Monday, May 21, 2007

A day in the bureaucracy

Yesterday I became the first person in my family to hold a driver's licence from another country when I managed to exchange my Ontario-issued licence for a Japanese one. However every little accomplishment comes with a price. And in Japan that price is usually a day of your life and most shreds of patience. Japanese bureaucrats could teach a lesson in how to be help-empty to everyone short of the Indians. (If you have doubts about the bureaucratic nature of India, buy a train ticket in Bangalore heading to Hospet. Go on. We'll wait.)
There's a tendency with the Japanese bureaucracy to publish 4/5 of the information you need to get what you want. There seems to always be a hidden thing that they want that you don't have that no-one anywhere knows you need.
I ended up at the Osaka Licence Testing Centre yesterday with a British compatriot to exchange our home licences for Japanese. The fun begins.
We went to window 6, remember this number it will be important. The first thing was to be given, in a very unencumbered by human interaction sort of way, half-translated forms asking us for the history of our driving licences including the names of driving schools and date of issue. Filling these out was fun, in an unencumbered by fun sort of way. Part of the uplifting of my spirits was asking the issue and expiry date of my current licence which they still had behind the counter. Interesting challenge.
We went back to Window 6 and presented our application forms, endured a slight rebuke  for not completing the forms exactly. Great. Then the fun.
You see, DA, my compatriot here, has a British Driving Licence issued by the DVLA. It consists of a single card with his picture on it and lists the types of vehicle he's licenced. He did not have, however, a copy of his Compliment Licence, a piece of paper outlining the same material and is of dubious existence. Not having a copy of it anywhere, not owning one, not sure it's a real piece of paper, DA was at a bit of a loss about what to do next. My papers were accepted.
But there was the lunch break. So I was left wandering about the wilderness of eastern Osaka until about 1400h.
And then it was back to window 6.
There was a problem that I couldn't prove I'd been in Canada. My licence was issued when I was back in Canada in March. I was in the UK before that. And according to my passport I may have been in the US since 2004; I say that because I entered to go to a conference in Sept 2004, but they don't stamp you out of the country. Eventually they accepted that I had been in Canada.
So they sent me back to the waiting area for 4 minutes to wait for no reason, and then to window 3 to get an eye test. For most of you there's no linguistic crisis associated with an eye test but when I'm looking at the little 'c' mark in the viewer I'm hoping not to accidentally say 'migi' when I mean 'hidari.' Or worse, 'aka' when I mean 'ki-iro.'
At the end of the test the eye test guy, two steps of activity below the level airport x-ray machine attendant, reminded me that I needed to wear glasses when I drive. I muttered that I need my glasses to make coffee so I can probably remember them when I drive.
I was sent back to the waiting area for 5 minutes ("for no reason") then back to Window 6. At Window 6 my eye test results were taken in and I was reminded about the glasses and driving. I commented that I probably couldn't find the car without them anyway, and was asked to go back to the waiting area and wait to be called for having my picture taken.
After about 10 minutes someone came by and brought me to another room where I was asked to sit and wait for 5 minutes until I would be brought to one of the 3 unoccupied photo-booths. It took one minute to take my picture and I shown back to my chair to wait until the licence card was ready. Upon receiving it I was reminded that I needed to wear glasses when driving. I commented that this was the first time I'd heard such a thing, but I would remember it.
I was shown back to the waiting room and asked to wait 5 minutes and I could go.
And that's how you spend the best part of a day of your life getting a drivers licence.

--  From: 	The Eternal Gaijin 	Lost Somewhere in Kobe, Japan 	"Words Cannot Describe What I Am About To Tell You."

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