Sunday night, I returned from Honshu and the excitement of the big cities of Japan to my own little corner of inaka. From Hokkaido, to Tokyo and Kyoto and back -- I was glad my parents could experience so many different places in Japan, even if it was a lot to see! My last day in Tokyo was a blissful three hours on the foreign language books floor of Tokyo's Kinokunya book store. Mmmm... Bookstore... I was surprised they let me on the plane with all my extra bags of books.
I got in to Asahikawa Sunday evening, and hit the foreign foods store -- what else do you do when you're in the city? While I was there, my supervisor called me. One, to make sure I hadn't been swallowed up by Shinjuku; and two, to let me know that my classes had been cancelled on Monday. Instead of teaching disinterested high school students, would it be okay if we went to get my Japanese drivers license? Mochiron desu yo! Of course!
Like all things in Japan, getting a drivers license is a challenge of bureaucratic navigation. You need your current license, international Driving Permit, passport, alien registration card, inkan (signature stamp) and an official translation of your home license. If you come from some countries, you are also required to complete a driving test -- something that we lucky Canadians don't have to do. Good thing too! It's difficult, only offered in Japanese, and ridiculously expensive.
We started out from the office just after lunch. The driving centre is in the city, about an hour away. After making sure I had all of the necessary documents and then double-checking just to make sure, we made our way to the offices of the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) to pick up my official license translation. Three thousand yen later, the first step was complete.
Next it was off to the Drivers Licensing Center. My supervisor and I were led to a small interrogation room in the back of the office. A police officer and a licensing center official made copies of all of my documents (including every page of my passport -- even the blank ones and the back cover), scrutinized them, questioned me on them, verified the dates of any stamps appearing in my passport, scrutinized the American stamps that only have entry dates, photocopied all of my documents again for good measure and made sure I had lived only in Canada while holding a Canadian license.
Once they were satisfied with my documentation, we proceeded to fill out the application forms. The forms are only available in Japanese (despite the large numbers of foreigners living in Hokkaido), so my supervisor and I played a rousing game of charades and pictionary to determine when I had first gotten a drivers license in Canada, what kind of driver training I had recieved, how many questions were on the driving exam, and how much the drivers test cost to determine whether or not I was worthy to hold a Japanese license.
Eventually, all of the questions were answered (or just made up) to the liking of the authorities, and I was allowed to continue my quest to drive in Japan. With one caveat: even though I have been driving for about 8 years, this experience doesn't count in Japan. For one year, I will have to drive with new driver stickers on my car at all times. This will probably make it harder for me to get away with speeding...
Well fine. I can live with that.
Next, we filled in more papers, had photos taken, paid for the licence, had more photos taken for the actual license, and waited until my new license was ready.
My supervisor and I had some time to sit around and chat, so naturally, talk turned to driving. Next year, my boss will have to go through a similar process to renew his license. I don't think his renewal will require the interprative dance that mine did, but you never know. He has a clean driving record, which means that he will only have to attend a 30 minute seminar on safe driving. If he had any violations (speeding or parking tickets), he would lose his "gold" license status, and be required to attend a 3 hour lecture on traffic safety.
For reference, I have "blue" status (two year validity). Usually people start out with "green" status (three year validity). Why the difference for me? I don't know. I usually find it's better not to ask. "Gold" cards, like the one my boss has, are good for five years.
I thought it was interesting too, that my boss didn't understand why I would have to start again as a new driver in Japan, especially since I had already driven here for nearly a year, and driven for even longer in Canada. The rest of my office got a kick out of it too, and I'm sure they will be teasing me about it for weeks to come.
As they say in Hokkaido, Safety Drive!