Sunday, June 29, 2014

Getting a Japanese driver's license - Part III, passing the driving tests

Doing the right things or doing things right...
One of the first things that you need to mentally prepare yourself for when starting to drive at the school is that you will need to adapt to the Japanese way of training. For the theoretical lessons this does not matter much as the lessons are mostly one-way affairs with little interaction, and you can study as much or little as you like. As long as you pass the test you are fine. 

What I mean specifically with "the Japanese way of training" is that the Japanese generally put a much larger emphasis on getting the process right than the end results, especially in the beginning. When you start your lesson, every step of the process from the start of getting into the car to the actual driving will be decided and explained to you and if you do anything in any order other than the correct process (f.i. put on your seat belt before you lock the door etc.) you will hear it, and if it happens during one of the tests you will get points deducted. What is important to understand here is that you need to just suck it up and learn to do things in the exact order you are instructed, and keep doing it every time. Getting into an argument with the instructor as to why a tiny detail really does not matter will only frustrate you and the teacher. Their job is to teach you not only how to drive, but also, how to pass the driving test and the requirements of that test.

Be nice...
I think that this is common sense for most people, but I would recommend to always be polite to the instructors. If you find this difficult, pretend that they are policemen or any other person in authority you would behave in front of. The reason I mention it is that you can assume that the teachers will talk to each other about you, Japanese speaking foreigners are probably pretty rare, and getting a reputation as difficult will just make things more difficult for you. Also, keep in mind that at most schools, you will perform the tests supervised by the same teachers you have been training with...

Assuming you are something like me, your patience will be tested at times as the bulk of the Japanese students at the school will be university students who are not particularly mature, so the teaching style of the instructors is not generally aimed towards more mature and independent thinking people. Most of the teachers were friendly enough, but there were a few which were quite condescending at times. But I just sucked it up as making an issue out of it would lead to more problems for me than anything else. As it turned out, one of the teachers that I personally found more annoying and condescending was the one I had my final driving test under...

Passing the Test
The test at Level I is conducted inside the driving area of the school and is obviously quite basic. I cannot say that I have any specific advise to give here, except the above. The way the point system works was not completely clear to me, but you start out with a certain number of points and every mistake you make deducts points depending on the severity of the mistake. Serious mistakes such as driving on the wrong side etc. will immediately disqualify you. 

Similarly for the final Level II driving test, I have no particular advice. I started my driving test at a point some way from the school, were shown the route I was going to take and then observed as I drove. Thankfully the teacher provided instructions on when and where to turn so I did not have to think about the route. Similarly to the first test, some form of point system is at work here as well.

I am not sure if it is standard at other schools, but for my tests, another student was present in the backseat as an observer to make sure everything was done fair. Similarly, I was present during other students' tests, I just basically sat there and enjoyed the ride as nothing dramatic happened.

That is it for this time, coming up next: Hints and tips on resources for learning! If you have any questions, post it in the comments so other people can see if I bother to answer!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Getting a Japanese driver's license - Part II, passing the theoretical tests

(for the first part see here)

The Theoretical Test
Wow, that's smart!
To begin with, one thing that could be good to know from the beginning is that the Level I test is by far the hardest! The theory you learn in Level II I would estimate to be just ~20% or so compared to what you need to learn for the Level I test! Basically, if you pass the Level I test you can feel pretty confident that you are capable of passing the final test as well. 

The reason for this is quite easy. In the Level I classes they stuff you full with as much information on the hardcore rules and regulations of the road as possible so you can get the conditional license and drive out in the real world. For Level II, sure, there are plenty of details and rules that you will need to remember in case they show up on the final exam, but not like in Level I where they need to stuff you full with information to let you drive out on the roads without killing anyone (including yourself). 

Level II also includes useful practical information such as first aid, regular car maintenance and stuff which is good to know.

For all the theoretical tests you need to pass 90% of the questions. In Level I there are 50 text question allowing you to get 5/50 wrong and still pass but any more than that and you're out of the game. Time was not an issue for me, but for those more methodical (read slower) I think it was around an hour for both tests.

All the questions in both Level I and Level II are in the form of statements and answered with "False" or "Correct" with no need to write any explanations or have any writing ability in Japanese. A sample question could be something like "It is permissible to park at an steep uphill slope but not allowed on a steep downward slope". 

For Level II (final exam) there are 90 text questions at 1 point each and 5 illustrated questions asking you how to behave in certain situation based on an illustration and written explanation. Each of these questions contain 3 sub-questions which you all need to get right to get 2 points (2/3 for an illustrated question gives 0). In total, you need to get 90 points our of 100 to pass.

For the Level I test, the school I took it in could give me the score, not that I cared that much as I was relieved just to pass it (46/50!). For the final Level II test at the license center I did not see the actual results, just that I had passed.

How to Study for the Tests
This is really individual as people learn in different ways, but basically what worked for me was 1) Listening quite attentively to the lectures and 2) Doing tons of practice questions.

I basically did not open the book after the lectures more than to check-up on a particular question that I needed to find out the why's and how's around. In hindsight, I would have purchased an English instruction book to supplement the Japanese one as reading Japanese takes quite a bit more concentration for me compared to reading English. But at the time I did my tests I was not aware of any English books. But fear not, in the next post I will point you in the right direction where to find the stuff.

In the end, what worked for me was doing practice questions again and again, looking up the answer to all the questions that I got wrong and step by step build up the necessary knowledge for passing the test. Having the lectures relatively fresh in the head also help quite a bit.

How to Pass
This is quite simple. Do the practice questions, do plenty of them and when you think you are starting to get ready, do a few complete tests (i.e. 50 questions for Level 1 and 100 questions for Level II) without looking up the answers until you finished the full test. If you manage to get ~95% correct answers I would say you have a fair chance at passing. If you are struggling between 80-90% you can always try, but chances are that you fail. 

Remember that the official tests are fresh from the authorities and might differ slightly from the test questions, so safest to make sure you can pass with some margin.

I passed both tests on the first try, but have the feeling that I got lucky on the Final test as there were quite a few "new" questions that I never had seen before. But if you have done your practice questions you should feel pretty confident.

That is it for this time, coming up next: Tips for passing the driving tests! If you have any questions, post it in the comments so other people can see if I bother to answer!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Getting a Japanese driver's license

Only if you got a license!
Work and managing the offspring has taken a lot of energy away from my blogging again despite my intention to somewhat revive the blog. In any case, I will keep it going with low maintenance.

This time I actually thought to post about something that might not be particularly funny, but could be helpful for some people as the information out there is sparse to begin with: how to get a Japanese driver's license. 

As you probably have figured out, I recently got my Japanese driver's license. How to get a driver's license here in Japan differ a bit depending on whether you already have a foreign license or if you are starting from scratch. If you already have a foreign license and are trying to figure out how to get a Japanese license this post won't be much help. But if you happen to be in a similar situation as me it could perhaps be helpful: A) No previous driver's license or driving experience B) Good Japanese ability (hearing and reading).

In my particular case I have spent my life mostly in larger cities with good infrastructure and no real need for a car or driver's license. Living in central Tokyo, a car might be more of a hassle and cost than actually helpful. However, since the Salaryman family moved out to the suburbs and started to grow in size the convenience of having a driver's license combined with the fact that Mrs. Sunshine does not particularly like to drive gradually pressured me into getting a driver's license.

Finding a School
The first thing you need to do is find yourself a mighty fine driving school to enroll in. The cost might vary depending on the program you select, but should be a little above or below 250,000 JPY for a standard plan. There probably will be a number of plans available depending on speed, flexibility etc., but I picked a standard plan in which I could take the lessons at my own convenience and pace.

In my case it worked relatively well as my current job gives me quite a lot of freedom, but taking a driver's license while working as a regular Salaryman might be next to impossible to do unless you are ready to dedicate all your weekends over several months to driving school. The school I picked was located relatively close to the Salaryman family base camp and offered convenient bus pick-up services. If you are not confident enough in your Japanese abilities to take the lessons in Japanese I can't really help you much. I know that there are a few schools in central Tokyo that offer English classes, but to me that was not even an option as it would be too time consuming to add a commute to the time I needed to dedicate to the lessons. It probably is more expensive as well, in any case I do not really know.

Getting Schooled
The path to the driver's license here in Japan is divided into two parts, conveniently titled Level 1 and Level 2 (第一・二段階). Each part consists of ~15 hours of theoretical lessons and ~15 hours of driving lessons, if I remember it correctly there is a little more driving in level 2 compared to level 1.

Passing level 1 gives you a conditional driver's license which lets you out on the streets to practice driving on real roads so the first part is much more focused on traffic rules etc. (more on that later).

Handling it Theoretically
The theory lessons could be taken in any order (basically) and my school had all the lessons rotating throughout the week at different times of the day so you had at least 1-2 chances each week to get the one I wanted to take. As I have little free time to waste at the school, I generally tried to take as many classes as possible in one visit and could often time in 2-3 theory lessons each time I went to the school. It got a bit harder as I was finishing up most of the theory classes as I often found myself having to go to the school to pick up a "stray" lesson at slightly inconvenient times.

The theory lessons were actually quite good, at least at the school I went to, the teachers obviously knew the routine of doing the lectures and pointed out the things that were essential to remember for the tests. If you can follow the news on Japanese TV your level should be enough to follow the classes, obviously there is a lot of new lingo you have to learn but that is also true for most of the Japanese students as well.

Driving lessons
The driving lessons were quite straightforward with the Level 1 lessons taking place in the school driving course (or whatever it's called, you know what I mean). The focus is on the basics of driving. After you have passed the Level 1 exams you get the conditional driver's license and the lessons mostly move out to the real streets together with the instructor. Again, nothing particular to mention here as the focus is very much as you can imagine.
...course like this (random school)

For the actual driving lessons you will need a certain level of command of Japanese, but it could be much lower than for the theoretical lessons as the instructor can "dumb it down" as you would be the only person he/she needs to make understand. 

Bring on the Tests!
My school had quite an annoying amount of tests and I am unsure on whether other schools do it the same way or not. In any case I had to through the following test:

Level 1
1. Level 1 theoretical qualification test - A test done alone on the computer without strict supervision to see if I was up to the level that I had a chance to pass the real test, passing this allowed me to take the formal test
2. Driving test - Relatively simple driving test, cannot for the life of me remember any details, but the basics
3. Formal Level 1 theoretical test - Done a bit more formally as the results need to be reported to the local authorities, only allowed to take by those who passed both previous tests (driving tests were done before lunch, the theoretical in the afternoon)

...after passing the above tests I got the conditional driver's license. Then it's back again doing theoretical and practical lessons until that is finished up and you can again do the tests:
Just like me!

Level 2
4. Level 2 theoretical qualification test - Again, the same as the one for level 1, basically a filter to see that you are ready to take the real test
5. Driving test - Again a driving test out on the real roads, nothing too exciting, driving from point A to B doing things the right way while following the route the instructor points out
6. "Are you really OK?!" Test - I think this test was unique for my school, but this was the most annoying test of all, after passing the driving test we were given a random theoretical test to do, if you passed it was great but if you failed, you had to stay and study a few hours more, did not matter in any case since it was not a formal test
7. REAL Theoretical Test - With the graduation document and conditional driver's license in hand I could take the real test at the prefecture site, very formal and strict supervision, after passing this I got the real actual license
8. Random Testing - This did not happen to me, but apparently sometimes people are picked out to do a driver's test again at the site to check that the level of skill really is adequate, as far as I understand it this would not impact getting the actual license, but is done to measure the level of the schools. It did not happen to me in any case so seems rare

That is it for this time, coming up next: Tips for passing the tests! If you have any questions, post it in the comments so other people can see if I bother to answer!

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