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How to get your British driving license converted to a Japanese one

How to get your British driving license converted to a Japanese one:

1) Find the official Web page which tells you that you need to take your original license, passport, gaijin card and 3,000 yen to your nearest driving license examination center.
2) Decide that you'd probably better phone ahead to check, just in case.
3) Phone ahead, only to be told that in fact you also need a translation of your existing license courtesy of the Japan Automobile Federation. And no, they don't know where the nearest JAF counter is.
4) Phone the JAF, who tell you that their nearest branch is buried deep in the center of Tokyo, far from any significant population centre.
5) Go to the JAF office at 9am the next day and pay 3,000 yen (£16) to get "Expiry Date: April 2045" translated into Japanese.
6) Marvel at the fact that even in the austere offices of the Japan Automobile Federation, they insist on playing the kind of lame soft-rock dirge that Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the Top Gear crew would no doubt approve of.
7) The next day (because the driving license center is only open from 8:30 to 10:00am) go to the driving license center, which turns out to be a ten-storey behemoth building packed to the gills with distressed-looking people clutching unnecessarily complicated forms being directed from counter to counter in some kind of bizarre bureaucratic homage to Kafka's The Trial and the works of M.C. Escher.
8) Present all the above documents and feel very proud of yourself, for about five minutes.
9) Start to have doubts when the clerk begins to mutter to herself worriedly under her breath whilst thumbing your passport and, you are fairly certain, also starts sweating lightly.
10) Have the clerk talk solidly at you in frantic but ultra-polite (and therefore largely impenetrable) Japanese for five minutes.
11) Ask her to explain, simply, what the problem is.
12) Endure another five minutes of largely confusing monologue, despite frequent attempts to get her to stop using keigo (honorific language usually reserved for addressing 13th-century feudal lords and emperors).
13) Work out eventually, with the help of an intricately-devised timeline charting your movements into and out of Japan over the last four years, that there is problem because your passport was issued at the British Embassy in Tokyo in 1998 and you have only spent a total of 53 days in the UK since then. Apparently this is "not enough".
14) Learn that that they need to be able to prove that you have spent at least 90 days in the UK since the issuance of your driving license (in September 1993, i.e. nearly nine years ago) in order to be convinced that you are an experienced driver.
15) Remember that you still have your previous (now invalid) passport at home. Ask if bringing it tomorrow will be satisfactory.
16) Patiently endure another three-minute answer, which passes you by in a babbling daze until you recognise the final word: "kamoshiremasen", lit. "maybe".
17) Give up, thank the clerk profusely, go to work, get a friend to phone and confirm that they need your previous passport. Wince in sympathy as your friend is subjected to a high pitched, rapid-fire ten-minute explanation, with their initially faintly unbelieving look slowly becoming etched into a pained rictus as they wait for the woman on the other end of the line to pause for breath so they can hang up.
18) Console friend.
19) Confirm that they need to prove you have spent ninety days in the UK since 1993. Reason that this shouldn't be too difficult; they need only quiz you on your encyclopedic knowledge of The Fast Show in order to have their fears allayed.
20) Return the next morning with two passports, your UK driving license, a Japanese translation of the crucial "Expiry Date" clause, your Alien Registration Card, a 2.4x3cm photograph of yourself, 4200 yen and a timeline you yourself have helpfully sketched on the back of an envelope, precisely detailing every foreign trip you have taken since April 1995.
21) Endure sinking feeling as the clerk takes twenty minutes to decipher your timeline and passport before calling you over to the counter.
22) Start to massage your temples in disbelief as she explains that, since there is no exit stamp in your passport from your trip to the US over the summer of '95, nor a re-entry stamp to the UK for that trip, nor re-entry stamps for either of your week-long trips to Hungary in October 1996 and April 1997, that she is only willing to believe that you spent a total of 73 days in the UK between 1995 and 1998, namely the two and a half months between the issuance of your passport and the date of your first trip abroad on that passport.
23) Point out (to no avail) that UK immigration do not stamp your passport on re-entry to the UK if you are a UK citizen.
24) Point out (to no avail) that entering Hungary a second time necessitates leaving Hungary first.
25) Point out (to no avail) that having a Japanese work visa issued in London in November 1997 virtually guarantees your having spent three consective months in the UK prior to that, as the alternative would be spending more than four months in Hungary. The clerk will be unable to take on trust the awfulness of this hypothetical situation.
26) Breathe a sigh of relief as she agrees that she can combine the 73 UK days on your first passport with the 21, 17 and 5-day UK trips on your second passport for a grand total of 126 proven days in the UK since 1995.
27) Do a double-take as she issues you with the relevant paperwork, along with an extra piece of paper explaining that you are only being issued with a "biginners license" (sic.) because you cannot prove that you have spent 90 consecutive days in the UK since 1993. This, obviously, makes all the difference between your being an experienced driver or not.
28) Resist the temptation to regale the clerk with ribald tales of how you misspent your late-teen years bombing down Hertfordshire country lanes in a succession of high-powered family cars in a late attempt to impress upon her the depth of your driving experience.
28) Take the form from Counter 1 to Counter 0 (which you find, of course, located next to Counter 1) to pay the 4200 yen fee.
29) Take the form and receipt to Counter 7 for an eye examination which involves sticking your head up against a pair of goggles set into somthing resembling an automated Brighton Pier optical illusion peep show machine as envisaged by Terry Gilliam.
30) Move on to Counter 8 to take an oral test administered by a very bored-looking civil servant. Civil Servant: "Do you speak Japanese?" You: "Yes, a little" CS: "A little's all you need, son. Off you go."
31) Have the form stamped at Counter 9.
32) Have your photo taken at Counter 10.
33) Proceed to the fourth floor to collect your actual driving license. Marvel at the sheer number of middle-aged gentlemen waiting for licenses and speculate about how many are re-qualifying as a result of drink-driving or similar convictions.
34) Examine your numbered ticket carefully before proceeding to the collection desk. Decide that, seeing as the queue counter is on 504 and you have ticket number 63,014, you might as well come back later. Much later.
35) Come back later; collect license. Worry about where on earth you're going to find a set of Japanese provisional plates - but that's another story entirely...

Posted by chris at February 8, 2002 04:27 PM | Permalink


Came across this whilst looking how to do exactly the same thing.
how unfortunate it smacks so much of beaureacratic reality here in Japan - also beaureacracies elswhere - but it just totally reminds me of the anal retentiveness I have come to know and love on the Island !
; )

Posted by: Mark Oxley at July 26, 2006 05:53 PM

Thanks - it was fun to write, if not to actually experience. Yes, you gotsta love that Japanese bureaucratic mindset : )

Posted by: chris Jennings at July 26, 2006 07:11 PM

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