It’s official I can continue to legally drive in Japan. Wait a minute, didn’t I buy a car way back in April, and I’m just now getting a driver’s license. D) all of the above. Until now I have been driving with an international driver’s license, but that is only good for the first year you live in Japan. After a year you have to get certified to drive by the Japanese government.

No big deal right? I’ve been driving in the states for 8 years, and Japan for 4 months. (no comments please on my early driving record) This should be easy right? Wrong. The Japanese driving test is crazy difficult. The average is 2.34 times, I’ve heard of people taking the test more than 10 times, and those who pass on the first try are legends.

At first the test seems straight forward, drive the course and don’t make any mistakes. Why is the test so difficult? Some people say that it is rigged, they want people to fail. They want people to pay money, they don’t want foreigners to get a license easily… etc. I don’t know the reasons, but the test is very specific as one JET explains: ” the practical test is not so much a test of your driving ability as it is a test of your ability to navigate a set course in the proper manner” To start things out it is intimidating to drive the course, although I had a map to study beforehand it is completely different when actually driving the course.

Then there’s the reasons to fail:
Didn’t check under the car: FAIL
Didn’t adjust the seat even if it was just right: FAIL
Didn’t adjust the mirrors: FAIL
Wore sandals: FAIL
Wore shorts: FAIL
Stopped at the crosswalk instead of slowing down: FAIL
Didn’t pull the car over close enough to the left side before turning: FAIL
Took the turn too wide (more than 70 cm away from the curb): FAIL
Didn’t check over your shoulder for cars that aren’t coming: FAIL
Stop for less than 5 seconds at the stop sign: FAIL
Hit the curb: FAIL
Drive less than 1 meter away from the “obstacle”: FAIL
Easing onto the brakes instead of pumping the breaks: FAIL
Grabbing the steering wheel from the inside instead of the outside: FAIL
Not speeding up enough on the straightaway: FAIL
Park at the wrong post: FAIL
Left tires not on the white line: FAIL

Here’s some more stories of failure:
“I pulled too far forward, well past the pole and that’s why I failed. The examiner never told me where to park, and didn’t let me try again”

“The examiner said I did everything perfect except  I forgot to check over my shoulder once out of twelve turns. That’s why I failed.”

“I failed once for not bending down low enough when checking under the car.”

Clearly I was nervous to take the test after hearing stories like these.

The number of mistakes you are allowed to makes depends on the prefecture and test examiner. I have friends that have passed on the first try, I didn’t pass until test number 3. The guy that I took the test with was on test number 8. I failed my first two test for not staying close enough to the left sides. I was lucky enough to find explanations online for what the evaluators were looking for, without those I would probably be taking the test at least 8 times. But for me, it was only 3. I’m average. I’m licensed, and really that’s all that matters. The Japanese road system is mine to explore.


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