Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Driving in Tokyo, and sitting through a driving refresher course every three years


Last week, over lunch at the Tokyo American Club, living a Travelife, I mentioned to my friend Y how pleasant it was to live in Tokyo and to drive around Tokyo, after being away for so long.

What a nice surprise this was, that there was virtually no traffic in the centre of Tokyo, so that I could drive around town and actually time my appointments down to the minute.

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What a wonderful and welcome contrast this was, too, compared to the city I usually now call home.

In this city, traffic has clogged almost every artery, and with no relief in sight.

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MOVING BACK TO TOKYO?

"It's so nice," I said to Y. "Maybe I should move back here."

Y said to me: "Tokyo is so nice right now because everyone is away."

What she meant is that many people living in central Tokyo are away for the summer. The expatriate families were all on holiday, while lots of Tokyo residents were spending August in their summer homes somewhere in Japan or somewhere in the world.



WHAT A DIFFERENCE A WEEK MAKES

And, just as she said, there was a noticeable difference in traffic conditions this week. It took me 15 minutes longer, for instance, to drive across town.

Nevertheless, traffic in central Tokyo is still a piece of cake.

Tokyo is one of the biggest, busiest and most heavily populated cities in the world, but living in the centre of town is surprisingly civilised for a place teeming with people and activity.

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TRAVELIFE WITH US

MOROCCO



WHAT A DIFFERENCE GOOD DRIVING HABITS MAKE

One of the main reasons for this is the driving habits of Tokyo residents. Everyone follows the rules and there are so few infractions, resulting in way less accidents and hindrances.

Why can't good driving happen more in other traffic-infested cities, you might be asking.

The answer is pretty simple, although it's a big pain in the neck for people like me who drive with a Japanese license.




RENEWING A LICENSE
IS LIKE GOING TO SCHOOL

Every three years, you see, every single holder of a Japanese driving license must troop to the nearest testing center and sit through a refresher course on driving and traffic regulations.

There's no exception and it doesn't matter who you are or what you do -- you are required to sit through this three-house course if you wish to renew your license.


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As you can imagine, I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do this, at my first renewal. It was like pulling teeth.

The testing centre is in the middle of nowhere and you lose a good part of a busy day just to attend this course. Plus, there is no great restaurant nearby for a good lunch to soften the impact.

TOUGH LUCK FOR SOME GUYS.
VIBER ISN'T ALLOWED HERE.



And just in case you think you can sit in the classroom and Viber all your friends on your mobile phone while the lecture is going on, you're dreaming.

This lecture is worse than school.

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TRAVELIFE WITH US

SOUTH AFRICA


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Lecturers are incredibly strict about anyone doing anything other than sitting straight up and listening to the lecture. You cannot take out your phone or something to read.

In fact, you can't take out anything -- if you do, you're sent out.

No doodling on a scrap of paper or doing things like sorting out the stuff in your wallet, either.

EXCUSES DON'T WORK AT ALL



You might think, too, of getting out midway with a tummy ache or a migraine as an excuse. Of course you can do this.

However, you're not getting your renewal done until you actually are able to sit through the whole lecture without missing a minute.

The result is that 100% of the population driving with a Japanese license knows the rules of the road by heart.

ROAD COURTESY IS THE RAGE.
RATHER THAN ROAD RAGE.



No one cuts a lane and everyone generally observes road signs. Most people are polite drivers and you can go the whole day on the road without hearing a single horn being tooted.

This certainly makes for a very pleasant drive in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

More on driving in Japan, and its Big Brother system for drunken driving, in my next blog entry.... 

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