Renewing Your Japanese Driver’s License – A DMV Trip That Actually Works Well
Think about this statement: “I’ve gotta go down to the DMV to renew my driver’s license.”
What comes to mind?
• Clear the afternoon, you’re going to be there a while.
• Lines of disgruntled citizens, interrupted day, lost productivity.
• And smart-assed public employees that care more about gossiping what happened to their neighbor’s cousin’s cat’s brother than truly being a public service?
In my continuing effort to highlight the positive aspects of living in Japan, today I bring you a recent visit to the DMV.
When it comes to bureaucracy, Japan has it down. Sure, the system is huge and is possible of crushing you (“the nail that stands up is hammered down”) but when everything is in order, it moves like a well-oiled machine.
The typical visit to the DMV to renew a license takes around 8 steps, after the last of which is leaving the place with a smile on your face and a license still warm from the printer.
You enter the front door and immediately visit the reception stand. The worker there directs you to the window appropriate for your purpose.
Window 2: You get the “intent to renew” form and fill it out at a little standing desk, appointed with all sorts of useful amenities, including a calendar, pens, and a little pad to write on so your handwriting look neat and tidy.
Window 3: You submit your form. The eager employee checks it over, makes a few marks, hands it back to you and directs you to the payment window.
Window 4: You pay for a little revenue stamp. The revenue stamp looks like a postage stamp, but face values vary. I’ve purchased revenue stamps costing as much as 6000 yen. I need to look in to it, but I suspect the revenue stamp system has at its core the notion to eliminate possible corruption. But that is a story for another time.
After you get your revenue stamp, you are directed over to the window to submit the form, having officially paid for your Japanese driver’s license renewal.
Window 5: You hand over your form with the newly pasted stamp on it. The revenue window directs you over to the eye-test station.
Window 6: After verifying you can see the little circles with openings to the left, right, up, or down, you are directed over to the photo booth for your portrait (Window 7).
After Window 7, you get to experience the real joy of renewing your license: “The” Video.
In Japan, every time you renew your license, you have to receive some lecture time. If you haven’t had any violations, you get the short refresher which takes about 30 minutes a 20 minute video and a 10 minute lecture session. God forbid you have actually gotten a ticket because in that case, you’ll get the long version, an hour plus.
You’re Not Getting Out Early
Even if your lecture finishes, and the video ends, if you’re meant to be in the room for 30 minutes, you’ll be there for 30 minutes, even if you have to sit quietly at your desk for 10. There seems to be a strange preoccupation with the exactness of time here.
Thought it seems a nuisance, you would actually just have to wait for your license to be printed sitting down in the waiting area anyway, so why not… If you’ve been a good driver, or at least good at not getting caught being a bad one, your license will be ready just as you are finishing your video and you’ll be on your way out as soon as they call your name to pick up your ticket to roadway freedom. So take the quiet time as a chance to catch up on your breathing meditation.
And if all goes well – you’ve had no violations during your blue period – you’ll get the golden license – your ticket to 5 years of not having to visit the DMV to renew. Otherwise, you’ll get the blue and have to come back in three years.
All told, you could be in and out within an hour, but not because you are standing in lines full of frustrated people and inept public servants. Of course, if it’s a busy day at the DMV, it could take longer.
Here’s a primer for the three levels of Japanese driver’s licenses:
Green – Must renew in 2 years – green, an appropriate color new drivers
Blue – Must renew in 3 years – You’ve had your green for 2 years,
Gold – Must renew in 5 years – you successfully made it past with a blue license without any violations. Congratulations. You’re the cream of the crop, baby.
Many people in Japan have driver’s license but don’t actually drive… They are called “paper drivers.” It’s another example of the many that people pass a test but never actually apply the skill or education they received the test for…
All in all, renewing your driver’s license in Japan is a very low stress event… The most stressful thing might be having to fill out the forms in Japanese… if you’re rusty at the language as I am.
The real challenge is getting the damned thing in the first place, but that, too is a story for another time.