Sometimes Japan Makes Me Angry
I live in the Japanese countryside. By all accounts, I should have a car and my placement should be a driving one. Everyone of my teachers, and all other persons I know out here, have some mode of motorized transport. It is a necessity not just for the job, but for one’s livelihood. The nearest convenience store, where one pays their bills in Japan, is fifteen minutes away by bicycle. The nearest supermarket twenty-five minutes away by bicycle. The nearest train station,whose trains comes only once every hour, is forthy-five minutes away. Two of my schools are thirty minutes away by bicycle, and one school is an hour away by bicycle, way up in the mountains. All of these rides include large hills that make traveling quite diifficult. Nothing is in walking distance. I have done my best, but with the intensifying summer heat it is obvious I will not be able to continue like this forever. To my teachers, the fact I ride a bicycle everywhere is a joke and a fool’s errand. Which is why they have pushed me (not that I have resisted) to buy a motor scooter.
Motor scooters are very common where I live. They economic, small, and useful. A scooter is exactly what I need, the only issue being I need a license to drive in Japan. As last time I lived in Japan I had no need to drive (and was misled to believe that would be the case once again) I did not acquire and bring with me an international permit. Since I plan to live here for two years or so in any case, having a license couldn’t hurt. However, I have no desire to own a car in Japan. They are with gas, parking, maintence, and insurance, not to mention the actual purchase, case are quite expensive. I have no desire to live somewhere that I need a car, and were I to move somewhere less remote I would have no use for it. I scooter, however, fits all me needs, is cheaper and much more convenient. So I set out to get one, with the help of some friends and personal research.
I went to Akashi today- taking unpaid leave from work to do so- in an attempt to get a motor scooter only license. In Japan, a car license will also cover a motor scooter. However, as an American I am required to take a simple written questionnare test (available in English) and a rather stringent driving test to convert my American license to a Japanese one. Since I have no desire to drive a car, it’s difficult to justify taking a stressful test that I may need to retake and repay for multiple times. The motor scooter only license, on the other hand, only requires you take the written portion to convert it. Something that should have be quite easy. Should be.
I arrived at the the Akashi Drivers License Testing Center today quite early. An hour before they open. I should note this is the only driving center available to me, and it takes over two hours to get here from my apartment. The center is only open Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm. To have an international license converted you have to register at gate seven between 9:30am and 10:30am. And only at those times. I was the first person there, and the first to go in. I spent a fruitless hour there,and waste of a day.
My biggest regret is not bringing someone native in Japanese with capable English language abilities. Given the time table and distance of this place how could I? Every one of my Japanese friends works from nine to five. Actually, many of them work from eight to eight. While certainly not fluent my Japanese is quite managable. I imagined some difficulty but that I would be able to muster through it. When I entered the building, I explained what I wanted to do in Japanese to the front desk and they guided me along in the right direction, no problems. It was at the foriegn license conversion room that I ran into trouble.
The first thing I did after sitting down was tell the clerk that I wished to get a motor scooter license. I gave him all of my paper work: passport, license, gaijin card, and license translation. The clerk asked my nationality and where I lived, and then proceeded to speak Japanese faster than my English and used a great deal of vocabulary I had never heard before. I asked him several times to slow down and repeat himself, and when he occassionally I did I realized he was explaining what I already knew. The car test was two parts, written and driving, and included scooter licensing; and the scooter test was only one part. After ten minutes of him trying to push me to convert to a car license, which I explained to him I did not want, he said it was very suspicious. I brokenly explained to him other that I didn’t want to have to take an extra driving test that doesn’t apply to a vehicle I don’t intend to use and doesn’t apply to the one I will use, and probably will fail because my Japanese isn’t strong enough. He in turn told me it was suspicious and that I didn’t want a car license, said that many people go to China or the Philipines to get licenses there and convert them in to Japanese ones, or get imitation ones. He then questioned the validity of my license, saying that he wasn’t sure whether it was real or not. My response to his outrageous doubt was I have driven for ten years, hold valid legal licenses in the United States, have never been to any of those countries, and I would never in my right mind go to such trouble for a lesser license. He wanted to see my expired passport to prove I hadn’t been there. I of course didn’t have it. When I showed him my old Massachusetts license to prove how long I had driven, he was a bit more agreeable. This whole exchange took half an hour.
He then proceeded to check where I was currently living, and grill me on why I wanted a scooter and not a car (expense), why I needed one (distance,) and why I didn’t take public transportation (don’t have any.) When I explained where I lived as over an hour north of Akashi, just south Nishiwaki, and the nearest train station about forty-five minutes away, he stopped being quite as antagonistic.
We proceeded with the eye test, filled out the forms, and then he sent me to pay for my stamp so I could proceed with the examinations. When I returned, he was looking over my license translation, and told me that the C class license was a car only license. He said Japanese and American license are different, and mine didn’t include motor scooters. I then explained to him that in America scooters under 50ccs do not require license. He then referred to a section at the bottom for M1 and M2 licenses. M2 licenses are for motorcycles over 400ccs. M1 licenses are for motorcycles and scooters between 150ccs and 400ccs. Because the M1 license uses the word scooter, and the C class license doesn’t, he decided it does not cover motor scooters. I again explained to him that in America scooters under 50ccs do not require license, and the details of M1 and M2 licenses. He stated he couldn’t (more likely wouldn’t) convert my car license to a scooter one. Even though it’s a lesser license. I could still get a conversion to a Japanese car license and that would cover a motor scooter, but because I didn’t schedule for a driving test I would have to come back another day. Oh, and my stamp was no longer valid. And non-refundable.
He took me to another clerk, who then explained to me that if I wanted to get a motor scooter only license I would need to get it from scratch. That means going to a lecture at a traffic school, taking a scooter lesson and then coming in for a fifty question test in English. Oh, but the lecture and the lesson will both be in Japanese. He then sent me off and apologized for the trouble. That pissed me off. Do not say you are sorry. You are very much not sorry.
Afterwards I reached out to my friends for assistance (and to bitch more than I have here.) Kana has truly come to my rescue. She actually seemed a little annoyed I didn’t call her for help during this debaucle. She has since checked the details of what I need to do, confirming and correcting what I understood from the earlier Japanese explanation. She’s already found several driving schools I might attend, and is going to reserve a lesson for me. While this probably won’t make sense to anyone but me, today saw some role reversal. Today, Kana became my angel.