As of yesterday, I was ready to declare my epic battle with the Fukuoka Prefecture Driver's License Center a resounding Pyrrhic defeat. (You'll find a chronicle of the mighty struggle here, here, here, and here.) Sure, I walked away from the ordeal without a license, but at least in giving up I could claim victory over my pride. I was actually kind of pleased with myself for accepting that, as a great man said, one can't always get what one wants, and for walking away from the whole stupid thing before I let it become some kind of silly obsession.
Then I woke up today and dragged myself back there again. I tricked myself by saying I was just going down to Tenjin for lunch, and if I should happen to finish around noon, and then if I should happen to find myself on the 151 bus at 12:20, then I might as well take the test one more time, because it's not like I'd have anything better to do.
And it's a good thing I did. When I woke up this morning, getting behind the wheel of a car would have been a felony. As of 4:30 PM on this the 23 day of June, 2011, I became just like every other chump on the road, except my piece of plastic was all shiny and new.
In the end, victory was a bit of an anticlimax. (Isn't that always the case?) I suppose I was expecting an ovation, or some tickertape, or at least a bit of a smile.* All the examiner said at the end was "Okay," then he rushed me off to buy some stamps I'd forgotten. (In government offices in Japan, you don't simply pay for stuff--you buy stamps at one window, stick them on a piece of paper, then return them to another window. Sometimes, the same person actually goes from the first window to the second window in the interim. I have no idea why.) So I bought stamps, waited, handed someone a piece of paper, waited, had my picture taken, waited, signed a piece of paper, waited, then got my actual, physical license . . . and waited, because I was kind of on a roll, until the guy at the counter told me I could go. Then I got the heck out of there in case they decided to change their minds.
Oh, and how did I pass, you ask? By doing the exact same thing I did on Tuesday, but with a different examiner--plus an extra centimeter or two between my tires and the stop line.
In the end, though, I have to say I look on my victory as a mixed blessing. Success is less interesting than failure, and I'm afraid by succeeding I've ruined my narrative. There was something arresting in the story of a man who must learn to suffer nobly the shame of not being able to drive his wife to Costco. Almost Greek. Maybe it would have been better for my soul to have left this one enemy unconquered.
Aw, who am I kidding? I can drive in Japan now! Whoopee!
*I should note that the guy at the counter through this whole thing had obviously started to take pity on me. When I turned in my application (again), he whipped out a map of the course and circled the stop sign three times in dark red ink, as if I had somehow walked away from that whole thing where the examiner got out of the car and crawled on the ground without realizing that, yes, the freakin' stop sign was the problem. But he did shake my hand when he gave me my license, which was nice--it's not a common gesture in Japan, so it showed a nice little hint of cultural sensitivity on his part.