Throwback Thursday: Originally written on July 1, 2014
Remember way back (way, way back) when I said that going from my International Driving Permit (IDP) to a Japanese licence would be “fairly painless” for me because I am Canadian?
In retrospect, that wasn’t entirely true!
IDPs are only valid for one year after the date of issue and mine was set to expire in mid-July 2014. Because I re-contracted to stay a second year and I wanted to continue driving, I had to “upgrade” from my IDP to a real Japanese licence.
In late May, I began to ask other Canadians in my prefecture about their experiences, but I had to wait until I had a day off on a weekday before I could actually start the process – just like back home, the DMV is only open during regular working hours. Unfortunately that day wasn’t until June 23! My supervisor called in advance to let them know I would be going in on that day, so I gathered all of my necessary documents – my IDP, my valid Canadian licence, an “official translation” of my Canadian licence done by the Japan Auto Federation, my residence card, a certificate from City Hall showing that I was indeed a resident, and my passport – and made the 60 minute drive to Akita City.
I arrived at the DMV just after 2pm, which is when I was told to arrive. I handed all of my documents to a lady at a window, then sat down while I waited for everything to be processed. After about 30 minutes, a man appeared and took me to a meeting room where we would have my “interview.”
I read the Akita JET Wiki in advance, so I was pretty well prepared for the questions I got during the interview (which was good because the interview was conducted entirely in Japanese)! He asked me various questions from when I got my licence, to what car I drove in Canada, to if I had confidence driving in Japan. Then the trouble started.
In order to convert your IDP to a Japanese licence, you must be able to prove that you lived in your home country for at least three months after getting your first driver’s licence. I got my Canadian licence in 2009, which means that I had been driving in Canada for four years before I moved to Japan. I assumed I would be safe.
To determine how long you lived in your home country, they examine your passport very, very closely. The man drew a timeline on a piece of paper and started filling in dates; April 2009, first licence… April 2013, passport issued… June 2014, travelled to the U.S.… August 4, 2013, entered Japan…
“You went from America to Japan, right?” He asked me in Japanese.
“Ah, no! From Canada. I came from Canada to Japan,” I replied.
“But there is no re-entry stamp into Canada from America,” he stated. And he was right. When I came back from the U.S. after my weekend trip with my mom, they didn’t stamp my passport.
I started apologizing and said, “I returned to Canada on June 30, 2013,” but he didn’t write this down on his timeline.
Instead, he started calculating dates then and said to me, “Now, you have two months and 10 days in Canada. If you did return from America to Canada on June 30, then you would have over three months and it would be OK. But we can’t prove that you returned to Canada,” at which point I started to panic. If I couldn’t pass the interview, I would have to take the dreaded driving test that is notoriously difficult – people usually have to take it three and four times before they can pass. (Canadians are usually exempt from taking the test because we have a special agreement with Japan.)
“But I had my licence since 2009! And I lived in Canada from then, too!” I pleaded.
“But you got this passport in 2013,” he stated.
“Yes, but I lived in Canada from the day I was born! I only have this one passport.”
He told me to wait while he ran into the office. He returned five minutes later and told me that I would need proof that I did indeed live in Canada in the form of a year-long record of employment from a previous job. I quickly agreed – eager to do anything to pass the interview and avoid the driving test! – and asked if by fax would be okay, to which he jumped out of his chair and ran to the back office again.
When he came back, he said to me, “We will take your word that you returned to Canada on June 30, which gives you three months and 14 days in your home country after getting your licence, so you pass.”
He finished asking me questions and filling out forms with my answers, then gave me an information slip. He told me that once everything was processed in about a week’s time, I would have to come back to take the driving test. I was a little confused and, afraid that I was misunderstanding his Japanese, I asked, “I will drive a car?”
“Yes,” he confirmed.
“But I’m from Canada. My Canadian friend said that I wouldn’t have to take a driving test…?”
So he ran out of his chair to the back office again and came back with a new form, apologizing. “Sorry, you’re right, no driving test. And no written test! Only an eye test. Please wait for my call, then bring a photo of yourself and 4,000yen to this window at this time.”
And I breathed a huge sigh of relief. At 4pm, Day 1 of getting my Japanese driver’s licence was finally over!
I got the call from the same man exactly one week after my interview. I arranged with my school to take a day of paid leave (nenkyuu) to go to Akita City for Day 2 on July 1st – Canada Day! I arrived as instructed at 8:30am and gave my documents to Window 50. Then I had to go to another window to pay. And then I was sent to another window to fill out a form… then sent back to a window to pay… then I took an eye test… And probably paid again… And after the eye test, I had to wait to get my picture taken at a certain time as printed on a ticket another window gave me. Finally, I just had to wait for my licence to be printed!
I spent two hours walking from window to window and waiting, but at the end of those two hours, I came away with a shiny, new, real Japanese licence! I had done it!! All by myself, all entirely in Japanese!!! A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. Happy Canada Day, indeed. :)