Probably one of the most stressful parts of moving Japan is getting your drivers license. Ask anyone here. Shopping, managing the trains, even getting around not knowing a bit of Japanese all pales in comparison to getting your license.
Getting your license is a long process. First you will spend about 3 hours at the DMV doing paperwork and taking a written test. If you pass, you will then come back about 3- 4 weeks later to take the driving test. If you pass you the driving test, you will get your license that day. If you fail, it's back in another 3-4 weeks to retake the driving test.
For the driving test you will be assigned one of two courses at random. You will use a car supplied by the DMV. The instructor will give you instructions only in Japanese and they will score you as you drive. It really doesn't matter how good of a driver you are. Rather how well you play their "game".
Almost 85 percent of people will fail on their first attempt. The test consists of lots of "rules", such as bikes checks, signal turns, using your mirrors, and hugging the left side of the road. You have to do an S-curve and a L-curve, both of which can almost result in an automatic failure. You have to really over emphasize looking both ways and behind you. You have to wear certain shoes and have "recommended" clothing.
All that is a pain, and even more so it takes almost SEVEN hours to complete. You start out by having to register 2 hours before you really do anything. You have the chance to eat in the cafeteria and to watch videos, all in Japanese of course. After that you have the chance to walk your course for almost an hour. And no matter how hot or cold it is outside, you must walk it because the instructors are taking notice of who walks and how many times. Then it is time to drive. You are broken into groups and take turns doing the driving test. This take another 1 - 1.5 hours. This is the stressful part.
Today Matt went first in our group and I was to go next. I had the option to ride along in the back, and I opted to go just so I could see how the test was done. Other than a few jerks at the brakes Matt passed with flying colors. The first to pass on a day, let alone the first to pass on their first try is very rare. When the instructor told our translator that Matt passed I figured I was screwed. I knew passing the first time was rare and two people of the same family passing was really rare -- especially with us gaijins.
I really was worried as I started driving as I forgot to adjust the back of my seat and I looked like I was cruising down the road listening to Snoop Doggy's "Gin & Juice". I could not see the front end of my car and I was sweating bullets during the S and L curves. To my utter surprise, I passed as well. I. Passed. The. First. Time. I didn't even do that in the States (okay to my defense I passed the road test, just not the parking portion)
In the end, our group of 16 had only 3 people, including us, pass. The other person with us passed on his 3rd try. We continued to sit and wait to receive our license. They liked to tease us by making us pay then having us sit. Proofing our names on some card then sitting some more. Taking our pictures and then sitting even more. Finally at 4:20 we received our license.
Our translator assured us that we will never have to take this test again. Even if we were to come back to live in Japan 15 years from now. Thank goodness because I don't think I like to play these reindeer games anymore.