An autumn day, a long straight road in Hokkaido, not another car in sight and off we went! With my
rental car's wheels eating up the road at 625 revolutions per kilometer I was zipping down the highway on the way to Niseko. Whoa! What was that red flash? Uh-oh! The infra-red camera on the overhead stanchion just took my picture. And a pretty clear picture - good likeness - it was as I eventually found out.
Those 625 revolutions per minute turned out to be 92 kilometers per hour on a highway with a posted speed of 50 km per hour. Now, the police do have some allowance for lead footed drivers, but it turns out that allowance is only 10 km. Which means I was 32 km over the "allowable" amount. And so the saga begins.
A few weeks after returning to Tokyo from that September drive I got a phone call from a friendly policeman (everyone was friendly throughout this whole process) in Hokkaido informing me he had a picture of me, my rented car, and a little odometer in the corner of the picture showing 92 km
per hour. We talked for about 30 minutes (in Japanese since he spoke no English) and what could I do but admit that yep, it was me, and yep, I saw the red light flash, and yep, I guess I was speeding. I told him why - figured he needed something to talk to the other cops about the rest of the day. Okay, he said and told me that the next step would be a notice in the mail and a visit to my neighborhood police headquarters since I had no plans to be back in Hokkaido in the near future.
So, a couple of months later, in November, I got that postcard and off to Takaido police station I went (after making an appointment, of course). I had a nice "chat" with the traffic officer there and he
kindly wrote out my statement for me, which he then read back to me, and I put my "hanko" on it to approve it. Yeah, that sure was a pretty clear picture of me and my wife in that little car.
A couple of months later, in February, I got a post card that this level of law-breaking activity (remember, I was 32 km over the allowable limit) meant 6 points against my license and a 30 day suspension of my license (no mention of the fine yet). The post card was in Japanese, but they had a
sentence in red (in Japanese of course) that said "If you don't understand Japanese bring your own interpreter." Okay, so if you don't read Japanese how are you supposed to know about that? Hello, does the word "logic" mean anything to anyone out there?
Anyhow, the card said I could spend the day in the Chofu driver's license center, taking a "remedial" course, for which I had the honor to fork out 13,800 yen. Taking, and passing, the course meant I could probably erase the points and cut the license suspension down to one day. Off I went early in the morning to be there in time for the 08:30 registration start (no car allowed that day!). As I walked up to the window to register I was immediately pulled aside, in a friendly manner, and asked if I understand Japanese since the whole day's course would be only in Japanese. Assuring them I did I was next asked if I read Japanese because there was a 40 questions test at the end of the day and
the time limit for that was only 30 minutes. Well, yes, I do read some Japanese, but I told them I reckon it isn't good enough to ensure that I could get through all 40 questions in the time allowed, so we both really h'mmed and hawed about that. With a look of great consternation on his face the official took me up a floor where I was asked the same question and gave the same answer. After much sucking of air the other official asked if I read English. Assuring him that I do he said that's good because they also have the test in English (as it turns out they gave me both the English and the Japanese copy during the test - good thing they did because I had to refer to the Japanese for a handful of the questions in order to understand the "English").
Just in case you ever have to do this here is what the one day course consists of:
1. Morning: lectures on the driving rules and regulations. Listen carefully because they will
actually be telling you the questions and answers to that test you'll be taking later.
2. Lunch break. There's a cafeteria downstairs in the basement.
3. After lunch: more lecture, more hints for the test.
4. Driving around the course taking turns with your fellow traffic criminals and an examiner (when you get to the fake railroad crossing make sure you stop, open both front windows, and state that you are listening for the train - because that first train in the morning just might zip through without
tripping the signal). Then a few minutes on the simulator, which is actually harder than real driving!
5. Written test.
6. Movie time - watch what traffic law disobedience can cause.
7. Test results. Assuming you've passed (I did, scored 100) you will be told that the points have been erased and you can drive again after midnight. But, for the next one year, if you accumulate 4 points you'll get to do this all over again - but for two days!
8. Down to the window, pick up your license, go home.
So, you thought it was all over? Oh... no...! Not yet!
Next comes a postcard (about a week or so later) telling you to go to the Prosecutor's Office where you'll spend another hour or two restating the facts of your crime. Here, at least, if you don't speak Japanese they will provide an interpreter. The prosecutor inputs your statement into the computer, prints out a copy, and you hanko it (or sign it if you don't have a hanko). You are then given a choice of going to court and arguing your case (good luck with that!) or saying no thanks, just send me the fine.
A couple more weeks go buy and you'll get a registered letter telling you how much your fine is. In my case, first offense, stated guilty as charged, it is 60,000 yen (cost to date, 73,800 + train fares, so
about $1,000). Oh, you do get the option of paying the fine or working it off in some sort of community work (somebody's gotta pick up all that trash the "nature lovers" in Japan toss out of
their car windows) at the rate of 5,000 yen per day. The prosecutor assured me that if I decided to do this it wouldn't be like the movies with a chain around my leg swinging a big hammer and breaking rocks!
So that's the end of it, right? Wrong! That's just the letter telling me what the fine is and a note in it (in Japanese, of course) telling me that I'll get another letter telling me how to go about paying my fine. Oh boy! I can hardly wait! But, meanwhile, you can bet I'll lighten up the old lead foot and stop for those red lights!