I recently had the ordeal of renewing my Japanese driver’s licence. In fact, during the summer I actually had to renew my UK Driver’s licence too. Unlike Japan, the process is a lot more simple over there. You can actually do it online. I chose to renew mine at the post office, where they took my soon-to-expire licence, took a photo in a “special” booth, and recorded my electronic signature. After paying a fee and waiting a couple of weeks, my new licence arrived.
Here in Japan, the process is a lot more demanding. It can’t be done online, so you’re requested to go to your local Driving Licence Centre. Like any administrative procedure in Japan, there are a specific set of application times during the day. So if you miss the morning session, then you’ll have to wait until the lunchtime slot which can be 4 hours later. When you arrive, you hand in your licence and stand in a queue for 15 minutes. A bunch of paperwork is filled in, your photo is taken and then you proceed to wait for the next period of excitement ; a lecture given by a retired police officer.
For renewing first-timers, you face a two-hour lecture about road safety, traffic procedures and driving regulations. Those who’ve renewed before, only have to suffer for an hour. And those with “gold” licences (no traffic violations and accidents) take a 30 minute one. As expected the presentation is all in Japanese. Now, my Japanese is still a “work-in-progress” but I managed to understand the majority of what he was explaining. It helped that it was pretty much based on common sense, and that Japan’s driving laws are similar to those back in the UK.
The retiree explained about tackling roundabouts, a skill that I’ve no problem with. And the correct procedure to be used when breaking down on the expressways. There were a couple of videos showcasing bad driving, accidents and worst case scenarios. The rest of the “students” were in their early-to-mid twenties. None of us wanted to be there, and a few thought it was far too early to be listening to a lecture. Once completed, your paper is stamped, you can finally get your new licence and escape. The entire process takes around three to four hours, and isn’t something that I want to do anytime soon.