• Kawasaki, Kanagawa


I can only construe the process of changing over to a Japanese driver’s license from a foreign one in Kanagawa Prefecture as discriminatory. Holding a valid foreign driver’s license plus an international driver’s permit allows most people to drive legally in Japan when visiting this country. For foreigners moving to Japan, it also allows them to drive legally in Japan for the first three months.

Unless one lives in one of the 20 countries that have a driving treaty with Japan, a written and an actual driving test are usually required to get a Japanese driver’s license. Nothing unusual about that except, in Kanagawa Prefecture, this process turns into an unreasonable, arduous and expensive proposition.

The driving test is the most unreasonable — not the driving course itself, but the scoring. One is deducted points for not exaggeratedly looking left and right at every intersection, lane change and turn. Going slightly too fast in a slow zone or putting the vehicle’s wheels on a white “stop” line is a sure failure.

According to one Web site, nine of 10 people fail their first try on Kanagawa’s course, and most people take the test three or four times before passing. At a cost of at least ¥3,600 plus a half-day of “vacation,” it becomes a very expensive procedure. A one-hour training session with an instructor to go over the course costs ¥7,500. That takes up several hours on the weekend and still gives no assurance that one will pass.

My main complaint is that a person who was previously allowed to drive in Japan under an international permit is suddenly denied the right to drive because of a test whose scoring has no basis in reality. The time and money I expend getting the license do not necessarily make me a better driver. They do make me more jaded about living here.

I can guarantee that the newcomers exempt from the driving test because of their home countries’ treaty with Japan would be no more successful in passing Kanagawa’s test than the nine of 10 people who fail the test on the first try. Please withhold my name as I still don’t have my license.

name withheld by request

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