Converting to a Japanese driver’s license

So I decided to get a Japanese driver’s license since I plan to be here for a while and will probably rent a car every now and then when I travel. I haven’t really confirmed this, but the phrase that I’ve been hearing and using has been 外国の免許を切り替える (がいこくのめんきょをきりかえる). It means to switch your  foreign license.

After studying some posts from other Americans in Fukushima prefecture who’ve taken the driving test, my plan was to:
1. Take driving classes in March/April
2. Take the test once and pass.

Since I don’t need a car to commute to school (not to mention, discouraged, since getting into an accident on my commute would make my school liable), and getting a Japanese DL from on my own initiative, I was pretty much on my own in navigating everything, with some help here and there from other American JETs who went through this experience.

I signed up at a driving school that a friend recommended, and reserved 1-hour sessions at the front desk. Each session was 5400 yen, and I went through 3 sessions that taught me  the order you have to do before you step into the car, once you step into the car, what to do when changing lanes, how to take on curves, and what to do when you’re on a hill or railroad crossing. I got to practice all these, as well as the dreaded S and Crank curves. On the actual test, the hill and railroad crossings weren’t tested, so I got a little more from the classes on what is expected from drivers in Japan. Since I don’t drive on a regular basis, the classes also helped me get used to driving on the left side of the road.

I signed up for the actual test a few weeks in advance, making sure I had enough time to take the courses, as well as compile my documents. The Fukushima license center requires:
1. Proof of your residence in Japan from city hall (200 yen)
2. A translation of your foreign drivers license from Japan Auto Federation (3000 yen, plus 392 postage)
3. International Driving Permit
4. American Driver’s License, with a date issuance that proves that you’ve driven for at least 3 months in your home country.
5. Passport, with a date issuance preferably before that of your American Driver’s License. The issuance dates are important as they further prove that you were actually living in your home country and reinforces your driving history there. Apparently, if your passport issuance date is after your DL issuance date, and is short of the 3 months required, it conflicts with your driving history in your home country, as there is no other proof that you were actually in your home country.
6. A photo, 3×2 cm.

If the issuance dates on your DL or passport are short of 3 months before you left for Japan, you’d need to bring your driving record which you can request from the DMV. I sent out for this just in case, but it was pretty late, so I didn’t receive one in time. Luckily I didn’t need to present it.

On the day of the test, the first thing they give you is a survey that asks for your driving training history, including what you had to do for your provisional license, as well as the official license. For the provisional license, they asked (in no particular order):
1. What tests did you do for the provisional license? Vision, Road Rules, Driving
2. How many hours a day did you train? How many days a week? How many hours in total?
3. How many questions were on the Road Rules test?
4. What car did you drive when you were training? The driving school car? Your own car?

For the official license, they asked, in addition to similar questions to the above:
1. Did you test on a driving course or on public streets?
2. Did you test with an AT or MT car?
3. How many minutes was your written test?
4. How many minutes was your driving test?

So after you answer all these questions, you wait and wait, and then they’ll interview you more thoroughly on the same questions, while also taking notes.

Then you wait and wait, while they confirm that documents are ok and complete, to take an eye test and written test. The written test is a T/F test consisting of 10 questions, and is available in English. I think I got 100% because they just said I passed, while others have said that they were told how many points they passed with. /humblebrag

After the test was lunch break, and they allow you to walk the course. Everyone recommends walking the course, and it was certainly really helpful to imagine myself in a car and knowing which turns to take. After the lunch break, more waiting, as they test Japanese people first on a different course.

Once it was my turn, the test facilitator gives a model drive of the course, and then picks someone to start first. Usually there are 2 foreign people scheduled to test for the day, so you’ve got 3 people in the car. The facilitator watches you drive with a poker face, until you do something really stupid that would auto-fail you, (like hitting the poles on the crank curve, or not stopping for the flashing red light), at which point he’ll tell you, “STOP STOP STOP, YOU JUST HIT THAT” or “THE RED LIGHT’S FLASHING, CAN’T YOU SEE IT?!?” and you think to yourself, “It’s over…”

At the end, if he’s a nice guy, he’ll ask if you were nervous, then give you a run-down of things to watch out for next time, but doesn’t tell you whether you’ve failed or not.

Then you go back up into the waiting room and wait some more to get your results. If you failed, you get zannen, and they’ll ask you when you can come back in again.

A step closer to teaching debate

Today I had my second shot at teaching debate, but to a new group of senior students. I really wanted to get it into the students’ heads about the goal and strategies of debate rather than making it into a purely English lesson. It was a mix of trying to communicate with English to these kids and throwing my hands around with body language, wondering if they really understood what I was saying.

Originally, my gameplan was to give them debate handouts and go over the fundamentals of debate, as well as the format. Then the JTE and I would model a debate with the topic “Cats are Better than Dogs”. After that, I would split the students into pro/con teams, give them the topic, “Anime is Better than Manga”, and have them give debating a go.

When it came time for their turn, the students would simply think of the pros of their side, even though I mentioned that in debates, you must also think about what the opponent would say in order be well prepared for the rebuttal. After giving them 10 minutes of planning time, I didn’t think they were prepared to do debate successfully, so I took it step by step. I had both teams give reasons for their side:

+ It has music
+ It has color and moving pictures
+ It has voices

+ You can use your imagination to fill in the gaps
+ You can read it anywhere

Then I asked opposing teams to “attack” the other teams reasons, and try to be specific to the statements as much as possible

– It’s different from what you imagined (usually anime is based on manga, so this is often the con of anime)

– You can watch the next episode sooner than in manga
– You can watch anime anywhere on your smartphone

At this point, I was trying to get the con-anime team to add a little more to their attack by introducing new evidence, since they only had one counter-argument, but this was a new expectation, so they weren’t really ready to do what I suggested (in English).

So with that, we still had a bit of time left, so I had them decide two people on their team to go up and take on the constructive speech and rebuttal roles. This took way longer than usual because they decided to janken (rock paper scissor; Japan is the land of professional roshambo players because they also play it in HUGE groups).

With the statements and counterarguments on the board, as well as example phrases for them to use, the students were able to put together their constructive speeches, and present their counter-arguments.

My next goal is to try to get them to do this during real-time to promote active listening and thinking.

Advanced English class

Classes are starting up again! I’m especially excited for advanced English class. Apparently, the OCII class that was deprecated (tangent: I use this as a computer science term, meaning the class was marked for removal, not the “self-deprecate” version!) got converted into even more advanced English classes!

This school year, I get to lead one class a week students in Advanced English with a science and math focus, and students Advanced English with a liberal arts focus.

Probably my favorite class is going to be the Advanced English class for liberal arts focus because it most resembles an Adult ESL class. The teacher even gave me an ESL textbook as opposed to an EFL textbook, and I was so excited. The difference between ESL and EFL is that English is taught as a second language, which includes life skills in the adopted country. EFL is teaching English as a foreign language, so the way it’s taught is more in line with people who want to travel, and it’s really up to the student’s personal interest in English and perseverance in order to continue using it successfully. Think of it as learning Spanish or French in high school for a few years, and then never really using it again.

I think Japan should really up its English education and kids should see how important it is in the world stage. It’s been in school curriculum for years, and yet it almost feels like Japanese English speakers lack speaking skills when compared to Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese English speakers. While the usage of English above all other languages might seem to have imperialistic undertones, every country has its own style of using English, so different cultures can even claim it for itself through code-switching. For example, Singaporeans use Singlish, Hawaiian Pacific Islanders use pidgin, and even Jewish people code-switch when it’s convenient.

I taught a lesson today about body language, first by showing them an edited version of Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, then reading an article on handshakes, as well as showing them all the different types of handshakes, and then having a discussion on body language. The discussion went well with the stronger English speakers, but some were so shy that they decided to pass on sharing their opinion, and another, who’s participation I greatly appreciated, totally went off topic, and talked about food customs instead.

I think that Japan, being a first-world country, doesn’t have to worry about making English an official language, like Singapore, Hong Kong, or Ghana (Granted, these countries had all been imperialised by Great Britain.) Its economic and social infrastructures seem to be rich enough to be self-sustaining that people can have jobs without having to know English. The kids here have options, where as in developing countries, English might be the best, or only way, for upward mobility.

I certainly feel the privilege of being a native English speaker when I travel in Japan, and when I went to Vietnam. People perceive you must be so successful in business and sociability,  just like in the movies, and try to give you the best of what they got. In turn, I greatly appreciate the ability to speak the language enough to have a conversation, as it makes it easier to be incognito and get the real deal in cultural interaction. I do understand that in every country, you’re going to find people who are tired of your broken language skills, and would rather not bother with a terrible speaker, but they could just be having a terrible day.

I have to admit that I’m terrible with expectations, and I certainly do feel an expectation from others who share their stories with me to tell these stories to the world. I don’t think I was ever much of storyteller, being told before that my voice is monotone, and not very interesting to listen to. These days, I still try to write, but my mind is constantly trying to find the best words to convey what I’m thinking in a sophisticated way that it takes me forever to actually write something that I think is good. In addition, I go off on tangents and my posts end up not being very organized in the end.

I think perhaps maybe I should just accept that it’s my style, it’s my brain, it’s my blog, and so what if whatever I started writing about ends up in a totally different place? I don’t intend to make any money off the blog (although it would be nice), but I do appreciate knowing that it’s being read. So thank you to the two, maybe 3, people who continue to read my ramblings.

To end, I tell my students to be free, to have confidence, to just say something or write something, even it’s just a few words or sentences. For some, there’s so much going in their minds that they want to say, yet they can’t find the words to express it. I have the same problem, except perhaps I have too many words or patterns to choose from. But we both have this cloud of expectation to be perfect looming over our heads that nothing comes out.

Even though most of the students in the class did well, I’m an underdog-rooting person, and I really want to get the weaker students to share their ideas. Hopefully they will get used to sharing comfortably before the end of the year.

Club introductions

Today, the school freshmen got to see and hear introductions from all the clubs at school that are trying to recruit new members to replace the ones that graduated. The students got to see presentations of what the performance clubs have been doing, including a skit from the drama club, and music from the chorus club, strings orchestra, and orchestral band. At the last song, which was fun and really upbeat, some baseball club members got up to dance, and managed to get some students to do the same. Quite a bit weren’t feeling it and stayed sitting, but I decided to go and help them out, being silly, getting into the school spirit. Plus I was cold and needed to move around! The students and teachers especially loved this and told me so afterwards. Hey, I was enjoying the music and the atmosphere!

A quick thought on the Mozilla CEO debacle

I’ve found myself on the minority side of this argument, for reasons that I feel are both practical (his experience in Javascript relevant in a fast-paced evolving Internet has the potential to keep Mozilla relevant), and personal.

After coming out, I’ve spent years trying to build bridges with my parents, particularly my father, whose anti-SSM stance never seems to waver, as each conversation I’ve had with him have ended in emotional arguments, with neither of us backing down from our positions. However, as I’ve realized that my time with him is short and valuable, and not worth the fighting and tears, I’ve decided to leave things be, and bring up SSM with him whenever it should work for me. He is an amazing father and have sacrificed and endured so much that I would feel less of a person if I were to abandon him. And, as such, I would feel the same if he were to abandon me.  There are so many other things we are able to connect with that I choose to pursue those conversations with him instead, and have my SSM discussions with others.

There are some things we can’t control, but we can control our own emotions.

From Andrew Sullivan’s blog:
“It’s staggering to me that a minority long persecuted for holding unpopular views can now turn around and persecute others for the exact same reason. If we cannot live and work alongside people with whom we deeply disagree, we are finished as a liberal society.”

I remember reading Andrew Sullivan’s column every now and then, thinking “Wow, he’s pretty conservative for a gay guy. He must be a Log Cabin Republican.”

And now, I’m finding that I’m starting to think like him…

Buying a bike and then going on a tangent

After some research here and there during the winter, I’m gonna bite the bullet and special order a single-speed bike to tour around cities and towns in Japan. I’ve decided on the Fuji Feather for its lightness and cost.

The Feather costs less than $500 in the US, but is about $700 in Japan! So I thought, “Well, maybe the extra $200 is in the consumption tax and overseas shipping.”

But upon comparing the US and JP versions of the Feather, the main differences that I saw were the shape of the seat and the drop handles. I honestly have no idea what these differences mean, but it looks like the Feather was re-engineered for the Japanese market. My American sensibilities favors the US version more, but I imagine that the JP version is more fitted to Asian bodies. Apparently, after reading article about bicycle riding positions from REI’s website, women are generalized to have shorter torsos and longer legs, which is totally the opposite of my body type!

Anyway, bikes aside, it got me thinking about the way Japan charges for its quality and craftsmanship. Is the price really worth it? Are you really getting a one-of-kind or superior product?

I’ve found souvenir pricing in Japan to be egalitarian. Prices of souvenirs in different areas don’t vary very much, so you might as well buy that keychain at the castle, or other frequented tourist areas, rather than go looking for a bargain at a smaller giftshop nearby. This is in contrast to San Francisco, where buying a magnet at Fisherman’s Wharf can be way more expensive than getting the same thing in Chinatown. With Japanese crafts, however, one that is considered imperfect or defected, or not worth selling to the customer, is often priced at a significant discount.