Monday, June 23, 2014

Japanese Driver's License: The Process

Somewhere on the Internet, I read that the process of transferring your American driver's license into a Japanese one will make you want to give a sexual favor to someone at an American DMV. I took the joke in stride and wondered, "Is is really that bad?" 

If I only knew then what I know now.

Before coming to Japan, I realized that my American driver's license was set to expire a year after my arrival. Like a good citizen, I reissued my license online and assumed that would be the end of that issue. Unbeknownst to me, in order to obtain a Japanese driver's license (the easy way), my license needed to be issued at least 3 months prior to my arrival in Japan. I was scheduled to arrive in August, and I reissued my license in July. F$%&! As a precaution, I brought both driver's licenses to Japan.

On my way to Christ's Grave!
The first step of the transfer was to have my driver's license translated. This was simple enough but if I used my reissued license, then I also needed to provide a copy of my driving history for translation. In order to save money, I used my older (but still valid) driver's license.

The second step was to make an appointment at a driving school in order to practice the driving test. Although this step was optional, I heard from various JETs that practicing the course with an instructor gives you an advantage to passing the test. On my half-day, I arrived at the driving school and asked about scheduling an apointment. The woman behind the counter informed me that there was no availability until next month and told me to come back later. I felt as though I was turned away, and so the next day I informed my board of education on what had transpired at the driving school. Senaha-san, who I feel as though is my life and financial handler, called the school and scheduled an appointment. Easy, Peasey, Japanesey!

The practice course for the driving test looked very intimidating, but thankfully my driving instructor was the sweetest and most patient man on the planet. He explained to me the rules of the road in Japanglish and even drew out instructions on a piece of paper.  

Here were some instructions:
  1. (Before getting into the car) Check underneath the car at the rear and then front end
  2. Look both ways before you walk towards door
  3. Get into the car
  4. Lock the doors
  5. Adjust the seat
  6. Put your seat belt on
  7. Adjust all mirrors
  8. Check the parking break
I thought the instructions were simple enough until he explained switching lanes and turning. The best way to describe the process is to check your mirrors and blind spot with exaggerated paranoia (think girl from The Exorcist). Moreover, in between checking the mirror and switching lanes/turning, you are expected to shift the car slightly to the left or right depending on which way you are switching lanes/turning.

Sounds confusing? Here my instructor's drawings:

What is this Tetris sh*t?!?

With enough practice, I  perfectly executed switching lanes and turning. Then, we moved on to the S-turn and the Crank. The S-turn is simple enough; it's just a road that weaves like an S. The Crank is similar to the S-turn, but in two right angles. If any part of the vehicle touches vertical poles in certain spots of the exercise, you fail. If you hit a curb and then go over it, you also fail. Even though the practice car was a mid-sized sedan, I breezed through it with no problem.

The next step was taking all of my paperwork to the DMV in order to schedule an appointment for the written test. The paperwork consisted of my resident card, certificate of residency, valid U.S. driver's license, translation of said driver's license, two passport-sized photos, and proof that I have lived in the U.S., for at least 3 months, after my driver's license was issued. For this "proof," I brought my college transcripts and my passport.

One of my schools was having a beach day and since my beachwear only consist of the tiniest bikinis, I skipped work and made the hour-long drive to Naha. At the counter for license transfers, I gave my paperwork to a woman behind the counter who vigorously flipped through all of my paperwork but paused when she came to my "proof." 

There was an issue with my passport because it did not have a departure stamp from the U.S., even though my first entry stamp was my August arrival to Japan. Fine, she won that point because of a technicality, but my transcripts made it clear that I've lived in the U.S. for at least 3 months after my driver's license was issued. Hell, it showed 4 years of it! 

When I pointed this out she said, "Your transcripts end in 2012, but your passport was issued in 2012. What were you doing before you came to Japan?" I glared as a response to her dumb question. I felt criminalized and told her check my transcripts with my driver's license. We argued back and forth over the issue until she told me that I needed to bring my old passport. I retorted by saying my old passport was in the U.S. She then pushed my paperwork at me, told me that she could not help me, and retreated through a door in the back.

"What were you doing before you came to Japan?" My response, Luigi Death Stare!

I was beyond upset and I felt defeated. I quickly messaged my mom to send my old passport while I explained what had happened to my boyfriend who was in Okinawa on vacation. He calmed me and suggested we go somewhere to print my bank statements and unofficial transcripts. I searched google maps for an internet cafe, and I found one less than 5 minutes away. We needed to print out the paperwork before the counter closed at 11am. We paid for an hour at the cafe, and I logged into the my bank and college accounts while my boyfriend freaked over the concept on an internet cafe. Psh, Gamers. I printed out 6 months worth of bank statements as well as my unofficial transcripts and made it back to the DMV before 11am.

The guy next to me was listening to Miley, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. Werk it!

There was another woman at the counter so I began to explain my situation, but I was interrupted by the previous woman who began to review my paperwork once more. She seemed slightly satisfied, but said she would need to take my paperwork into the back. After what seemed like forever, the nicer of the two women called my name and explained that with the new paperwork I brought, they were able to process my paperwork. I was asked to pay at a separate counter and come back on examination day.


  1. Thanks for posting about your experiences in Okinawa! I'm going to be an ALT with JET this August in Nago and your blog has been really informative of what to expect:)

    1. No problem and that's awesome! I hang out with the Nago JETs because they are fairly close, so I'll probably end up meeting you. It can be challenging at times, but as long as your stay positive and active, you'll have the best time!