The Five Stages of Grief at the DMV

This experience messed me up so bad that I didn’t blog for almost two months. Failing the driving test was terribly demoralizing. I passed on my first try in the U.S., so it was embarrassing to fail. Like, I’m a good driver. A little inexperienced, but not a bad driver. What the hell?

But here it is. Here’s my story about…

Getting a Driver’s License in Japan



I had to take the test three times, and each time was very different (which just goes to show how subjective the test is). But every time was a terribly disappointing, tear-filled waste of time.

Cost of Taking the Driving Test

Also a waste of money. Let me break down the cost (in yen) of this stupid test for you.

Day 1 May 31
Train fare from Tomiura to Kaihimmakuhari: 1620
Bus fare: 210
Test fee: 2200
Train fare from Kaihimmakuhari to Tomiura: 1620
Day 1 Total: 5650
Day 2 June 13
Train fare from Tomiura to Kaihimmakuhari: 1620
Document picture fee: 700
Test fee: 2200
Train fare from Kaihimmakuhari to Soga: 230
Bus fare from Soga to Tomiura: 1500
Day 2 Total: 6250
Day 3 June 26
Bus fare from Tomiura to Soga: 1500
Train fare from Soga to Kaihimmakuhari: 230
Test fee: 2200
Same train & bus trip back to Tomiura: 1730
Day 3 Total: 5660
Total cost for 3 trips: 17,560 (approx. 175 USD)

3 vacation days

3 classes of elementary school

my happiness and dignity

 First Test Day


Mike, Jeff, and I all went on the same day. We tested with two other people—so a group of five. I ended up being the first to go.

The instructor was incredibly impatient, and he started out his explanation of the test (which they do before every test, because the course is so ridiculous) by asking if we could all speak Japanese. So he was already really uncomfortable, which made everyone else nervous.

I screwed up the crank really badly, hitting one of the poles that represents a wall, and the instructor was impatient the entire time, pretty much rushing me through everything. He didn’t even let me finish the test after I messed up. He just kept saying, “Out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out.”

Yeah. I get it. Asshole.

It would have been acceptable if he said it twice, because then at least I could have just finished with “BRIEF CANDLE! LIFE’S BUT A WALKING SHADOW!” (Though I doubt even geeking out about Shakespeare would have improved my mood that day.)

I was more mad at myself for screwing up than I was at him, but he was still being an asshole.


Another ALT once told me that taking the “practical” driving test in Japan is like going through the five stages of grief.

So here’s how it happened for me:

Denial: After I screwed up, I thought, “Well that was just one stupid mistake, but maybe if I do perfectly on the rest of the test, he’ll let me pass.”

Out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out.”

Anger: “Wow, I can’t believe I did that. What a moron. And that guy was an asshole, too. God. I hate this place. I will burn it to the ground.”

Bargaining: “Maybe since he was such an asshole and now I’m crying they’ll just give me my license? Right?”

Depression: And then for the two weeks following the test, I felt incredibly shitty. I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to go swimming, I didn’t want to go to work, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I just wanted to sleep and never wake up.

I don’t know if I ever got to Acceptance. Maybe that came later, when I finally passed.

Another Waste of Time: Take 2

At least this instructor was nice. Jeez.

For the weeks before the second test, I barely drove. I did not want to drive. At all. At all. I’ve been walking to school every day anyway, so that saved me some trauma. [I had to drive to the gym though, when I forced myself to get out of the house and swim. The sacrifices I make to swim, you guys… ;)]

The night before the test, I actually cried for two hours. I did not want to go back. I felt so terrible.

We all took the train up again. I had to waste some money to buy more pictures for the documents—700 yen for two pictures!—and then we waited for our test to start.

This time, we had a very nice lady. She explained the rules to our group again and didn’t ask us if we spoke Japanese at all. I thought that was a good sign—it meant she wasn’t already stressed out about having to test foreigners, like the first guy was. A huge part of whether you pass or not is if your instructor is comfortable—and being a foreigner tends to make them uncomfortable, even though they deal with us all the time.

Jeff took the test first, with me in the back. Unfortunately, he made a silly mistake that I won’t describe here to save his pride. He said afterward that we should call it “Pulling a Jeff,” though. I’m sure he wasn’t the first person who was nervous enough to make a mistake like that though. That test really fucks with you.

At least she let him down nicely, instead of just shouting “Out out out” over and over.

Anyway, then it was my turn. I drove through the test just fine, got to the crank and had to back up twice, and finished everything. I thought I did really well, and since she was nice and comfortable, maybe she would pass me.

Close, but no cigar.

She told me that I did well, but there were two right turns where I didn’t stay right enough in the lane before the turn. Like, a few yards (or meters, since this isn’t Amurica) before a turn, you have to get into the proper side of the lane. Being in the middle of the lane is a bad thing. So I did that twice, apparently. “But,” she said, “if you hadn’t backed up the second time in the crank, you would have had enough points to pass. I’m sorry.”

Well… Well… Well, fuck.

Mike passed, which was a relief—at least one of us did. He had to stay for an hour to get his license processed, so Jeff and I signed up for another test (and I cried the entire time again) and went home.

Third Times the Charm—And I Can’t Even Feel Happy About It

Well. I passed. Finally. And afterward, I couldn’t even feel happy. I just felt relieved, in the vein of “Thank God I don’t have to come to this awful place ever again.”

The third time, I decided I was not going to miss anymore elementary school classes. So I signed up for a Wednesday instead, which meant that Jeff and I were going to take the test on different days. So I was going at it alone.

I was a little afraid for myself—I felt so shitty that I was afraid if I failed, I was just going to walk out of there without scheduling another test, because fuck that test.

Man, I sound totally unhinged. But that’s what this test does to you. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who got all fucked up over this. I mean, the boys were physically shaking, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them nervous like that.

Anyway, I got a small lunch from the convenience store, tried not to cry on the walk to the center, and forced myself to walk through the course again (a wise thing to do before you take the test).

The instructor this time was a man, but he was not the first instructor. He, like the second one, never mentioned English or Japanese. He treated us like real people and explained the test thoroughly, and then we were off.

This time, I went third. (I think they put the newbies first all the time and I was slowly being pushed back.) The man before me drove over the curb in the crank, and it’s times like that when I really wish I had telepathy. I wanted to tell him, “If you back up before you go completely over, it’s not an auto-fail!” But oh well. The instructor politely told him to go back to the beginning, and then it was my turn.

I didn’t realize until after the test—much later after—that I didn’t back up a single time in the crank. I just drove right through it. Maybe I gained Kitty Pryde’s phasing ability and just phased the car through the corners. Otherwise, I don’t know how I did it. (This theory would go with my unconscious belief back in high school that I could walk through walls. True story: I tried, without thinking, to walk through a wall three times. But that’s a story for another day.)

After I reached the finish line (which was just a pole that I had to park perfectly behind or I’d lose points), the instructor told the woman behind me to get out of the car to wait, and then he turned to me and said, “Okay. Please get out of the car.”

I was terribly confused. “Huh?”

He thought maybe I didn’t understand the word he used (“orite”), so he tried a different way to say “get out” (“dete”).

I thought, “But aren’t you going to tell me what I did wrong?”

So I got out of the car, thinking that maybe he would tell me about my mistakes outside of the car, like maybe point out something on the car that I screwed up, but then when I walked around to the passenger side door like he asked me to, he just opened his door and said, “Okay.”

“Okay?” I asked. I still wasn’t sure what he was saying.

“Okay,” he said, and then: “Please wait in the waiting room.”

(Obviously this was all in Japanese, haha.)

So. I passed. And I went and sat in the waiting room until he was done testing everyone. I was the only one in the group that passed—one out of five. He came back for me about 30 minutes later, and then I had to go through a secret door to where they would process my license. It was like entering some special secret club. It felt like bull shit.

I turned in my paperwork and waited around, reading. It looked like they were closing the place—it was after 5 by this point, even though the test started at 1:30—and I wondered if they had forgotten about me. But they finally called me up, took my picture, and printed up a license for me. And then I had to leave through a back door—a secret back door?—and I was done with that place.

Never. Again.

Failable Offenses

So as far as I can tell from my experiences and the experiences of other ALTs I know, here are some failable offenses:

  1. Being a foreigner taking the test for the first time
  2. Leaving room for bicycles on the left side of the car so you don’t end up killing any of them (their logic is that if you leave room, bikes will go past your car and thus have the potential of being hit)
  3. Being in the center of the lane at any time
  4. Not staying to the right or left of the lane enough, depending on which way you’re turning (or going straight, in which case, not staying to the left)
  5. Turning into the first lane from either a right or left turn, unless you’re immediately going to make another turn after it
  6. Probably many, many other bull shit reasons


  1. Walk the course before your test, if you can. Seriously, it’s good to see what it looks like. The first time we went, Mike and I walked the course and pretended we were in a car, keeping our spaces and saying, “Click” whenever we needed to use a turning signal.
  2. Try to speak as much Japanese as possible to make your instructor comfortable. Saying “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu” a lot doesn’t hurt.
  3. Again, this PDF has the best advice I’ve read. Please read it! I think it helped me.

Also, in my previous blog entry, I received a comment from a Kyushu ALT, Teckset! They gave me some advice that I thought I would pass on to others. Their comment is here, but here is the advice:

“Different prefectures and different examiners will yield different results, but if you haven’t taken your driving test yet, then it’s always a good idea take at least one lesson at a driving school to get some tips. Triple tap your brakes when slowing down; wide right hand turns that bear left; really sharp left hand turns; no braking just accelerating into curves; always check forward safety from the right to the left; make left turns from the far left and right turns from the far right of your lane after doing the triple check of rearview mirror, side mirror, and neck turn; before you make your left turn, doing a left side motorcycle check; check for oncoming cars before you open your car doing when getting in or out; and the most important thing I found was that despite the rule being that you make right hand turns into the left most lane normally, if you will make an immediate right without enough distance to safely change lanes, then you are supposed to turn into the right most lane immediately.

“I cannot recommend driving the course at least once any more strongly. It will really help your nervousness. Also, memorizing the course will be a big help. Walk the course before hand if you have time and good luck if you haven’t already passed!”

Thanks! I think that sounds like good advice. But the rules seem to change every time I go, too. So if you’re going to take the test, just listen to their explanation they give before the test and drive slowly.

Moral of the Story

There is no fucking moral. This is something we have to do, and there are no words to express how much it sucks. I really just can’t put into words how terrible this entire thing is.

That said, don’t psych yourself out about it. I did that before my third time, and I had to force myself to calm down by listening to some music to pump myself up.

Bonus Story to Make You Feel Better After Reading About That

On the day of the first test, Mike and I noticed a blood donation center in front of the Menkyo Center. There was a man standing outside with a sign and everything.

This is Japan's blood mascot, Kenketsu-chan.

This is Japan’s blood mascot, Kenketsu-chan.

“If I pass the test,” said Mike, “I’m gonna give blood.”

I laughed. “Okay, me too.”

For a long time, foreigners couldn’t give blood in Japan. But since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, they changed that rule because they just needed more people to donate blood.

So the day I passed, even though I felt shaken and sick, I went to give blood. I walked into the center and filled out some paperwork. They all seemed a little nervous, especially since my Japanese is horrible, but they were friendly and helped me get through the questionnaire. One man spoke a little English, so he translated the questions for me. He kept saying that his English wasn’t good, but I was impressed. It’s difficult to learn medical terms in another language—because if you’re not a doctor, when are you going to use them?—so the fact that he knew these things was great. He also kept saying, “I’m sorry,” after every question, because I think he was embarrassed to be asking some personal medical questions like this to a woman. But I didn’t mind. It was necessary, and they weren’t that embarrassing anyway.

After all the paperwork, I went up stairs and talked to a doctor and then a nurse (who was so nice, oh my God, she made me feel so comfortable). The nurse took a little blood to check my blood type and run some tests. I’m terrified of needles, so I had to look away, but it was okay.

Blood type is a big deal in Japan. In manga character profiles, they always list the characters’ blood types, and I had always wondered why. In Japan, blood type is like your star sign—it indicates your personality.

So when I first arrived, people kept asking me what my blood type was, and they were surprised that most Americans don’t know. It was like, “If you don’t know your blood type, then how do you know who you are?!”

Well, now I know. And when I came back to class and asked my students to guess, they all said, “O! O!”

…Wow, wtf. I’m O-pos. :O HOW DID THEY KNOW?

Anyway, after the nurse, I lay down on one of their beds and watched a news report about a flood in some prefecture far away while they sucked blood out of my arm like the vampires they are.

(Have you seen that Geico commercial about Dracula working at a blood drive? Pretty funny stuff. Also, WTF does that have to do with car insurance?)

“Buy Geico insurance or I'll come to your village and sexually liberate your women” is the message they're trying to send apparently.

“Buy Geico insurance or I’ll come to your village and sexually liberate your women” is the message they’re trying to send apparently.

I gave blood once before in high school, and it was basically the same as that time. Afterwards, I ate some of their cookies, got some free mango juice (worth it), and read a book. When I thought it was safe to go home, I packed up and took a bus to the train station (because they asked me to, otherwise I would have walked). I didn’t feel too dizzy or anything, but I tried to sit down as often as possible.

So yay! I may have had a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad experience with the DMV, but at least I helped save a life. Maybe. Haha.

I hope that ended this entry on a good note. I did feel better—three weeks later—but I don’t think I can ever go back to the Menkyo Center ever again. I thought for a while that I might go with the newbies to help them out, but it’s seriously just such a traumatizing experience that I can understand why none of my sempai went with us. The DMV is an awful, awful place. Best to be avoided.


kenketsu n. “blood donation.”

menkyo n. “license.”

sempai n. senior, upperclassman.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Five Stages of Grief at the DMV

  1. 万理/Mari says:


    Seriously–tell me if I’m wrong–but why are they making you drive close to the INSIDE of the turn? Doesn’t that make it more likely that the turn will get fucked up? It forces you to go more slowly, at any rate…

    That pdf about getting your driver’s license in Japan is making my blood pressure rise just scrolling through that shit. Ughhhhh. *twitch*

    *hugs* I’m sorry you had such an awful experience. Blargh! Honestly, screw that place. <.< They sound unnecessarily atrocious.

    • Yes, you are supposed to drive closer to the inside of the turn in Japan. Unless you’re going through the crank, in which case you stay AS FAR AWAY from the inside as possible so that you don’t go over the inside curb. It’s totally backwards. It doesn’t make any sense.

      I’ve also been told that they like wide turns here…? Not sure if that’s true. But I feel like that contradicts… everything ever.

      The Chiba Menkyo Center, I’ve been told, is particularly strict, so that’s also probably why it was so shitty.

  2. teckset says:

    Wide turns apply to right hand turns, so far as I can tell. Always remember that the test is not a measure of your ability to drive safely, but a measure of how well you can follow their rules. It is heavily dependent on who does the testing. I think we’ve all been there when someone makes a mistake and we want to wince.

    As for nervousness inducing ability; it is my understanding that many, if not all, of the examiners are former police officers. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

    No one can really understand the depth of despair and dread wrapped up in hopelessness that is the Japanese Licensing Center unless he/she has experienced it for him/her self. That being said, I’m immensely glad you got it on your third go. Now so long as you don’t let your new license expire, you’ll never have to take the practical again.


      Thanks for your comment! I think you’re definitely right. It’s a really subjective test–almost everything depends on whether your instructor is in a good mood or not. And whether or not you make a ginormous mistake, like I did my first time.

      I’m not sure how the instructor’s being former police officers “makes sense.” What do you mean?

      I’m glad I got it on the third try, too. Three times is the average for Chiba anyway, so that’s not too embarrassing. I still feel a lot of shame from this experience though. It’s the shame that really gets you down, I think.

      At least it’s over…

      • teckset says:

        Yes, it can expire. Just like an American driver’s license can expire. ;)

        The only difference is that if we let our Japanese license expire because we forget to renew it in time, then that means we have to do the test over again, or so I’ve been told.

        My comment regarding police men and women was simply that I think police officers are very skilled at making people nervous. It’s an acquired job skill and therefore they keep it even after they’re no longer police offers.

        There should be no shame in failing the test. Lots of my friends here only got their license on their fourth try. One person got it on their 10th try.

        Oh, I thought you might find this amusing. It’s the 27th episode of an older Anime series called “You’re Under Arrest” (Japanese: Taiho Shichauzo). In this episode, one of the main characters is trying for her Japanese Driver’s license. It’s light hearted, funny, and a little farcical. I think you’ll recognize things in the episode that will make you chuckle. The crank, for instance. You can tell the subtitle writer didn’t know much about Japanese Driving Courses.

      • AAAAAUUUUUGH. Okay, well, I won’t let it expire. It probably expires after two years, right? Or is it three? I’ll figure it out.

        Ohhh… Well, it wasn’t that the instructors were making me nervous. I was already nervous. The more significant problem was that they were nervous sometimes. xD

        Haha! I’ll check out that anime! Thanks!

  3. Kim says:

    Well.. I know you said you hate hearing this, but I guess we ALL have our own DMV horror stories. I know several ALTS who passed on the first time, and I know in MY case I made a legitimate mistake (in the damn crank) so I wasn’t angry at the DMV, but I was certainly horrified and disappointed in myself when I didn’t pass the first time.

    My first time there I met a young woman who was taking it for her tenth time. She had never driven a car before (in the US or Japan) and was living in Japan with her church group. She started driving and she knew NO Japanese.. so she didn’t understand a word the instructor was saying and it was super awkward so I asked if I could translate and he allowed that. We drove maybe ten feet before she started driving on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD. It was HORRIBLE!!! Then he told her she didn’t pass and she just cheerfully said “Ok!” because she didn’t understand and kept driving the course. So I had to tell this poor sweet woman that she failed AGAIN.. so so awkward.

    My second test was awesome because the tester loved my MD license (with crabs on it!) and then we talked about how awesome biwa are…. then he made me ride in the car with him for everyone else’s tests because he wanted to keep talking.

    Definitely a terrible trial to go through…but I am glad you passed!!

    • Thanks for your comment!

      Well, to be honest, I do like hearing other people’s stories. I just don’t want them to compare theirs to mine. xD Haha. Hearing others’ stories about their DMV experiences helps a little. It doesn’t help for people to say, “Well I had it worse,” though.

      Anyway, your story is appreciated. I may have made the same mistake you did. I fucked up the crank really badly my first time. It was awful and embarrassing. Ugh.

      That poor, naive lady… I can’t imagine having to go there ten times. I was going to give up after the third time. There was no way I was going back there again.

Adventure with me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s