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10 March 2009

Instances of efficiency and inefficiency here in Japan...

The postal service here is EXTREMELY efficient-- If I'm not home when they come, they let you reschedule delivery over the Internet for same day even...  also they will come at night until 9pm AND even on SUNDAYS.  No wonder working for Japan Post means a good life-long career.  
Oh and did I mention the Postal Service also operates a bank too??  Did I mention it's the largest bank in the country (because where there are people, obviously there's a post office somewhere)  So just about EVERYBODY has a postal savings account--including me.  It makes it easy for people to pay me--no excuses about not knowing where the bank is (and in Japan, there's no such thing as "check's in the mail"-- they don't exist--everything is either done as a bank transfer, or good ol' cash (although there are now credit cards and stuff too) 

 I remember I once had a part time job as an English teacher in an after-school program (called "juku").  I taught Tuesdays and Thursdays, and at the end of every Thursday lesson, I would get handed an envelope with straight cash and a receipt.  Of course I would run to the nearest PO-ATM and deposit it (about $500, not bad for 10 hrs total.)  Even now I mostly pay bills by going to the 7-11 on the first floor of my apt bldg and giving them the bill and paying it in cash at the register.  Since my bank's ATM is in 7-11 its easy to do it that way.  I know it's paid, and it's hella convenient.  If the bill doesn't have the bar code that the convenience stores use on it, then I have to go to an ATM or use the Internet and do what's called "furi-komi" meaning send money to another bank account.  You have no idea how hard it was to navigate the ATM's menu in JAPANESE trying to figure it out.  The English menu didn't have that option!!  Thank God I can read every other Japanese word now.  It still took 15 minutes.  I know there were some pissed folks behind me, but WTF?  Sorry, but I like having running water in my crib, so you gotta wait dammit!

Ok, now what's inefficient?  Anything that involves operating a vehicle for example...  OK what else is new?  The American system of getting a driver's license is a state operated affair, and therefore varies from state to state, but not by a wide margin; everyone HATES going to the DMV in most places so there's nothing new there.  Here though its even more time consuming!  The prefectural police departments run these places and there's usually only one to three centers in most prefectures.  Meaning if you live way out, you're SOL and you must take a whole day off from work, school or whatever to do anything....  Oh yeah, thats also because these places are CLOSED on the WEEKENDS!!  WTF?!  Also, if youre CURSED like I am and are American and not Canadian, Australian, New Zealander or from most of Europe, you're f***ed-- and you gotta take this hard @$$ driving test that only 33% pass the first time....  Even though most of us Americans drive way more than Japanese, or Europeans, by virtue of our gas-guzzling mentalities and lack of decent, timely, affordable, safe public transportation.  I've been driving since I was 15 1/2 years old.  I learned how to drive on the streets of Los Angeles, and have driven almost anything with wheels, from motorcycles to fast cars, to limos, to over-the-road buses!!  I have driven for over half my own life, and I'll probably fail the damn driving test the first time...  Why?  Because its very SUBJECTIVE.  

The driving test isn't about you driving safely on a real road-- there's an actual track that looks like Mario Kart set up behind the DMV.  You drive there.  But guess what?  They aren't gonna tell you where to turn!!  You have to MEMORIZE this beforehand.  I know people that can't remember how to get to places in their own neighborhood that they've been living in for years!!  But its up to you to do it in the period between your passing the written test (hella easy--only 10 questions) and taking the driving test.  Oh yeah that part sucks too.  You must take the driving test on a different day-- so its back to the DMV again for that.  Now how to memorize the courses?  Yeah courses, 'cause there's TWO, A & B.  You gotta memorize them BOTH.  When you get into the car (after making the checks outside the car for sleeping cats underneath, trash or children underneath, etc--then adjust EVERYTHING in the car--seats, mirrors, steering wheel, etc [I'm not making this up!]) the testing dude (some guy with a bad disposition and a mean look on his face maybe) will simply say "take course __." and then you gotta drive that course.  with no help.  at all.  

Faced with this, and the knowledge that the testing dudes at this place are known for their strictness, I decided to take 2 hours of road course driving, to memorize the course, and to hear some advice from the testing guys.  For $140...  Expensive right?  But I wanna pass this the first time.  Even still I was surprised at how precisely I'll be judged...

I took the practice test on Saturday; I was criticized for not being all the way to the left or right IN THE L/R LANE when turning. Meaning I was in the correct lane, but not all the way ON THE CURB when turning. HUH?! Also I need to not slow down as much thru flashing yellow lights... These things get you killed in ATL if you did that...sigh.

BTW I read this little informative site for JETs here that talks about how to go about getting a Japanese Driver's license.  Please read it to be sure that this isn't just me overeacting, ok?

So now I have one more practice to get it right.  after that I take my test on the 19th at 9am.  Wish me luck!

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