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Thursday, August 03, 2017

Lapsed Driver's License in Japan

運転免許 失効手続き

For some reason, it came to me as I came down the elevator. I impulsively reached for my wallet, pulled out my driver's licence and, sure enough, it had expired two weeks before.

If your license expires in Japan when you should have renewed it, it is called shikko 失効, i.e., lapsed, or invalid.

A Japanese driver's license that has been invalidated.
My invalidated Japanese driver's licence

It's not that big a deal. You simply have to repeat the whole application process for a new one, which, if nothing has changed too much since last time, is time-consuming (a couple of hours).

To my shame, it has happened to me before. In addition to going through the whole rigmarole, including having my eyes tested, I had to sit through a one-hour traffic safety seminar - which was actually well done, with lots of visuals - reserved for those who have done something amiss.

I telephoned ahead a few days ago to see what I should do this time, and one of the questions I was asked was "Were you out of the country at the time your licence expired?" It just so happens that I was. I was in Turpan, China, for 5 days, neatly enveloping the date my licence expired. It so turns out that being out of the country is a watertight reason for not having renewed your licence.

I went to the Samezu Driver's Licence Center this morning. It opens at 8am, so I got there when it opened so I wouldn't be late for work. (The Driver's Licence Center is closed on weekends.)

Because I had been out of the country, I went to only two counters: No.1, where they inspect your licence, look at the notification postcard you may have been sent by the Center, and give you the right forms to fill out, and then No.6, the "Shikko" counter, which doesn't open until 8.30am.

I filled out the form, waited in front of counter no.6 until it opened (there was only one person waiting at this counter besides me), and explained myself to them when my turn came.

Everyone at the Center is the lively, cheerful, practical type who deal with things warmly, briskly yet conscientiously, and make themselves very clearly understood.

The guy took my form and looked at my passport to vouch that I'd actually been out of Japan on the date my licence expired. I should have thought of it before, but the only stamps were from the Chinese immigration authorities. I always use the automated passport gate at the immigration check at the airport, so don't have any stamps in my passport from the Japanese authorities.

He said I'd have to approach the Personal Information Office (kojin joho hogo kakari 個人情報保護係) of the Ministry of Justice (Homusho 法務省) and make a request for disclosure (kaiji seikyu 開示請求 ) for a record of my entries into and departures from Japan (shutsu nyukoku no kiroku 出入国の記録 ). Once the print-out was received, I should bring it back to the Driver's Licence Center and submit it as proof of my having been out of the country, thus letting me off the hook.

Instructions for requesting personal information, or kaiji seikyu, from the Ministry of Justice, Japan.
Instructions from the driving license center for applying for release of personal information from the Ministry of Justice


The alternative was to undergo the test from the beginning again, which would have taken a couple of hours, but, in that case my next licence would remain normal Blue, whereas, if I could excuse myself for having failed to renew, my next licence would be Gold - awarded to those who have committed no traffic violations for the past five years. The licence card actually features a beautiful gold strip, instead of the normal blue one, glowingly telling the world what a compliant, safe (or, in my case, very occasional) driver you are.

I lust for Gold, especially since I had missed out on it last time - when I didn't have an excuse for having let my license lapse - so opted for the Ministry of Justice route. So at lunchtime today, I went to the Ministry of Justice building no.6A, just across from Hibiya Park.

The culture here was quite different from that at the Licence Center. I had to explain what my business was to a guard at the gate, explain again and reveal the contents of my bag to a guard inside, go to the reception desk where a slightly nervy older woman gave me a badge to wear and commanded me to return it "without fail" on my way out. Another guard then escorted me to the office I wanted.

The office was as quiet as a church, and the young man who saw me was slightly curt (to begin with). He gave me a form to fill in, I selected for print-out only the month during which my licence had expired. After I handed the form back to him, he wanted to see my passport, asked if I had any documentation attesting to the date I became a Japanese citizen (I didn't), so made do with my health insurance card as ID, and then sent me downstairs to buy a 300 yen revenue stamp (shunyu inshi 収入印紙).

By the time I came back, he had mellowed somewhat (maybe he thought my kanji were kirei [beautiful] - that always helps). He asked me if I wanted to come back to pick up the document, or if I'd like it posted. I said I'd pick it up in person. He said it normally takes 10 days to 2 weeks. The guy at the Driver's Licence Center had prepared me for this, and told me to say I needed it urgently. So I told him what it was for and that I was unable to drive until I received it. He asked me when I would like it by, I said the 9th, and he said they would do their best and phone me when it was ready.

I thanked him, left, handed back my badge, and walked back to work.

I'm going overseas again on the 11th, so very much hope they can it back to me by the 9th so that I can get my licence - my Gold driver's license - reissued before I leave.

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