Learners Permit Written Test: Take One

True or False: When you close the door after you have seated a four-wheeled vehicle, stop pulling the door handle before closing the door tightly, then apply all your strength to close it.

This was one of the first questions I encountered when studying for my learners permit written test. Yes, it is badly translated and no, it does not actually have anything to do with traffic laws. It is just about how to shut your door. The question is apparently true. (Though using all your strength every time you close your car door seems a bit excessive.) With this in mind I had some idea of what I was in for.

The learners permit written test consists of 50 true or false questions and requires a score of 90% to pass. The questions are often trick questions utilizing the subtleties of ‘must’ and ‘may’ or completely irrelevant information. For example: It is permitted to display merchandise to be sold on the sidewalk, provided the sidewalk and the vehicular pavement are separated. (I still do not know if this is true or false.) The English test is, conveniently, translated by someone who has never studied English or its grammar.

Another gem from my study book: You have overtaken a car pulling off to the center of the road while switching on the right-hand blinker, by passing its left hand side.

I had a good bit of time off work for the holidays and decided to try to get my test out of the way so I would not have to take time off work to do it. My wife and I arrived at the licensing center and proceeded to the first line, and then the second. This was very easy because my wonderful wife had already filled everything out beforehand. The third line was for the fitness test, which consisted of waving your arms around and hopping on one foot (not even kidding), and the eye check. Finally the last line where I was given my ticket for the test.

I arrived in the testing room at 9:50, the time on the ticket, and took my seat.  At 10:00, the pair who would administer the test showed up and began giving instructions in Japanese. Now, I have no problem with the instructions being given in Japanese, I am in Japan after all, but I do not understand. So, I just followed what the others were doing got out my pencil, eraser and the test ticket.  They handed out the answer form and began 20 minutes of explaining what needed to be filled in. I was completely lost. Finally, one of the proctors realized I was not following and came and pointed to which numbers went where.

When the test began, I flew through the first 15 questions or so with no problem and no doubts, but then some poorly worded questions put me off my stride. I finished with only 3 minutes left before time was up and only had time to give a quick glance at the questions again before the tests were collected. A 10 minute speech about where to see our scores and we were off to wait an hour for the scores to be posted.

On 4 large screens the test ID numbers of those who pass are displayed. Mine was not among them. Paper with the scores is posted and you can have a look after you pick up your test registration paper (which has enough space for 10 test dates to be stamped on it). I checked my score, 80%. I had missed 10 questions. I was a little frustrated, but it was not completely unexpected. We headed home and started thinking about when I could squeeze in another test.


Why/How I Got into this Mess


I got my first car when I was 15 and it was damn near drivable by the time I got my license at 16. It was ugly and barely ran but I loved it. I owned 2 other cars after that and I loved them as well, not because they were flashy or fast (they weren’t) but because they were freedom. I’m an American and I don’t care about waving the flag around or bald eagles, cars are freedom. When I moved to Vietnam, after a month, I bought a motorbike. I owned 4 different bikes in my 6 years there, and yes, I loved them all. Freedom.

I’ve been living in Kobe, Japan, my wife’s hometown, for a little over a year now with every intention to settle down and make this home. Public transportation in Japan is great, it’s convenient, it’s easy, it’s reliable, but it’s not freedom. Sometimes you have to go somewhere far from a station, sometimes you need to bring home 3 4’x8′ sheets of plywood, sometimes trains aren’t practical.

I want to drive.

Problem: getting a license in Japan is notoriously difficult and expensive, even for locals, and I… barely speak any Japanese. I can make lots of excuses but you don’t want to hear them, it’s just how it is.

Most Japanese go to driving schools to learn all the in’s and out’s of the tests they will face, some schools even are allowed to administer the tests. My wife found a school that advertised a driving course in English with the test included for about $3000 (USD) it seemed reasonable so we started budgeting money to put towards that.  When the time came to register, she called and they don’t offer the course in English anymore and haven’t for a year.

We looked some more and found a school that just offered driving instruction. 15 hours driving for about $900. When we showed up to register, they didn’t want to accept me because of my lack of Japanese. They grudgingly accepted once my wife convinced them that I could understand enough for driving directions and that when I have to do my first aid course and highway driving, my wife would attend (as a paid student).

I thought that because I can drive a manual, it would make more sense to get an MT license. My first time in the car with the instructor wasn’t great. Trying to cope with the correct order of doing things and shifting with my left hand, made my driving sub par. The instructor suggested that I try for AT instead and I concurred. They told us I wouldn’t be able to do my next round of driving until I passed my learners permit written test. More on that in the next post.