Monday, March 03, 2008


I had a nice chat with Leiya yesterday morning. Talking with her and her American family makes me think how different America and Japan really are. So much of what she tells me I have to say "What do you mean? I don't understand that system." Simple things like getting a drivers' license, applying for scholarships etc. She explains and I don't understand and she explains again.

Let's see if I can give an example.

Bessie suggested that maybe the summer might be a good time for Leiya to get a driver's license. Ok. From my point of view this is going to take a couple months and runs into lots of money. But yeah. It's about time to think about that. Leiya is 18 now. She'll be 19 in July. In Japan kids can get a license from 18 and they use the break between high school and college to go to driving school. But driving school is a very expensive business in Japan and I've heard that it is runs around $2000. The driving school has teachers and special cars and special courses to practice on. At the end of the course you can go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and take a test. If your are in your 30s this may cost you $3000. If you are in your 40s you can expect to pay about $4000. I don't know where this leads since I don't know any people who have gotten their license past age 40.

So as I talked with Bessie all this was running through my mind.
"Ok, yeah. We can use some savings for this. Should Leiya go to driving school in Ohio or in California? (she may visit California this summer.) I think the local community college gives driving lessons. She could register there and maybe be finished in two months."
As I was fumbling to make a comment to Bessie's suggestion she said,

"I think we could drive around with Leiya for a couple weeks in the neighborhood and then take her down to the DMV to get her license."
Again my head starts spinning.

"Oh that's right. Leiya may not have to go to driving school like in Japan. I could give her practice on the California roads this summer. But she'd need a driver's permit wouldn't she? I wonder how the California laws work."

In Japan you're not allowed out on the streets unless there is a licenced driving teacher beside you.

Bessie pipes up again,
"I don't think she needs a permit since she is already 18. That's only for the younger high school students. We might even be able to take her down to the DMV over spring break."

It is all so easy in the States.

I have a foreign friend here in the city who decided to bypass all the drivers school fees by just walking into the DMV and taking the road test. She figured she'd driven in the States the past 20 years, how bad a driver could she be? Hah! She was frustrated to tears. I think she took the test 6 times (over a six month period) and she'd get in the car, start the engine and the examiner would say,

"Ok. You failed. Try again next month."

"What! I haven't even released the break yet!"

It seems that there is a certain routine taught in driving school that you have to follow to get the examiner to even consider you. Something like: Get in the car. Put your seat belt on. Adjust the center mirror. Test the brakes. Look over your right shoulder. Hold the steering wheel with your thumbs pointing up, etc. etc. If you get one point of the routine out of place, that's it for you. Too bad. I can remember my friend practically crying and when she finally did get her Japanese license Tetsu's comment was,

"Wow! That's fantastic! She got her license after only 6 tries? I've never heard of that before. Unless you go to driving school I didn't think anyone had a possibility of getting a license at all!"

As for me, thirty years ago I went to the DMV and handed them my California drivers' license. The DMV kept it for two weeks, decided it was legitimate and gave it back to me along with a Japanese license. No test. No asking if I'd ever driven on the left-hand side of the road. No checking to see if I could recognize a Japanese stop sign or not. I shake my head now to think what a danger I was those first couple years of driving in Japan. The stricter system of today may be a pain but all in all I think it may be safer for everyone involved!

And for all the new drivers out on the road, there is a badge (about the size of a person's hand) that has to be visible to other drivers on the road to let them know you may be a hazard to the cars around you. It is called a young leaf mark!

And this is an autumn leaf badge that also should be displayed on the cars of older drivers, also to warn other drivers of your possible delayed reflexes!
I can't imagine either of these badges making a big hit in the States.


Leah S said...

You know what I find crazy about Japanese driving laws? That if you're deaf, you need to wear a hearing aid to pass the test. It doesn't matter if the hearing aids giving you a crazy whining sound and doesn't help you hear. You need to wear one. Then afterwards, you can take it off and never wear one again! :P

I am a little aware of some of the things that go on in Japan because quite a few deaf Japanese folks come over to USA, and I ran into several when I was taking my sign language classes in college.

It's a lot easier to train a dog to become a hearing dog and get all the proper licenses and paperwork in Japan than to self-train a dog for a deaf person in the USA. Just one of the things you can't help but shake your head about. :)

Shelina said...

Each state has their own laws. In Ohio, I think you have to have a permit to drive. You take a written test (multiple choice - pretty easy), and you have to practice driving with a licensed driver. There is a certain number of hours you must drive when you are younger, but nobody can prove that you did or didn't do those number of hours.
Then you take a driving test to get your driver's license. You can take a class (around $200) if you want. You can get your permit as young as (gasp) 15 1/2! The driving around part of the test is pretty easy, but you have to do maneuverability - which is parallel parking with cones instead of cars. I failed that part a couple of times, although most people manage that the first time around.

meggie said...

I was greatly amused to see the leaf system! What a great idea! Here the new drivers who get their first license have to use P plates for a year, then they change to another coloured P plate, before they are allowed to have their 'full' license.
There are a lot of older drivers around where we live, & some Autumn warning leaves would be perfect!!
Young ones have to be 17 here before they can get their license.

Sew Create It - Jane said...

We have red L plates (like a sticker for the front and back of the car) that are manditory when you are learning and you have to drive with someone that has held a full licence for 3 years. Then when you pass you can use a green P plate, but I never bothered as it makes you a target for people cutting you off. I had learnt and acquired my licence in Canada, but had to start over again when I moved to the UK as it had expired...I didn't have much road experience either...I'm glad I had to learn it all again as the way they drive in Britian is so different than in Canada..starting with being on the other side of the road and roundabouts!!

The Calico Cat said...

In Maryland, they have a magnet that you put on the cars of new drivers... (I think that it was/is a law - or just a good idea...) I forget what it said, it has been a while since I noticed one. I am not on the road when the teens are driving... :o)

& those leaves - not so different from the "baby on board" signs that were all the rage about 10 or so years ago. People went over board with those "Football fan on board, etc." some cars were a hazard form too many... I haven't seen one of those in while either...

The Calico Quilter said...

The retirees congregate here in the southeast U.S for the good weather. I thing the autumn leaves should be mandatory! And make them BIG and visible. (though I am mid-50's and it won't be long for me!) The interstate runs through the middle of town and you see local older drivers going 20 mph or more below the speed limit - terrifying. You can't change their driving but you could warn the rest of us from a distance. Now how about a marker for drivers who persistently use their cell phone while driving - my big peeve! They're more dangerous than inexperienced or older drivers.

Marilyn R said...

I took a Driver's Ed class when I was in High School. I look at 16 year old teen agers today and think that they aren't old enough or mature enough to get behind the wheel of a car. I am sure I was like that too, but I didn't think so then!

andsewitis Holly said...

Hi Tanya - I haven't commented in a while but I think of you often and do read every post you write. Life in Japan is so interesting from the handholding and kissing customs to the DMV requirements and the peek into the halls of a school. I half expected the school to have tetami mats (don't know why)! I think I've said before I love the size of your church. You've sure accomplished a lot of sewing. Pretty.

molly! said...

This post brings me back to the frustration I felt when I had to take my driving test in Japan as well. Coming from the States, it just seems so illogical how arbitrary their testing system is. Luckily, I passed on my second try. :)

Anonymous said...

This was very interesting to learn. If only the tags would work in the U.S. But there's too much anti-authority attitude to have that go over too well.

(oh, I stumbled across your blog when I was looking for hanten information. Hello!)

Kim ^^