Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Back to BLUE

I kind of figured this was going to happen, but not quite like this.

Today was the day I went in to get my Japanese driver's license renewed. This is an ordeal I go through every five years. It's not particularly painful, but it does involve a bit of low-key hassle. When I get my Oregon driver's license renewed, all I usually have to do is fill out a form, answer some questions, do an eye test, have my picture taken, and pay a fee. The Japanese license is the same, but they also add a one-hour traffic safety lecture (which they say is going to cost extra from later this year). Again, it's not painful, but it is a bit of a hassle.

This time I went in with some trepidation. That bizarre and oh-so-aggravating yellow line incident in Tokyo a few weeks ago has still been very much in my thoughts. The officer that gave me the ticket told me not to worry, insisting it would all be over once I paid the fine. I had a nasty feeling that things wouldn't be quite so simple. I've had other people tell me that when a policeman says something like that, he means that the infraction will be stricken from your record if it stays otherwise clean for a period of a few months. I didn't have that luxury. Still, during the questioning, there was never any word of any infractions on my part. I held out some small hope that the officer in Tokyo had told the truth.

Before we went into the lecture, each of the license renewal applicants was asked to create an ID number code. Then we were seated in the little classroom, and the instructor gave us her spiel. She mainly outlined recent changes to the traffic laws (i.e. new and improved opportunities for the government to get money from the hapless and the ignorant). Then we were given a garden variety traffic safety video to watch. When it was all over, we were told that our licenses would be placed in envelopes with our respective ID number codes and left in a rack by the door so we could pick them up on our way out.

When we left the classroom, we found instead that the officer who had questioned us was in the lobby handing out the licenses individually. I was the last out of the room (because I paused behind a disabled man just in case he needed help). When I came into the lobby, I noticed that there was a group of police offers milling about behind the one that was handing out the licenses. I came over to get mine, and immediately the group of officers converged, looking at me with expectant (predatory?) grins. My name was called in a somewhat patronizing-sounding tone of voice, and my license was handed to me without so much as a glance in my direction. When I looked at my new license, however, the group of officers immediately erupted into laughter.

My new license is BLUE. No, that's NOT a good thing. The one I had before was GOLD, i.e. no incident for at least ten years. A gold license is a very good thing to have. It carries weight. It reduces the cost of your car insurance. It (usually) makes policemen more willing to listen to your side of the story. Now I'm back to blue as in basic. As in right back to square one. As in it'll take at least ten years to get my insurance rates back down.

If my friends are right, this wouldn't have happened if my renewal had come up in two more months. And all this because I failed to notice and understand a puzzling and seemingly meaningless yellow line that hadn't been there before and changed lanes with no traffic around me whatsoever. And two cops just happened to be stationed there. Yes, I was given the standard , "No matter what, an infraction is an infraction," line during the lecture. I also got doused with the term "traffic safety" till I was about ready to puke a yellow line of my own onto the ground. Still, while real crimes with real victims continue to go unpunished if not simply ignored by the police while they tear aggressively into the enforcement of laws that are widely unknown and barely make sense, it's hard to take any of this seriously. And during the lecture we were warned that the next thing the police may start landing on is distance between cars. The space they specified seemed preposterous (double what I was taught in the US), and I don't see how they could enforce it objectively anyway. I'm all in favor of traffic safety and enforcement of laws, but when those are used as a pretense for pseudo-taxation or a plain money-making scam...


  • They obviously did this to you because you are a gaijin. I would sue.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 5:11 AM  

  • Dave
    And get laughed right out of the courtroom. Serious or not, trials rarely seem to go in a gaijin's favor here, even when it involves a blatant violation of a law written in the Constitution of Japan itself.

    "That store isn't discriminating against foreigners. It's simply protecting its legitimate business rights by banning a segment of the population that was obviously a source of trouble."

    (This really happened.)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:18 PM  

  • Wow, that is severe - and yet I can't help thinking that it would be a good thing to have in this country!

    By Blogger Rock Chef, at 2:19 AM  

  • Aww... so sorry to hear that, MM. To paraphrase Rock Chef, "it would be a good thing to have in this country" too.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 2:17 PM  

  • Then there was the 23 woman who recently drove 4 km home with the body of an 80 year old pedestrian embedded in her windshield. She said she "didn't know what to do". Now SHE needs a lecture and a license that says "STUPID".

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 5:15 PM  

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