My regular readers may recall that today was the next step in my attempts to get my license converted to a Japanese license. Practical driving test (実地) was the fare for the day. Two typhoons are skirting the coast right now, so I opted against riding my bike to the licensing center. Trudged down to the station for an early train to Nakagawa (中川) and another to Minami ga Oka (南ヶ丘). Apparently it was rush hour and I couldn’t sit on either train. I arrived 20 minutes early for my 8:30 appointment and waited patiently for the windows to open.
My papers were checked (for the third time) and I was told to arrive at stop number 3 outside for my 9:30 appointment. I utilized the time walking around the course (yes, this is permitted and encouraged.) I also poked around the motorcycle course a bit. A little after 9:30 an officer came out and lined seven of us up, putting me number 6 in the line-up. Once again, so much for appointment times. At first I was happy to be number 6, because I could watch the other drivers go around the course. When number 5 was driving, I sat in the back seat. Getting to see the course from the vehicle would help settle my nerves, or so I thought…
Number 5 liked to rest her left foot on the brake and, when requested to stop, would move both feet to the brake and stand on it. Seat belts are not required in the back seat in Japan; however, I had clicked into mine and it got tested a few times during her drive. The instructor kept telling her to get her left foot off the pedal, but her Japanese was weak. Finally, he was hitting and pulling her foot away and she still had trouble getting it. I was a little rattled when my turn came up.
They switched from the automatic transmission to a manual for me. I requested this because they will put a restriction on your license otherwise. I got dinged for a lot of little things, some of which had to do with differences in Japanese laws. For example, in America you should turn to the closest lane. In Japan the law requires that you turn all the way to the curb lane, which seems a little dangerous. I still managed to score 80 points with 70 required to pass, but a little dispute sank my chance.
One stop has a large green wall on either side of the street so, from the stop line you can’t see cross traffic. Naturally, the proper procedure is to stop at the line first, then slowly move forward to view traffic (stopping again if necessary), before proceeding with the turn. I stopped at the line, then as I proceeded forward the car jerked. I thought I had killed the engine with a bad shift; however, I immediately pushed the clutch and could hear the engine running. Looking left at the officer with a triumphant look on his face and a foot on the extra brake, I could predict what he would say next.
He insisted that I did not stop at the line which results in automatic failure. I realize now how much subjective nature is in the test, so they can fail anyone if they want. A Brazilian man who guides many fellow countrymen through the test told me you should wait at the stop line for 5 seconds to avoid any chance of being nicked. While I consider this ridiculous, rest assured I will be waiting a long time during my next test.
I lost points for not hugging the curb on a left turn and not being within 50 cm of the center line on a right turn. You are supposed to hug the boundaries to prevent bikes and motorcycles from getting through. This is actually contrary to practice where they hug the lines when stopped and cross into oncoming traffic when turning away from traffic.
In Japan the same words are used for winning and losing (勝つ・負ける katsu/makeru) as for passing and failing, but recently new verbs are frequently used (受かる・落ちる ukaru/ochiru). Ochiru literally means ‘to fall’, it is the intransitive form of Otosu, ‘to drop’. So, today my test fell. During our private consultation afterwards the officer was very nice and let me know that I should pass on my next time. That was encouraging, I hope I get him again and not some guy who thinks I need to fail twice to ‘properly appreciate’ how important Japanese driving is.
Since the officer was in a good mood I asked what the process was for converting my motorcycle endorsement. Readers may recall that two other officers flatly refused to inform me of the process until I had my standard license. Apparently, I will only have to take the practical test, but based on things so far, I can’t expect an appointment to be closer than a month after my next test. That means, testing in December; I hope it isn’t snowing.