Small things that make being an expat in Japan easier: driving
In your own country you wouldn't think twice about applying for a drivers licence, you probably did it in your teens as I did. I had been in Japan for about seven years before I got my Japanese driver's licence. It was in the "too-hard pile" but at my brother's urging we applied together. I am so glad since it revolutionised my life. Really.
There's plenty of info online about getting a driver's licence and it does vary by country (that your licence was issued) so the best place to check is probably your embassy online. It was quite a while ago now for me but basically all we had to do was submit an officially translated version of our licences then make the application at the driver's centre and complete an eye sight test. Easy.
Today I'm feeling really pleased with myself as I have renewed my licence. Licences have to be renewed every five years and you have one month either side of your birthday to start the process. Since it had been five years since I last did it I had forgotten what needed to be done so here's the process. Again it many vary depending on where you live.
At the local police station (the main branch) submit the post card reminder that came in the mail, along with a photo, sized according to their instructions, your current drivers licence and the fee. I had to pay 2500 yen for the licence renewal and 600 yen to attend a group defensive driving lecture which will be next month. If you can't attend the group session or are in a hurry for some reason you can pay an extra 800 yen to attend the lecture in a private location the same day.
That's it! After the lecture I will return to the police station to pick up my new licence.
I bought a new car last year and have done so much more driving then I ever have before. We've been on lots of roadtrips and fun afternoon excursions. I love being able to jump in the car and go anywhere. I also like the fact that I can drive the kids to the doctor or to swimming when it's raining - all the things you'd do in your home country. It's empowering.
Having a car and a driver's licence was one of the tipping points for me in terms of having a normal life here in Japan, as an expat. Really it's no fun having to brave all weather conditions with a baby on your bike or wrapped in a plastic rain-cover on the stroller. Of course in the city public transport is much more affordable and convenient but certainly where I live it's helpful to have a car. Having an exceptional life is the goal but even just to feel normal cannot be overrated.
And on the topic of driving, well you have seen me rave about customer service. My guy at Nissan is nothing short of amazing. Coincidentally he just called in to tell me my car is due for a service. He CAME to my house to tell me. And I was able to arrange for him to come one day next week to pick it up, take it for the service, then drop it back at my house afterwards. I think that's incredible service, don't you? Go Nissan!!