Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Japanese License Renewal, a Comedy of Errors

I set out from the hotel at about 1pm, plenty of time to make it back to Tokyo via the winding mountain roads. The weather was a crisp 18 degrees, and the recent rain meant that countryside Japan was as green as it gets. To top off the 'normal' beauty of this day, I came across... Butterfly Mountain?

Pretty cool! The route I rode through Nozawa and Shiga Kogen was spectacular. I highly recommend it (the 292 and 502, for those keeping track). The day was winding down, and I descended into Kusatsu Onsen, the most famous onsen town in Japan. I had no plans to stop, so I just continued down the 292 towards Tokyo.

But then the 292 split into a pair of 292s, and I missed the one heading towards home. No problem, I busted a sneaky right onto an alley with hopes of making a shortcut back.

I turned onto a one way road.

With a cop on it.

Oops, my bad. I know the drill; license, gaijin card, big smile and some broken Japanese. At the worst it's a 6000 yen ticket.

Scratch that, at worst, your license expired 2 months ago.

Yeah... so that happened.

The cops were actually kind of cool about it. In Japan your first license will expire after 3 years. I think I thought that it was 5, but honestly the only time I've looked at my driver's license was to show people what I look like with a skeazy goatee. After a few hours of paperwork, the cops said I could leave the bike there (Kusatsu is about 3 hours drive from Tokyo, 5 if you take a bus). They also tore up the wrong way ticket. Thanks bro!

The police station was right across the street from the bus terminal, and every 2 hours there is an express to Shinjuku. Convenient! That's what the cop said as he walked me over to the station. 'In fact, there goes one now'.

That would be the the 5pm bus passing us. That would also be the last bus to Tokyo for the day.

I thought about hitching, but the minute I made my sign, the sky opened up and it started pouring rain.

Which meant that the only option I had was to wait around until 6:40, take a bus to some crazy countryside train station, then take local trains all the way home. It's not that bad, just long, and I finally got back home after midnight.

My bike is siting in the police parking lot, a few hundred kilometers away.

How to Renew a License in Japan

Easy! Apparently I should have received a letter in the mail reminding me about the renewal. But even if you didn't get that, just go to the local driving center. No appointment needed.

All I brought was my gaijin card and my expired license. And cash.

You will spend the first hour running around to windows. Eye check, pay them, take a photo for the application, take another photo for the license, pay some more, then head up to the classroom. Now get ready for the fun! A 2 hour lecture. It was some guy just talking about how seatbelts are good, and drunk driving is bad. There is a test, with 30 something yes/no questions. But no one checks your answers. Feel free to play Angry Birds the whole time. Also a video with some comically bad acting. Then they interview a mom whose son was killed by a driver. Then you are done. Go get your license, it's waiting for you.

By the way, it cost me 5800 yen, which is 200 yen less than the ticket that the police tore up. So... I made money! Right?


Ming said...

I should have read your blogs more....seems like this type of weird "adventure" is pretty normal in your life. So does this mean that your opinion of cops in Japan has somewhat improved??

And butterfly mountain was cool.

dui lawyer san diego said...

Wow, I would have thought that the Japanese are very strict and serious at what they do. Looks like they know how to relax and have fun right after all.