Learning to Drive in Nanae

By Ben Mirin, CIR

There is no test to obtain an international driver’s license for Japan…but there should be.

The Nanae Town government generously provides a personal car for its Coordinator of International Relations.  The privilege of driving it, however, must be earned through several driving lessons on Japanese roads.  For a CIR who arrives during the winter, these are especially pragmatic.  Nanae’s snowplows are in short supply, and the few that patrol the town don’t disperse salt or other compounds (I’m told it’s for environmental reasons) to help melt the snow that accumulates almost every day.

I have driven in snow; after all, I’m from New England.  Outside of this, my experience on American roads would prove more of a hindrance than an asset.  Nevertheless, I approached my car with confidence and optimism. Japan is incredibly dynamic, and there are always opportunities for both foreigners and natives to try new things.  With two weeks since my initiation as CIR, I was already well trained in embracing such chances with a positive attitude.

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Seeing the car for the first time, I also remembered how Japan is a place of enduring traditions.  The one I was to inherit that day was 13 years old, a Suzuki Cultus Crescent that had been passed down among all the CIRs since the job’s inception.  From a leftover collection of Whitney’s mix CDs to a collection of scratches from Bobby’s bicycle, it was full of stories.  Looking around, I was also glad to see seat belts in the back seat.  Japan doesn’t require passengers in the back to wear them, but this is one Japanese practice I don’t expect I will adopt or permit.

Having withstood the trials of 5 different American drivers before me, this time-tested vehicle seemed worthy of my trust…but was I worthy of its keys?

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