In writing about today, I'd like to begin by focusing on the positives.
- I got to spend three hours outside on a beautiful day.
- I didn't lose my temper.
- They were running early today, so I got to fail a whole hour ahead of schedule.
The Story of How Justin Drove a Perfect Course and Still Didn't Get His License
Long story short: I'm pretty sure I drove a perfect course today, but I came home without a license.
I started strong. The examiner's mood was hard to read, but I was actually calm enough today to stumble through some polite Japanese conversation as we made our way to the car. Once inside, I even managed to ask a question about a part of the course I still didn't understand. In retrospect, perhaps that was my mistake. Maybe I didn't ask the question politely enough? Maybe he saw the fact that I'd even dare to ask a question as a challenge to his job, his nation, his masculinity? Who knows? All I know is that, as subsequent events would prove, I was probably doomed from the beginning again.
The first bit of the course was flawless. Accelerated smoothly to 35 kph, signaled, checked mirrors and blind spots, changed lanes, came to a nearly complete stop before the first entirely un-threatening turn, then crawled through the turn at about 5 kph without even thinking about touching the brake. Signal right, move right, check mirrors, look straight, check blind spot, turn right. So far, so good.
It was the at the end of the second straightaway where all heck broke loose. I signaled left, moved to the left side of the lane, and came to a full stop at the stop sign that got me on my first try. (Japanese stop signs look a lot like American yield signs.) I waited for three full seconds, as recommended, using the last second to start checking mirrors and blind spots.
Then, at precisely the instant my brain sent the message to my foot to get the heck off the brake already, the examiner yelled "STOP!", slammed on his brake, threw the parking brake on, and got out of the car.
He proceeded to get down on his hands and knees to see if my left tire was on the stop line. Apparently, it was. He got back in the car, shaking his head, then swooshed with his trusty red pencil before trying to explain to me that I was over the line.
I'll have to take his word for it: I could only see the right tire, which was definitely behind the line. If the left tire was over the line, it couldn't have been over by more than a few millimeters, and I'm not sure whether the car had time to lurch forward at all in the split second I was easing pressure on the brake.
At this point, I'm sorry to admit, I could feel myself beginning to shake. I asked the fateful question - "Fail desu ka?"
The examiner pursed his lips. "Fail desu."
As I saw it, I had three choices. I quickly decided not to complain: contradicting an authority figure is an instant fail in Japan at large, not just on the driver's test. I thought about steering the car right back to its parking spot, on the assumption that I was just darn well done with all that, and the extra practice wasn't going to do me any good. But then I remembered reading that sometimes, for mysterious reasons buried deep within the icy recesses of his heart, an examiner will take pity on a driver and overlook a minor error committed while driving an otherwise flawless course.
I also doubted my ability to explain to the examiner that, no, I wasn't stupid--I was heading back to the start line because there was no point in my finishing the course.
So in the end, after I (mostly) stopped shaking, I checked my mirrors, checked my blind spots, and turned left.
Then proceeded to knock the rest of the course out of the park. Seriously, that red pencil didn't move. Thus I suffered that bitterest of cruelties, false hope, as I rounded the last corner and slid the car effortlessly into its place.
The examiner grunted and muttered about the stop sign. "Driving school," he said. "Next time."
Didn't even get a "ganbatte."
Epilogue: In Which Justin Learns an Important Life Lesson (Sort Of)
A lot of growing up has to do with learning to fail graciously. I was never very good at that, which explains my short, disastrous career as a competitive athlete. Today, I can proudly say that, while I was seriously tempted to go nuclear on every man, woman, child, and farm animal within earshot, I didn't give any outward sign of the simmering rage bubbling in my spleen. Except for the shaking, of course, but I'm hoping that was misinterpreted as nerves.
Another part of growing up is learning to value yourself for your own reasons, not someone else's. I drove a perfect course today. I'm a good driver. I don't know what else I could have done. Obviously, I must have crossed some line, figuratively, before I maybe, barely, no, totally never crossed that line, literally.
And finally, part of living overseas is learning how to separate the universal crap from the crap you can actually blame on the locals. Finding someone who's happy to abuse the smallest shred of power? Sadly, that's universal. Going through a whole year in a foreign country in which the worst thing that happens is three rotten days at the driver's license center? That's Japan. I'm happy to say that the overall convenience, politeness, patience, service far outweighs this driver's license crap.
Still doesn't mean there's a word foul enough in English or any other language to express my loathing for the Fukuoka Prefecture Driver's Exam.
The Final, Final Score
Time Spent: ~14 hours (over three days, not counting practice)
Money Spent: ~$200 US
Result: Four blog posts, one day of good exercise, and nothing else but pain.