Driving schools try to stay pertinent, even by pampering

by Satoshi Toi

Kyodo News

Driving schools, confronted with a falling birthrate and fewer young people seeking to get behind the wheel, are pulling out all the stops to attract customers, including manicuring services for women and free day care centers.

A woman wearing a “yukata” summer kimono greets customers in the lobby of the Musashi-Sakai Driving School in the Tokyo suburb of Musashino. One of the most popular schools in the metropolis, it turns 50 next year.

A young female teacher wearing a Hawaiian shirt escorts each student to a vehicle. Those who tire of driving are led to a massage room.

As well as manicures, the school offers a British-style reflexology massage service and color therapy. Each costs ¥100.

The school’s day care facility offers consultations on child-rearing and a VIP room provides hotel-like services.

There is even a counter for customers to inquire about buying a car after passing the course.

“Our priority is to provide customers with thorough services,” said Aki Takahashi, president of the school. “In a good sense, we are betraying their expectations.”

The Masuda Driving School in Masuda, Shimane Prefecture, which chiefly provides lessons to students staying at its accommodation facilities, has been achieving satisfactory results with an “education of the mind” program in addition to driving lessons.

On a site covering about 250,000 sq. meters, there are nine accommodation facilities and a driving course. The school, popularly known as M Land, also has a cafe, a convenience store and a golf practice range.

Customers are told to make the usual greetings upon entering the school. The spirit of give and take necessary for driving is born out of greetings, school officials advise.

To live in M Land, quasi-currency M Money is needed, which is paid to students for helping to clean the lavatories and the training cars. It can also be exchanged with yen.

More than 6,000 students pass the driving course yearly. They come from all parts of the country, learning about the school by word of mouth.

Driving schools surged during the era of high economic growth and motorization. Then around 1990 the market started to ease, resulting in a glut of driving schools.

According to the National Police Agency, 2.64 million people graduated from designated driving schools across the country in 1988, but the number has been falling ever since and sank to 1.62 million in 2008.