|MY MOTORCYCLES||OF DRIVING LICENSES IN JAPAN|
I like riding motorcycles, although in this country of the rising sun there are so many cars on every kilometer of road that it is hard to make use of more than half of the performances of the motorbike without its rider being in a continuous risk to be hit by a car driven by a dumb driver.
My present motorbike is a VFR750F, made in 1997 for export. It has 100HP maximum power and 7.4kgfm maximum torque, enough to be able to reach to a maximum speed of about 250km/h.
Motorcycles are definitely a decadent hobby,
as they emit almost as much smoke as cars and need bulks of metal and plastic parts, which manufacturing produces a lot of polluating substances. Moreover, motorbike passion is also a kind of brainwashing: the rider has the false impression of freedom, in spite of the fact he is neither flying, nor succeeding some kind of telekinesis. As for Romanian roads, on most of the roads one does not have to run with more than 30 km per hour if he hopes to preserve the suspensions long enough to be able to come back home still riding it. Also, when it's raining, slipping affects motorbikes much more than cars, so even on a sportbike one has to let cars go before him and take as a reward the water cars splash out from puddles. Nevertheless, for me motorbike is a passion.
My first motorbike was a Honda Xelvis (250 cmc) manufactured in Japan. I bought it in June '96 rather for a cheap price, in order to be able to commute fast and cheaply to the aikido dojos where I practiced. At first I even reckoned that in a few months I will cover the price with the savings I would make by riding it instead of riding trains and buses...
But things did not happen like this. My best friend had a 400 cc motorbike, obviously more powerful than mine. I started to wish for a bigger motorbike, and in less than one year since I had bought the Xelvis, I was already riding a Kawasaki ZZR-400(of course of 400cc). But, although I liked my Kawasaki motorbike very much, it seems that it was not as dependable as my first Honda. After less than another one year, two coils of the generator burned together with the regulator. It is a weird trouble, because it cannot be diagnosticated only by measuring the change of generated tension with rpm (the coil gave only 70% of the nominal tension and the burned regulator let pass all of it). This was one reason for which I decided to take a riding license for motorbikes over 401 cc.
And so in July 1998 I was riding a Suzuki DR800. On this bike I rode through Japan the longest distance: 30,000 km in about one and a half year. This may be not much in other country, but here is quite much. But I already had made a passion for changing bikes. In February 2000 I bought again a Honda, this time a CBR600F, which is actually the motorbike together which I learned the most about bike riding. Even now, I still regret I sold it in order to buy a bigger motorcycle, a Suzuki Bandit 1200S, which is my only bike bought as new so far. The Bandit was not a bad motorcycle at all, but the CBR was almost perfect (1995 model, few generations before the actual one, but even like that it was wonderful).
In 2004 I decided that maintaining the Bandit is above my current financial possibilities, so that I sold it to a friend of mine and bought in place a Honda VTZ250 made in 1987 on Yahoo Japan auction. It was quite cheap but it had some problems that grew worse and worse, culminating to an August day when it stopped in the middle of the road so that instead of the Aikido training I was going to I did a motorbike-pushing marathon of about 15km to the first motorbike service center...
After two unsuccessful tries of finding VTZ's problem I decided to dispose of it and bought instead a Honda Bros Product 2 (400cmc) made probably in the same 1987. It was the perfect bike for city run and tight windings althought somewhat underpowered for the present hell of hurriedness in Japan. Anyway it was my first motorbike with an aluminium frame: its handling was sharp and depending almost only on step and throttle work.
In April 2005 I moved to Kure, a city in Hiroshima prefecture, known mainly as being the place where Yamato, the biggest and unluckiest cuirasate ever, was made. Bearing in mind that my financial restrictions had got looser, I decided to give my Bros to a friend and buy instead a CBR1000F , again a Honda, again from the Yahoo Japan auction. It is the heaviest motorbike I have had so far: made for Japan internal market, which means detuned and overweighted. Engine power was cut from 135 HP to 92HP, maximum torque from 10.5kgm to 8.2 kgm and for some reasons the dryweight was increased from 235 kg to 249kg. It is also equipped with the first version of dual-combined brake system (aka D-CBS), which makes it very reliable during hard braking or panic breaking, but almost unusable on very low speed manoeuvres or U-turns. The power-cut was also performed miserably: it would not respond to full-throttle under 5000rpm, it had a deep power fall at around 3000rpm and the acceleration started to fade away from 9000rpm on, which is still one thousand rpm under the redzone.
As I am employed now, I decided that I could make a financial effort and bought another bike. As I have always had a weakness for the v-four engine, I bought myself the present VFR-750. I specially chose the 1997 model as I do not want the burden of the D-CBS system, however reliable could it be on the highway (that I do not use almost at all).
It happens that among my nine motorcycles so far, I have never had a Yamaha, although I had several opportunities to ride Yamaha motorbikes and they were quite impressive (especially that when I tried a RZV-500, a racer replica from the eighties. The range under 3000rpm is unusably weak, but from 6000 rpm on it easily stands on the rear wheel and if one does not pay enough attention probably may also jump head over heels).
In Japan, the best pleasure one can have on a motorbike is doing cornering on mountain roads, imagining oneself on a closed circuit. This is the reason for which sport and supersport motorbikes are more popular than cruisers (as Harley-Davidson), which cannot stand severe braking and acceleration, nor steep banking.
In the future, I am planning to write here some touring reports and some detailed impressions I had of my motorcycles, so please come again.
ABOUT OBTAINING A DRIVING LICENSE IN JAPAN
Getting on the bike
Braking and stopping
Running through intersections
Intersections with "Stop" indicator
Intermittent light traffic lights
Intersections without visibility
Back to start point
Tips and hints
First of all: If you have an valid international permit, better keep renewing it and give up thinking of taking a Japanese one. An international permit will more often than not allow you to ride ANY big bike. Also in case you get caught for overspeed or other small problems, you will not get point penalties (only money penalties).
In order to get a Japanese driving license here, the most important thing is not to give up: if you have a motorbike now, try to memorize all the rules little by little and apply them when running (although nobody on the road observes all of them).
If you do not have any driving license, it is better to think that going to a driving school is the only way to get one. It is quite easy to obtain a motorcycle driving license in Japan by entering one of the many driving school, although it is very expensive (no less than 800$ if you have an ordinary (up to 400cmc)valid motorcycle riding permit and want to get a +401cmc one, and almost 2000$ if you have not). Of course, in theory driving licenses can also be obtained by taking directly a test at the Examination Center of the Public Traffic Committee (Kouan Iinkai) of your city, but if you do not own a license it is unlikely to be an experienced rider, and if you are not experienced, you have no chance to remember all the small techniques and rules necessary to run through the course. On the other hand, if you do not have plenty of leisure to take the test and fail it a few times (it is probably impossible to take the complete tests from the first time), better think about some other method to get a license.
As for myself, I guess I am an average rider, not particularily endowed for motorcycle riding. At the point when I decided to obtain a 401cmc+ driving license and made up my mind to book myself for the big bike test of Kyoto Examination Center, I already had a 400cmc license, 2 years of experience and around 30,000km run, but I failed the test 10 times before I finally obtained it.
Nevertheless, if you HAVE a valid international motorcycle driving license and want to obtain a Japanese driving (riding) license, you will have to pass a much simpler technical test that is held at the same Examination Center (Shikenjou) of the Committee for Traffic Safety (Kouan Iinkai). I could compare the difficulty of each test with my own eyes: in the days when I failed my 4th, 5th and 6th test, an American guy with an American license tried to pass the simplified test, which was much simpler. Unfortunately, he did not know any of the Japanese traffic rules, techniques and tips, and so he failed three times and did not come back again, but if you read and remember some 80% of the text below you will be probably able to pass the test.
Exams and internal rules vary from prefecture to prefecture, but traffic rules are obviously the same ones and also most of the formalities below are common, at least between Kyoto, Tokyo and Hiroshima.
Formalities necessary to perform
1.Search the Internet or on Townpages for Kouaniinkai or the Examination Center of your city or of the nearest big city. Usually Kouaniinkai-s and their annexed Examination Centers are placed quite far from downtowns. For example, the Examination Center of Kyoto city is located far in the south, in a place called Hazukashi, 30min by bus from Hankyu Station Nagaokatenjin. To go there, it took me an hour and a half by train and bus, and a little less than one hour by motorcycle. The E.C. for Osaka City is located in the east (Kadoma/Neyagawa). In Hiroshima, the E.C. is somewhere north near the mountains... Tests are ordinarily held every second day, but there are places where there are no tests on Friday, so one will have to gather the necessary information beforehand.
2. So, first you have to go to the Examination Center. At first you would have to pay about 2000 Yen for the preliminary test. The test consists in raising straight a motorcycle fallen on one side, pushing it with your hands to make an 8,raising it on the mainstand, getting it back and softly letting the bike down the same way it was before you raised it (for the next guy). Even a small guy can do those, but there are ways to do it easier than just using one's broth. At this point, the officer should tell you the test-course and probably also give you a map with it. The preliminary test, once taken, has a validity period, until when you can take the real driving test for as many times as your financial possibilities and spiritual reserve allow you.
3. After the preliminary test, you may go home and come again another day for the real technical test. The technical test consists in several tours to do within the closed course of the Examination Center, and contains turns to left and to right, passing through intersections without visibility, crossing train lines and several special tasks where one has to demonstrate he has a minimum capability to manoeuver the motorbike on the street. In order to book yourself for the test (current day only), you will have to go to the Examination Center either quite early in the morning (8 o'clock, which means waking up at 6) or in the afternoon, because this is the program of any governmental office here.
You will have to look for a flowchart indicating the order of the offices you have to pass through in order to buy the necessary forms, fill them in and pay the fees (around 3,500 Yen for the first time, then around 3,000).. If you cannot read Japanese, you have to go to the information bureau, where you will be probably be able to obtain an English version, and in the worst case have the officer there fill in the forms for you. Usually it should not take more than half an hour.
4.Then go to the test place (you should know it already from the preliminary test), submit the filled-in forms and get an order number (if not first, may be the third... There are very few people who take tests here, more prefer to spend a determined amount of money instead of an indetermined period of time). Wait for your turn, ride the bike and do the test. If everything is alright, you will not hear anything from the supervising tower until you finish it. If you hear something, it will most likely be "please turn back to the start point", and this means that you have already made enough errors to get under the inferior limit of 70 points necessary to pass it.
5. Whether the test was interrupted or not, after stopping the motorcycle at the starting point, climb the tower and listen to what the officers have to say about your riding: they will always have some problems to tell you. Even if you were allowed to do the complete course, that does not mean necessarily you passed the test. If you find that you failed, you will have to wait for another test day and go again from point 3 and pay another 3,000 yen or so (fortunately, no other preliminary test is necessary).It is useless to protest: if you use English, is just as talking to the walls, if you use Japanese you may get some answer, but the test results will not change anyway. Anyway, do not forget that the examinators are police officers after all. As for myself, the officers were extremely correct.
6. If you passed the riding test, from here you will have to pass the written test, which is also easier than the usual one, and has an English version. In some prefectures, one has to pass it before the technical test. It contains about 30 simple questions (compared to the 100 question usual test). I guess that one has to answer correctly to about 20~25 of them to pass it, anyway it is not hard.
7.Once you passed both tests, you will have to pay another 4000 Yen to get your Japanese licence. It is valid until your third birthday. Congratulations!
BACK TO CONTENTS
Rules and Routines to observe during the test
I made a list of the rules that must be observed in order to take the exam, though most of them are not observed in real life...
The first point one has to bear in mind is that the exam begins from the point you approach the motorbike until you get off it.
1. Getting on the motorcycle (jousha)
- First look back and forth to ensure no cat or cockroach is around, then insert the key and unlock the handle.
- Grab the handle, grab the handbrake to ensure the motorcycle will not move; straighten the handle, then straighten the bike. Kick the side stand in. Look again back and forth, then throw your right foot over the bike and lay your back on the seat, but do not let your foot touch the earth: put in on the step, and step on the footbrake. Now you can release the handbrake.
- With the left foot on the brake, adjust your mirrors. Then turn the key to "on", ensure that the gear is in neutral (it should be left so from the previous guy who rode it). If it is not, you will have to do it. In order to switch gears when stopped you will ALWAYS have to do all the next routine: grab the handbrake and the clutch look right and back, let your right foot on the earth, put the left one on the step and step on the gears to switch to neutral, then let left foot on the earth, put the right one on the step and step on the footbrake, now you can release the handbrake). Once made sure, push the self-motor and turn the engine on.
Most of the riders on the street forgot long ago about all this sequence of operations, but if you do not do as this, you are already out of the exam (they would let you run a bit just because you have paid several thousands yen for the exam).
BACK TO CONTENTS
- The engine is on. Switch to first gear (as above:grab the handbrake, the clutch, look right and back, let your right foot on the earth, put the left one on the step and switch to low gear, then let left foot on the earth, put the right one on the step and step on the footbrake, now you can release the handbrake).
- Now you are ready to start, with the clutch pulled. Switch on the right signal, then look in the right mirror and backwards on the right side to ensure no one is coming from the back, then start to run.
BACK TO CONTENTS
-Gear selection(gia no sentaku): ----Basically one must use the third gear: as soon as you started, change to the second gear and if you have more than 20 meters until the next turn, to the third. If the engine knocks, you may use the clutch, but as long as you go without turning left or right, you MUST use third gear. So straight is Third.
---- Turns, slalom and S-way must be done on the second gear (nevertheless, corners on the same road do not count as turns, so there you must use third). The only exception is the turn before the crank, when you may change to low at the point when in a normal intersection you should change to second.
-Safety confirmation (anzen kakunin) Whenever you prepare to let down your right foot on the earth, start the bike, turn or change directions, you have first to perform this by turning your head to the right or to the left as backwards as you can (officers look at you from the tower, therefore they cannot see your ocular globes movements).
- Winkers: Winkers have to be switched on at no less than 30m before a turn in an intersection, and at no less than 3 seconds before changing directions (even within the same lane).
-Riding posture: The upper part of the body has to be straight, knees have to hold the tank, feet have to point forward, arms should be let relaxed. Especially knee and foot position may have you got out of the test easily.
BACK TO CONTENTS
4. Braking and stopping the motorbike (ootobai no gensoku to teisi)
Whenever you use your brakes, you must push/step on them at least two times (pumping brake), so that to alert the following drivers that you are going to slow down. Whenever you stop, only the left foot may touch the earth; never let your right foot off the step. If you ever do this (e.g. in order to change gears), you have first to grab the handbrake and to look to your right as backwards as you can.
BACK TO CONTENTS
Special tasks are very important to demonstrate one's skills, but for international license owners(I will abbreviate it as ILO), there are much easier. The special tasks are: ---- The S-way (two semicircles, first bent to the left and the second to the right): must be run on second gear, without touching the clutch or the brakes. It is quite easy, but do not accelerate too much and also do not forget to point your eyes to the center of each of the semicircles you are running through.
---- The crank way: must be run on LOW, using the clutch mainly and the footbrake only if needed (better not). Do not forget that when getting out of it you have to switch on the signal and ensure your way by looking right and left. Touching the pilons means out on the spot.
---- The 30cm-wide bridge. It is an iron postament around 5 cm high and 15 m long. Stop before climbing on it, on low gear. Ensure your right and climb on it as slowly as you can (always on the low). One with no license should spent more than 7 seconds (10 seconds for over 401cmc) before going out on the opposite extremity. Nevertheless, there is no inferior time limit for ILO, so do not take it too slowly and loose your balance: going down from the bridge means out of the test on the spot.
---- The slalom. There are 5 or 6 pilons and you have to run alternatively on the right and on the left on SECOND gear. Basically no brakes, only throttle. Open the throttle when your bike is directed exactly forward (and banked), that will straighten the banking on the exact timing. Do not open too much, because if you gain too much speed, particularly the last two pilons will be difficult to avoid. People with no license have to run the slalom in less than 7 second (more than 401 in 6), but ILO do not have any time limit, so take your time in order not to touch any pilon, because this means out on the spot.
---- Stopping the motorbike from 40km/h. I am not sure whether ILO must do it or not, but if you have to, do not forget that you have to gain around 40km/h (actually 35~45, but is better to be as exact as you can), then, when going past the pilon from where you have to stop, grab the handbrake quite strongly and step on the footbrake very lightly. Frontbrake is quite hard to skid (if you have some experience, you may find out that it is much harder to skid than you thought usually), but rearbrake skids very easily, and skidding will get you out of the test on the spot. Do not try to change gears, you are supposed to take advantage of the engine brake. Even if the engine stops, there is no decrease of marks (bu do not forget to do all the routine for changing gears).
All these tasks are very easy for ILO, but because of this ordinary running technique, which means ensuring of the traffic and signaling becomes crucial.
BACK TO CONTENTS
Running through crossroads (kousaten no tuuka)
Going straight: if there is a traffic light and it is green, still do not forget to look right and left. If it is red, stop. If you are in a position where you can still see it turning yellow, usually you are supposed to stop (only on test courses, in real life you will most likely bumped by the following car). Turning left: must calculate a lot, if you cannot memorize it by walking or running by foot through the course. You have to be at no more than 50cm from the left side of your band no less than 30 meters before the intersection, and in order to be there you have to switch on the left signal another 3 second s before. (Usually that means that most of the time one of your signals will have to be on). So then, switch the signal, wait for three seconds (the third clicking of the winker) then look as backwards as you can on the left side (that's for ensuring that there is nobody coming, especially another bike). Let the winker in position, reduce the speed and switch to the second gear. Basically do not use clutch at all. At 5~8 meters from the intersection, look to the right, and then to the left, then turn without thinking too much. (The rule sounds as this: one should be keeping as much as possible around 50cm distance to the left side with the rear wheel. Going too much to the center of the road will take you 5 points, but by going too near the side, the rear wheel will get on the concrete sideway and they will take you 5 points for "falling in the ditch"). Do not forget to cancel the winker, then accelerate near the speed limit of the road (depassing it is 20points, but going too slowly will bore the examinators and may get you off the exam).
Turning right: again, must calculate a lot. At about 40m before the intersection, switch the signal, wait for three seconds (the third clicking of the winker) then look as backwards as you can on the right side (that's for ensuring that there is nobody coming). Let the winker in position, reduce the speed and switch to the second gear. At 5~8 meters from the intersection, look to the right, and then to the left, then turn without thinking too much towards the left side of the band (about 50cm~1m from the side). Cancel the winker, accelerate and switch to the third gear.
When turning, if it happens that the next turn is closer than 30m from the current turn, turn directly at 50cm to the left (if a left turn follows), or 50cm to the right side of the band (if a right turn follows).
BACK TO CONTENTS
Crossing a railroad(fumikiri no tuuka)
Whether the pass has or has not barriers, you must STOP. Stop after switching gears to low, then ensure no train is coming by looking to the right and to the left. If your gear happens to be left in neutral or other gear, there is no problem if you change it, but you have to do it with all the necessary precautions(grab the handbrake and the clutch ensure safety by looking right and back, let your right foot on the earth, blahblahblah). Anyway, once on low gear, turn your face to the right, then to the left, and as of course no train is coming, go through it. Do not switch the gears until you completely crossed the railroad.
BACK TO CONTENTS
Passing through a crossroad with "Stop" indicator (tomare hyoushiki) or intermittent traffic light color red(tenmetusinngou ga aka ni natteiru)
Color red on an intermittent traffic light has the same meaning with the indicator "stop" (tomare). As long as I remember, there was no intermittent traffic light into the course, but there is at least one "tomare". You have to do all the necessary operations for passing through the intersection or turning, with the exception that you must change gear to low instead of second and stop before the line (the vertical projection of the tire's forward extremity has to fall before the stopping line, or it will count as "not stopped"). Then look to the right and to the left and go on.
Passing through a crossroad with intermittent traffic light color yellow(tennmetusingou ga kiiro ninatteiru)
There are probably no such intersections within the course. Anyway, intermittent yellow means that you have to slow down, switch to second gear and turn your head to the right and to the left even if there is clearly no car around, then pass.
BACK TO CONTENTS
Passing through an intersection with bad visibility (Mitooshi no warui kousaten no tuuka)
Within the course, there usually is an intersection where there are some bushes or some panels put on the sides, so that it is supposed that one cannot see cars or bikes coming from sides (actually the bushes in Kyoto exam center were quite scarce to make any problems). This kind of crossroads must still be passed on second gear, but as you approach the intersection (~5m) you have to decelerate as much as you can using the brakes and the clutch, then lean your body forward in order to push your head as forward as you can, so that you can see any cars coming as soon as possible.
BACK TO CONTENTS
Japan's traffic is on the left side, so in a crossroad with no lights or traffic signals the driver on the LEFT side has priority (Sahou yuusen). Therefore, if it happens that you find yourself in such a situation at the exam, you may pass first. Nevertheless, test courses are the only places in Japan where such a rule is obeyed, so that it is good if you calculate whether you have priority or not on real traffic in order to remember it, but is not good to get furious on the whole world who neglects it.
BACK TO CONTENTS
Going back to the start point
If you are still on the course after all the tasks on the course, now you have to go back to the starting point. Switch on left winker at least 3 seconds before the point to stop, look as backwards as you can to your left, slow down, change to first gear, then stop exactly at the pilon (plus or minus 30cm are still ok). Do not let your left foot crawl or touch the earth until you stop the bike (of course that right foot must remain always on the step!).
With clutch pulled, grab the handbrake, look right and back, let your right foot on the earth, put the left foot on the step and change to neutral. If gears enter hard, pull the throttle a little and try again. Once in neutral, release clutch. Let the left foot down, step with right foot on footbrake, turn engine off. You still must not get out the side-stand. Look as backwards as you can to your right and get off the motorbike keeping it straight. Now get the side stand out, let the bike slowly on it and turn the handle left to the limit. Push the key and turn it to LOCK. Only NOW your test is over.
BACK TO CONTENTS
Points for taking the exam as soon as possible
1. Memorize the course as soon as you receive the paper containing it. Imagine yourself running through it and doing all the necessary operations.
2. Most of the Examination Centers have an auxiliary school, where one can take courses by hour, using the same kind of motorcycle as the examination one. One hour is 4,500 to 5000 Yen. An officer will guide you through and instruct you. Also, after 5 o'clock, you may take your hours on the examination course, which is extremely convenient to familiarize yourself with it and memorize the points the teacher gives to you about where you have to turn on signals, ensure, etc.
3. In the morning where you take the examination, be there before other cars enter there and go through your course walking or running, imagining what you have to do at every step. At first I saw people doing this and wondered why, but after I failed the exam for the second or third time, I also started doing this.It may look stupid, but this will warm you up.
I wish you good luck, and do not give up!
BACK TO CONTENTS