouble? I’m left in doubt…

A little background: I’ve been driving with my WA and an international license.  But it’s only good for a year,  and then I have to get a Japanese license.  This requires a written and driving test.

And if I ever feel the Japanese driver’s license exam is anything but the most obnoxious waste of time I have ever had the poor misfortune to spend 15 hours of my life on it’ll be purely by the good grace of God.

The test is notorious for being difficult to pass, especially for foreigners.  But not because the test is actually difficult.  It’s not.  The written test is 10 T/F questions requiring common sense and a minimal ability to interpret a few strange English translations.  The driving test has no reverse driving, no parallel parking, or u-turns.  And it’s on a driving course so there are hardly even any other cars.

What’s hard is that no one, seriously no one, drives the way they require you to drive on the driving test. And the testers are SO PICKY it’s unbelievable.  There’s a specific way to get into the car, to turn on the car, to prepare to turn, to get out of the car, etc etc etc…

The first time I went I didn’t even get to take the test.  I renewed my WA license right before I came to Japan and only had it in the US for 29 days.  The minimum is 30 days.  That’s right, I was short one day.  Thankfully I have my old PA license, but registration is only open for two 1-hour periods, so if you miss it, gotta wait until the next day.

My first test I failed because I was taking my right turns too wide and too fast (I was probably going about 10 mi/hr).

My second test I failed because I wasn’t stopped at the stop sign for a full three seconds, and I was turning off my signal too soon after changing lanes.

My third test I passed (Praise the LORD!) but still got some pointers.  Now my left turns were too wide and my signal wasn’t coming on soon enough.  -__-

I’ve also since learned there’s generally only one licensing center per prefecture, usually at the capital.  So, if I lived anywhere other than Hiroshima, I would have had to take the long drive into the city every time I needed to take the test again.

But really, I can’t complain.  I only took it three times.  A Chinese girl I met said the average was reputed to be about six.  Another foreigner, who had spent like $500 on driving lessons, was on his fourth try.  And he failed. So I’ll try not to whine.

Let’s just focus on the fact that I passed and I never have to take the cursed thing again…

OK, now I’m really done.  😛

Categories: Cultural experiences
  1. ben c
    May 25, 2012 at 8:05 am

    yay! congrats! 🙂 btw, Japanese drivers license looks super cool!!!

  2. ak
    May 25, 2012 at 9:22 am


  3. Steven Taylor
    June 9, 2013 at 7:46 am

    Jessica, hello. Your story made me smile, but you got off too easy. Third try…ha! I lived in Nagano Prefecture, which is somehow notorious for ridiculously rigorous driving tests. The average number of attempts by foreigners is 7. Yes, seven.

    My first test, I blew totally. Didn’t know the course. Second time, I took an hour of driving school. Then memorized the course in my head. I absolutely NAILED it, but there was this part where there is a very narrow “S” in the course. If you touch the sides, you fail. I did not. But the reason for my failure? The instructor said, “ちょっとはやい”. Which is like, impossible to do. They just WANTED to fail me. Third time, I looked over my shoulder once, but not “a second time”. Fourth time I passed, tying the record at this center. But I know I made mistakes that time. There were Brazilians there on their 11th attempt. Some JET guys were on number 7-8. After driving in Japan for five years, some of their “meaningless” rules have begun to make sense, however. For example, you can never look over your shoulder too many times while driving in Tokyo! Hang in there.

    • June 10, 2013 at 7:02 am

      Hi Steven! Thanks for the fun story~ Yeah, I remember hearing that 7 is the average. There’s an American couple I work with here in Hiroshima, and they passed, if you can believe it, on the very FIRST try. We were all supremely jealous. (笑)

      • Steven Taylor
        June 10, 2013 at 10:51 pm

        Yes, it totally depends on where you take it. I know friends in Tokyo who passed first time. And in Takamatsu who passed 2nd time no problem. Nagano is the worst, I think.

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