6 June 2012

Getting a Japanese Driving License: Misc

Posted by Roland under: JET .

(Note: The following is based on my experiences in Kumamoto prefecture, so if you’ve come here and aren’t going to be testing in Kumamoto, your experience with the license center in your area may vary. That being said, there is still much here that can be taken away for your own personal licensing adventure. Best of luck getting your license!)

Some random thoughts I have about the driving test:

- I ended up taking the test twice before I passed. That’s actually a relatively good number, as the average from what I gathered online is about three. There have been horror stories of people taking up to seven times to pass (and worse stories of people just giving up completely and driving without a license) but also those stories of people who have passed on their first time (which is more than you would expect). My first time I didn’t do any on-road preparation, only going with what I could get on the internet and from friends. I’m pretty sure I failed miserably because my proctor closed his testing notebook halfway during the test. My main problem was not getting close enough to the curbs for turns and taking my turns too wide (my left turns were especially too wide and far from the left curb).

Before my second time, I did two hours at a driving school with an instructor in the car and was able to get used to the pattern of safety checking/easing over before lane changing/turning. Once that became second nature it was only a matter of repeating the process on the testing course. I even had to take my second test during an especially rainy typhoon, where the only hiccup was the proctor reminding me to turn on the wipers before we left.

- Pretty sure there’s no foreigner bias. I didn’t expect any going in but I think the clearest sign of this was the fact that during my first test, I was grouped with a Japanese woman who had just returned from several years in America. For her, it was her fourth time taking the test. Either you can drive to pass the test or not, it doesn’t matter where you’re from.

- You’ll get to pick which car you want to test with, automatic or manual. Just note that driving in the automatic car means you’re only licensed to drive automatic cars.

- Bring a Japanese speaking friend if you aren’t comfortable with your ability. I didn’t find the Japanese to be so difficult and the staff was accomdating enough to explain things I didn’t understand but better safe than sorry. Most likely they will also let your friend ride along in the car too.

- Although the most likely scenario is you’ll be driving alone with your proctor with no other cars on the road, this does depend on how many people are signed up to test that day. For my first test, me and the aforementioned woman got in the car together, she went first so I could see how the course is driven (although it didn’t help me for my first test). Fortunately, she passed.

- Perhaps a more unlikely scenario which did happen for my second time, is that I had two proctors in my car with me. Not sure what purpose it served other than to add unnecessary stress, but only the one in the front seemed to be in charge of grading me.

- The major difficulty with this test is putting yourself in the mindset that you need to do all the safety checks while you’re driving when it’s pretty obvious you don’t. The best practice you can do correct this is to incorporate the checks in your day-to-day driving, even if you don’t need then either. It’s all about getting the pattern down so it’ll be second nature when you’re on the course and you don’t have to obsess over it to the point of distraction. I’d also recommend doing this for the lane changing technique, since you have to straddle the curb before you actually change lanes during the test.

- I read a lot of advice about narrating your every move or saying “hai” every time you check your mirrors/blind spots. At least in my testing experiences, both times the proctors said they really didn’t care if you say anything or not. When the aforementioned woman passed, she was relatively quiet. For my successful time, I was more talking to myself to make sure I got the checks down than being loud to emphasize to the proctor that I knew what I was doing. If anything, you should be obvious you’re doing your checks with head movement. In my opinion, it’s not that important to shout out everything you do, the driving should speak for itself. I can’t imagine it hurts, but being vocal is not something you’ll need to worry about when you test.

- Check if driving schools in your area will let you do a hour/two hour class to prepare for the test. Some schools will, some won’t. From my experience, one school in my area gave me free advice for the test but wouldn’t let me drive, while another let me set up an appointment to drive on their test course for a few hours with an instructor. Call around and see what you can find. Have your supervisor or a Japanese speaking friend do so for you if you aren’t comfortable.

- Bring your inkan (personal stamp). Don’t be the one person who passes the test only to realize they have to come back another day because they left their inkan at home.

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