Hey gang, I finally managed to glue myself to a chair long enough with no distractions so I can hit publish on this one. Yay me. Anyway, a while ago, I started telling you about the journey of acquiring a drivers’ licence in Japan from the perspective of someone who doesn’t get an automatic pass with their countries licence. This week, I’ll be telling you a bit about driving school and the few things I believe should be your take away from that experience. Enjoy.
1) The Language
If you know anything about the licencing procedures in Japan, you’ll know that they seldom give leeway on things just because you are a foreigner. Yes, on paper the process looks great, go in for the written and verbal tests with a translator, take driving school lessons with your translator do all the paperwork with the help of third parties but the actual driving test? Not a chance. With this knowledge, I decided to use the opportunity of going to driving school to pick up on the language that the driving instructor might use on test day. Of course, there were days when I would get a teacher who was willing to take me around the course in English, but it’s a good idea, even on those days, to ask how that would be said in Japanese. This will help you feel more confident on test day and will give the test instructor the idea that you are serious about passing the test (trust).
2) Common mistakes
In Japan, the driving school grounds are their own separate private property. Unfortunately, this means you won’t see or get a feel of the actual driving course till test day. Instead of looking at this as a disadvantage, see it as a way to pick up on the more specific mistakes people make while driving. While taking you around their practice course, the driving school teacher will usually give you tips about how to do certain things correctly, be it driving close to the left side of the road or observing the correct points before a turn (you don’t have to do a 5 point check every time, who knew?). Listen to this advice! Your teacher isn’t only going to mention it because you don’t get it right but also as a reminder that this is something that the test instructors will be looking out for on test day.
3) The feel of the car
If you’ve been driving for any substantial amount of time, you know that not all cars are made equal. Not only in terms of trivial fanboy things like power and steering control but in terms of how your body fills the space in general. Back in South Africa when I took my test, I was unlucky enough to have found a driving school teacher who had a faulty car. I was not used to this. Having driven my parents’ cars for 6 months, I just wasn’t used to having to negotiate with a car for it to stay on. Whenever this car switched off, it was a battle that could go on for 10 minutes to get it started again. The worst part was being blamed for the car switching off in the first place!
This experience made me realise that I couldn’t approach all cars the same. This car, in particular, needed me to show up a little apprehensive every time so that I would pick up on things going wrong faster than if I approached it in a relaxed state. By the time test day came, I knew exactly which pedals to push and which noises to look out for to keep the car on. In Japan, you don’t test with the same car that you practised in but it is the same make and model so driving school still gives you a chance to get used to the test car. Make note of anything that might throw you off. Gear position, on/off procedure, breaks, accelerator, the works. This is especially important if you have become used to driving another car. Muscle memory can be your worst enemy when it comes to test-day so you need to re-programme yourself.
4) The test procedure
In South Africa, as part of our K53 test, you usually start a driving test by “inspecting” the car for any obstructions. We only practised this procedure on the morning of my test but my tester back then praised me for doing a great job and I have always felt that this was a great boost to get before even entering the car. On my second driving lesson here in Japan, I asked my teacher if there was something similar in their test. He proceeded to talk me through the procedure I needed to go through when I did my test, from how to enter the car to how to present my papers to the test instructor. Come test day I realised that some of it was overkill but I did appreciate the walkthrough. It helped when it came to things that I would have completely ignored like being polite and following the correct sequence of actions when it came to switching on my car.
On two of my 5 lessons, I was lucky enough to get teachers who gave me a test like simulation during my practice. The first one casually announced “Test conditions” and the car fell silent as I manoeuvred around the course with the occasional instruction from the teacher. After both of these lessons, they took a few minutes to give me some critical feedback about my driving. I appreciated this the most in the lesson that I took the day before my driving test. The instructor didn’t feel confident sending me off to the test the next day, so he suggested I come back in for one last round on the practice grounds. So I booked an extra lesson for the morning of my test. The instructor on that morning gave me a thumbs up which helped boost my confidence for the test.
It might seem weird having to be this specific about the things you want to get out of your driving school experience but if you look at the driving test as what it is, a test, it doesn’t seem so ridiculous to want to get the test scope and seeing as driving schools have such a close relationship to the testers, this is the best place to get that scope.