When you get this postcard in the mail it's time to renew your driver's license in Japan. According to the card it's possible to renew one month before, or up to one month after, your birthday.
I elected to go on my birthday so postcard and current license in hand off I went to the nearest renewal location; in my case, Shinjuku City Hall.
Alas! It was not to be that easy. Upon arrival the friendly - nay, even gleeful - lady at the renewal counter told me, "Oh - you're a traffic violator (the words in Japanese can even be translated to mean traffic criminal). You can't renew here. You've got to go to the special renewal center." Of course, that special renewal center turns out to be way over on the far east side of Tokyoy in one of the city's oldest government buildings. No shiny new city hall building for us traffic criminals!
Keep in mind now, my violation was 2 years ago. And, I went through the all day special re-education program (wiped the points off my license, cut my license supsenson from 30 days to 1 day), and paid my $600 fine (I was 32 km over the limit). But, never mind all that, I'm still a vile violator apparently.
Actually, the entire process of renewing your license in Japan is quite well organized. Pretty much an assembly line process. Enter the building, go to the line of machines and select two PIN numbers (can be the same, or two different numbers). Don't lose, or forget, these numbers. You'll need them later and you'll need them if you're ever stopped for a traffic violation. Show the clerk at the window your little piece of paper with your PIN numbers and get another slip of paper with a different number and a document to complete with your name, address, and date of birth (oh, and by the way, this is all in Japanese). Proceed to the cashier's window, pay the renewal fee. Move on to the next booth and have your eyes tested (tell the examiner which side of the circle has the open space, "ue (up), shita (down), migi (right), hidari (left). On you go to the next window where you hand in your completed form and your current license, which gets a hole punched in it - now it's no longer valid - and a slip of paper verifying you've done all this - check it to make sure the info is correct. Head on to the classroom (2 hours if you're a violator) and don't forget to pick up the envelop with the two books of traffic signs and regulations on the way. Listen to the lecture, watch the video, try not to snore like the guy behind me was doing.
Education finished - one more line to stand in - upstairs again, in the case of the location I went to. Get your license and off you go; well, almost. FIrst you have to lay the new license on a special license reader and - remember, I told you not to forget those PIN numbers? - punch in the two PIN numbers to verify and activate your license. Okay, now you can leave the building, Elvis.
If you're renewing with a clean record the whole process takes about an hour. Ticket in your history? Plan on about 2.5 hours.
Oh, and by the way, I'll get to go through it again in 3 years (hopefully, the short version) since I lost my gold license (only non-traffic criminals get those gold licenses!) and I'm now holding a blue license. Of course, loss of the gold license also means loss of some of my car insurance discount next year at renewal time.
Yep - they sure now how to make it as painful as possible for us traffic criminals!
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