Daniel here. Reporting for JapanesePod101.com.
Renewing a driver’s license can be a hassle in any country. Although this time, I was happy that I was able to renew my California’s driver’s license online (from Japan, no less!) with my credit card. Renewing my driver’s license here in Tokyo proved not to be as easy.
My understanding is that if you have a clean record, you can renew your license at one of several locations around Tokyo. However, if you had an accident or a ticket, you have to go to the main testing center in the city of Fuchū (府中 in the West part of Metropolitan Tokyo). I had been involved in an accident. Had this accident happened in California it would have been 100% the other driver’s fault. However, the police in Tokyo, whenever possible, like to divvy up the blame, usually 50-50.
I will not go into the details of that incident this time. If you want to hear about that experience, leave a comment and request it.
Well, since I did not have a clean record, I had to go to the Fuchū Driver’s License Center. I do not think there is a more difficult place to access in Metropolitan Tokyo than this spot. The nearest train station is 20 minutes by bus from Musashi-Koganei Station (武蔵小金井駅)! It can also be accessed by bus from Chōfu (調布) and Mitaka (三鷹) stations, but those rides will take you 30 minutes! And you are not permitted to drive to the facilities! I think this is part of the punishment.
Well, having arrived, I made my way to the information desk. I was given a form to fill out and a card for my secret number (暗証番号). I was to fill in two four digit numbers. I asked if they should match and the woman said なんでもいい, which I translate to “whatever”. After filling out these two forms, I got in the line that had the big “1” sign. Having reached the front, I was told how much the stamps I needed would cost. (Japanese bureaucrats just love papers and stamps). After draining my wallet of ¥4200, I made my way over to the big “2” sign which was for the eye test.
Japanese eye tests don’t require you to make out letters like they do in America. Instead, you have a circle with a slit in it and have to tell which side the slit is on. I have to wonder if this method is really all that effective. It seems too simple and I was only asked to identify three symbols. Oh well, I wasn’t about to complain!
The next stage was have my photo taken. It did not come out bad for a license photo and you should be able to see it on the blog page. After this, I had finished the processing portion of the ordeal, but now came the purgatorial portion. The “lesson” was to be given in the annex on the second floor. This would be no big deal, but I had sprained my knee a few days before. You would think they would have an elevator. But, you would be wrong.
The lessons began every two hours and the previous lesson was only halfway through, so I headed to lunch. When I returned, I was given a seat number and went into the room where I waited to watch nearly two hours of video. Half-expecting to see the Japanese version of “Red Asphalt”, I was surprised when the officer seemed almost apologetic to be putting us through this lesson. He said 申し訳ありません (もうしわけ) more than a few times. But he also let us know how important traffic safety is.
He ended up only showing us about 20 minutes of the video, and lectured us みのもんた-style (a Japanese entertainer), only less charming. But, it was okay, and the time went by reasonably well, especially since he gave us a 10 minute break about half-way through.
After we were done, we filed past his desk as he stamped our forms and we shuffled downstairs to receive our new licenses. The first person in our line balked at the bottom of the stairs when she saw the waiting masses on the first floor. Then, in typical Japanese-style, we all waited there because she had stopped until the staff called the people who were renewing (as opposed to the rest of the people who were waiting to receive their first licenses. After we received our license cards, we took them over to a machine and entered our secret numbers with the cards on the IC reader. After being accepted, we were free to go.
The lesson from all this? Don’t get in an accident, even one caused by someone else!
In a future post, I’ll describe what it is like to transfer a foreign license in the first place. I hope you enjoyed this post. Be sure to leave a comment.
Until next time, さらば.