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How Not to Get a License in Japan

September 29, 2009 1 comment

There is, scattered over the web, quite a large amount of information which can assist the resident alien in procuring a Japanese license. From many sources too – I’ve found gems from JET, prefectural governments, JAF (Japan’s FIA affiliated auto federation) and even a few blogs.

Much of it has helped, but it hasn’t saved me from missteps.

There are a startling number of hoops through which one must jump before obtaining that little plastic card. But these are not an obstacle for the organized, thoughtful person.

The obstacle is that nobody has told you what not to do. And thus, an abbreviated list of ways not to get your license:

Don’t be American. Or be from outside Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Korea. Those blessed few have the luxury of exchanging their license in a straightorward manner. Yanks and the like go through a lot more.

Don’t decide not to buy the book. JAF’s “Rules of the Road” is officially unsanctioned, but in reality, the questions on the “knowledge check” and indeed many of the illustrations come right out of the book. And you’ll need to know them. Just buy it, even if someone said you won’t need it.

Don’t believe it when people tell you the written test is a no-brainer. It is short, but what you may find, depending on the version, that it’s filled with trick questions. The format is true-false, and some questions are written to be as confusing as possible. Which means you doubt yourself on the easy ones. A guide: if it seems reasonable, but involves a specific detail, it MAY be false. If it’s obviously true, it really is true. Don’t overthink anything, and do your research.

Don’t be late. Check the reception hours, and go early: even if you’re on time, they may have already reached the limit of the number of people they’ll take for that day.

Here’s some do’s:

Get your picture taken there while you wait. It’s the same price as at photo booths, and you’ll have plenty of time.

Bring a friend to translate the first time you go. Once you get your application in, it will be more or less smooth sailing, but before they give it to you, you may have to answer some tough questions.

Save your money. Pass the knowledge check on the first time, or you’ll pay the ¥2,400 processing fee again. Tale a weekend driving course there as a walk in, and you may wait, but you’ll get solid instruction for ¥5,000. If you can’t understand some Japanese, look elsewhere – Koyama driving school offers English, but at ten times the price.

Forget everything you know about driving: Ride the lane lines. Turn slowly, accelerate quickly once you’ve completed your turn, brake stongly and deliberately. Don’t use your mirrors: Move your head. Smooth is not the object – you want to show the instructor your thought process. Most important: Be methodical, and keep your hands moving on the wheel.

Since my appointment us due to be rained out by typhoon, it will be a while before I cam say how it wen’t. But don’t be surprised if I tell you I need to drive it twice!

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Just a preview of future delights!

September 27, 2009 Leave a comment

A new beginning, and a return to blogging – with what could hopefully be described as altruistic motives. There is a lot of content forthcoming, and I’m anxious to get cracking!

There are three central aims to the first phase of this blog:

Firstly, to document the process of 外免切替 (gaimen kirikae) or foreign license exchange. This remains for me a work in progress, and your results will vary (greatly). But while I scoured the web and the blogosphere for resources (and found a very few helpful) I’m looking to document the process extensively, with lessons learned and as many insights as I’ve managed to glean.

Secondly, I’m looking to share the ins and outs of buying, owning and maintaining a car in Japan. Having just begun the process, I hope to capture it with all the triumphs and tears, and hopefully share a few insights along the way.

Lastly, expect to begin to see features on what this blog was created for – documenting automotive life and culture in Japan. There will be motorsports coverage, new car reviews, events, recommended drives, motor shows – all the things I’ve been doing for years, but have selfishly kept to myself. Coming soon, expect to see a retrospective on the Japan Grand Prix (and how watching it on TV this year compares to seeing it in person) along with coverage of the Motorsport Festival Odaiba, the Tokyo Motor Show and the opening of Nissan’s swanky new global headquarters.

So watch this space! And if you like what I have to say (or not), want to have your say or have something you’d like to hear about, I’ll see you in the comments.

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