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Here's Your Sign.

With my International Drivers Permit about to expire I knew I had to do it.  No choice, I had to go through the agony of getting my Japanese driver’s license.  I surfed the web and found many stories of foreigners in Japan attempting to pass the Japanese drivers test.  Being a U.S. citizen I was required to take a written test, an eye test and the dreaded driving test.  The stories I read were frightening.  One person wailed,” I’ve tried eleven times and I still haven’t passed the driving part.”  Others proclaimed they had passed after four attempts others smugly retorted, “I got mine on my second try.”  The point made by everyone was you will fail.

It all begins with a trip to JAF, the Japan Auto Federation.  Sort of like the AAA in the U.S.  I was required to have my Arizona license translated into Japanese and the JAF is one of the official places to have this done.  The only thing on the license needing translation was; Arizona, United States, male and none.  Everything else was numbers.  It took about an hour and the fee was 3000 yen.

With translation in hand and along with my Arizona license, International Driving Permit, passport, foreigner’s registration card, one 2.4 mm x 3 mm photo and money I arrived at the Fukushima Driving License Center between 8:30 and 9:00 AM (they open at 8:30 AM and no applications accepted after 9 AM) to apply for the test.  Fukushima is about 40 km away. The process is an all day event. The Koriyama Driving License Center is less than 2 km from our house but the written test isn't offered in English.


The first thing to do is fill out an application and wait.  Eventually someone shows up to do an interview.  Here were some of the questions:

What year did you get your license?  1966.
Where did you get your license?  Virginia.
Did you take a written test?  Yes.  An eye test?  Yes.  A hearing test?  Probably.  A driving test?  Yes.  What was the order of testing?  Just what you said.…..maybe.
How many questions were on the test?  100.  (Maybe)  How many did you get right?  93 (How am I supposed to remember?)
Who was in the car with you when you took the test? A Virginia State Policeman.  He seemed impressed.
How long did it take?  3 hours.  (Maybe)  How long was the course?  Half mile.  Closed course?  No.  Public road?  Yes.
What size engine was in the car?  The car I learned to drive in was a 1965 Buick LeSabre with a V8 engine and a four-barrel carburetor. I don't remember the size but at least 300 cubic inches (~5000 cc) and maybe it was larger.  I told him it had a 1500 cc engine.  He seemed impressed.

Fukushima Driving Center Course  
  The Fukushima Driving Center Course (click for larger photo)  
  Fukushima Driving Center Course Map He was satisfied with my answers and then I was given the written test. I passed. Be sure to go to for a sample test.   Next it was the eye test.  Click here for an example.  I passed.  I was then told to be back at 1 PM for the driving test.  
The Crank
    The Fukushima Driving Center Course Map (click for larger photo)     The "Crank" is bounded by the black and yellow bars (click for larger photo)    

The test is administered on a closed course with the examiner riding along.  I was given a map of the course and told to be familiar with the route shown.  Between 12 and 1 o'clock I was allowed to walk the course and become familiar with it.

Shortly after 1 o'clock someone appeared and lead me away to the car I was to drive.  It wasn’t the typical small car but a large one like the taxi drivers use.  There is a certain ritual involved in taking the test.  There are certain things the examiner looks for.  I have read stories of applicants failing because they hadn’t looked under or behind the car before driving away or not straightening a twist in the seat belt.  So I looked around and under the car got in locked the door, adjusted the seat, fastened the seatbelt and checked for twists, adjusted the mirrors, checked the pedals and set the parking brake then started the car.  All the while I was exaggerating my movements so the examiner would be sure to notice.  Then away I went.  Unfortunately while negotiating the “crank” I ever so slightly brushed one of the suspended poles marking the boundary.  It was an immediate fail.  He explained that it would have been okay to back-up but touching the pole is like hitting another car.  I must come back for a second test.

The Crank

I returned the next day and a different examiner was riding with me.  Prior to beginning he explained that in the “crank” backing up is not so good, maybe once okay maybe not.  And the tire must not extend over the curb any amount ........Gulp....... So I repeated the rituals of the day before and started the second test. There were no problems with the "crank" this time. Although the wind was causing the poles to vibrate and I worried the examiner may think I had brushed them. But he said nothing. At the conclusion of the test I was sent upstairs to wait.  No lecture in the car this time. I was optimistic. Eventually someone appeared and said I had passed.  My photo was taken and I was sent downstairs to pay more money and at about 3 PM I was presented with my brand new Japanese driver’s license. 

So, what’s my sign?  Click here and see.

  The "Crank" (click for larger photo)