I had front row seats to the show. A whole two hours of what I assumed would be a thoroughly gruelingly attempt at straining my ears to follow a single word the instructor said and praying to any deity that’d have me for a follower that I wouldn’t be asked to speak in any way shape or form.
Evidently that was simply too much to ask. You see I’d found myself at the local driving license center in the neighboring city to mine (small mercy that it was actually that close at all) and as per protocol I had to endure a full two hours plus of administration, eye tests and a lecture on driving safety.
Fortunately my rather unhealthy addiction to "anki," a bit of memorization software that is almost entirely responsible for my current level of Japanese, meant that I actually was able to follow the vast majority of what was going on in class.
Well, for 20-minute intervals anyway. After 20 minutes of full speed Japanese, on a subject I’d never before discussed, it would be an understatement to say I drifted off somewhat.
I wasn’t fully conscious of where my mind wandered at all times (some of the locations may not be appropriate for publishing) but it at some point I’m sure it ambled towards the posters directly ahead of me in my front row seat.
Glossy, largely cartoon figures bidding me to be safe on the roads and one vaguely age appropriate poster that suggests not throwing away my driving license by drinking and driving.
Personally I’d rather they implore people not to drink and drive because they might kill the adorable little cartoon toddler in the poster next to the driving license drowning in a glass of remarkably carbonated beer.
But, culturally I’m probably missing a trick here.
The reason I always buckle my seat belt, aside from the law and not wanting to die at 40mph as I go hurtling through a windshield, is because at a very young age I was suitably emotional scarred by an advert that informed me that if I don’t buckle my seat belt while sitting in the back seat I’ll probably survive… I’ll just have killed the person in the seat ahead of me.
As such, is it possible, that the emotional pull of "kawaii" (cute) in Japan might be equally effective in altering the behavior of Japanese drivers?
A recent editorial in the Japan Times points out that while the number of convictions has decreased as the laws have gotten stricter more still needs to be done to curb drunk driving in Japan.
Yet, Japan has some of the strictest drunk driving laws in the world, at least as far as what constitutes drunk driving and statistically at least appears to have less of an issue with drunk driving than many countries.
The thing is the stats are what bother me, because in the talk I received on the matter the focus was certainly not on lives lost, but the punishment and damage to the driver. The fines paid, the loss of your job because you can’t drive, your family leaving you because you can’t support them anymore. Little mention of the victims involved beyond the driver.
Therein lies the problem. When the focus is on the cost to the driver, how much do you think the police are actively enforcing these laws?
The driver first; unless you might run over a vaguely suicidal old person crossing the road that is.
Try not to run over old people with no sense of their own mortality.
Then there was the recreated footage of a traffic accident involving a drunk old man on a bicycle and a woman who clips him with the back of her car as she pulls into her driveway. The moral of the story? The woman should have continued to check where the cyclist was once he had passed her. While that is certainly a very good idea indeed there was no mention of avoiding drinking and cycling or the fact that that too is illegal in Japan.
Check out Surviving in Japan for a full breakdown on cycling law in Japan versus its odd reality.
But then again, this was all pretty fast and I’m sure I missed some chunks while my brain melted like an overheated computer chip as it attempted to translate at speed.
On the other hand, this is simply another reason why I found myself worried by the talk. Not because the instructor wasn’t earnest or that people weren’t paying attention, but because downstairs in the lobby where I filled out paperwork part of the form was handily translated into English; but not a word during the talk.
At one point during the talk all of the participants were asked to participate in a mock test. Asked if I could understand Japanese by the instructor I told him the truth, “Yes, I understand most of what you’re saying however, in this situation I don’t really know much of the driving vocabulary.”
He responded by trying to explain "hai" and "iie" to me (the Japanese for yes and no). Then when I assured him that yes I can read a hiragana, katakana and a fair bit of kanji (the two scripts in Japanese and Chinese characters) and no I probably couldn’t keep up with the mock test he waved my comments away and carried on at full blast.
I didn’t have a chance in hell.
But that wasn’t important. I was there, I was participating and I had the appropriate paperwork.
What does it matter if I couldn’t follow every detail? I’m sure all the important information was relayed to me in cartoon form anyway. If that didn’t cover all the bases, well then, the awesome 80s soundtrack on the VHS video transferred to a swanky DVD will have most certainly conveyed everything I needed to know, right?
Car accident + music from The Terminator OST = Bad Driver.© Japan Today