Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Japanese-Style Driving

They'll have my blogger's license if I have the temerity to describe events that happened a month ago as "recent", but you'll have to excuse me-- the Board of Education's been getting more than its money's worth now that school has restarted in a real sense.

Since we spoke last there's been a lot to cover-- for one thing, the continuing saga of Drivers' License Conversion.

We left off after the first stage of this process, in which the officials of the Akita Drivers' License Center   eagerly sought the answers to important questions, like whether or not I'd ever driven a Toyota, before letting my license conversion application proceed to the practical test stage.

Reservation in hand, I took time off on a weekday to return to the Akita Drivers' Center for a run at the practical driving test, making sure to arrive well within the 30-minute window from 8:30 to 9 during which all applications for the day must be submitted. Forewarned is forearmed: the process went about as well as I'd been led to expect by the usual JET-run expat advice sites...

(Center employee vigorously attempts to pantomime the act of reading): THIS... FOREIGNER... INSTRUCTIONS...! YOU... READ?

One of the daily-varying permutations of the driving course, which you're required to memorize turn-by-turn before taking the test. Surprising fact: the course for license-converting foreigners is longer and more complex than all of the others, including the ones for tractor-trailers and construction vehicles.  

...which is to say that after an exciting half-day of having a mountain of expensive paperwork rubber-stamped by the same gang of bored jobsworths that processed my initial application, the authorities called forth from the lower circles a thick man with a thinning crewcut and a Kim-Jong-il jumpsuit to watch me drive a retired taxi carefully round an enclosed track and find fault with my mirror adjustment.

The final result?

 Examiner: <... And pull up to the line there, uh, I mean....> "RA'IN... SUTOPPU, NEH?"

Me: <All right, to line 6, right?>

Examiner: "...YESSU...OK.... ENJIN... SUTOPPU?"

Me: <All right.>

The examiner leans across the seat towards me, clipboard in hand. He's uncomfortably close in the car. It smells like he had a XXL shrimp Cup Noodle and a half-pack of Mild Sevens for lunch.

Examiner: "YESSU...."

Me: --


Me: <Well, yes-->

Examiner: <All right. Well, let's see. As for your performance on the test, a few words. First. Here in Japan, we always make sure other cars can see us when we're making turns. So maybe 100 meters away from the corner, we always put on our turn signals [Japanese/German:winker] and make sure other cars can see us. You're putting yours on maybe 50 meters away. Very American to just turn without asking! So first, make sure to ask [Japanese-English appeal] to turn corners.> "APIIRU! APIIRU! WINKA APIIRU! PURIIZU?"

Me: [Recalling the Japanese folks I saw making unsignalled turns that very morning] <I'm terribly sorry. I must have forgotten where I was turning while trying to remember the course!>

Examiner: <Oh, and another thing. When we turn right on two-lane roads, we change lanes to the right lane. It's called a "turning lane." You missed the turning lane here... (pointing to a one-lane intersection on the map) ... and here (a section of the course where the road narrows to less than a single lane). Two times!>

Me: <There was a turning lane there? I'm so sorry!>

Examiner: <Yes. And make sure not just to look in all three mirrors but over both shoulders before and while making a turn.>

Me: <Both shoulders? While turning the corner?>

Examiner: <Yes.>

Me: <I see...>

Examiner: <So, I'm sorry to say, but I can't pass you this afternoon. You'll need to reschedule for a later date and pay the testing fee again. That's Window 50 inside the main building. Window 50. 50. Do you understand? 50!>

Me: <Yes-- Window 50 is the one labeled "Foreign License Conversion" in big characters, yes?>

Examiner: <Window 50... "FIFUCHII!">

Me: <I suppose I'll be back soon. Thanks very much!>

Examiner: <...>

The examiner pauses as if about to say something, but catches himself short, his face frozen between expressions. What on earth is he doing? He's not waiting for me to say something, but the conversation clearly isn't over. The moment begins to stretch uncomfortably. What can he possibly be trying so intently to say? You can almost feel him searching around for the appropriate gear inside his head. A ten-to-twelve second slice of eternity crawls by.

Examiner: "SOU...


His expression glows with self-satisfaction.

Me: <I see. You know, that's great English!>

Back to square one it was-- and so it came to pass that I found myself taking the road test some weeks later. I'd been alone on the road on my first outing, but this time the course rumbled under the wheels of  immense strip-mining front-loaders driven by nervous-looking testees being watched by still-more nervous examiners. This time the result was different:

Examiner: "OK".

Me: <Does that mean I passed?>

Examiner: "OK".

 Did the immense machines distract my ride-along from my "American" signalling? I didn't stick around long enough to find out!

Victory! And well under the JET average of 3+ tries! 

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