When my husband first saw this photo, he thought it was just a regular Smart Car with a Ferrari sticker on it. But oh ye of little faith, I checked in with my “friend” Google and found out that yes, Ferrari has been making a smart car. At first it was just Ferrari designers working for Smart Car, but then the company, in 2008 or thereabouts, starting their own line of them. Here’s a link to a Ferrari dealership in the US that carries the car, Dessert Motors. I went on Smart Car Owner fora and also looked at some interesting design options for the car. Tokyo is a car-lover’s dream – you can find every conceivable type of car around here, from a tiny Toyota to a huge Hummer. Japanese people love new cars, but most of them are pretty practical, and the city exists mostly on the infrastructure of the public transport. But still, it’s fun to see what people drive around every day, and every now and then, you find something astounding. Enjoy!
In Japan, your driver’s license gets renewed every three years but it expires within a month of your birthday no matter when you first received it. So since my birthday was in August, I knew I had to renew right away after the summer.
On my first try – and I have discovered that anything I do bureaucratically in Japan takes me two tries – I got to the center in Samezu right as it opened. I waited a moment on line to tell the receptionist what I wanted. He helped me to fill out a form, taking my license and basically photocopying it onto the form. The man told me to go to window number two. At the second window, I had to use a tiny machine to create a pin number. Keep in mind that everything involves waiting on a line – an efficient line – but a line nonetheless. Step three, room three was an eye test. There were four testers, four machines, and hence, four lines. It was slightly darkened in the room so you could see into the lighted machines, but I felt like humming a worker bee type of song. It was perfectly silent with a wave of black-haired driver-wannabes. It’s an efficient, perfect nightmare. There are even lines painted on the floor for people to follow as they negotiate the path from window to window to complete the tasks necessary at any department of motor vehicles.
After passing the eye test, I was told to go to window number five down the hall, where they checked my alien registration card. Unfortunately that first day, they noted that I had forgotten to renew my alien registration card and I had to go back to the Minato-city ward office to do that before I could get the license. I felt like they stamped my papers with a large “rejected” stamp! The ward office is a story for another day, but I had to leave the building right away.
The whole thing was a scene from a lousy 1950’s movie, complete with beige cinderblock walls and pink and beige tiled floors. That place hasn’t seen an update since the sixties at the latest. Everyone stamped papers and passed you on. It was typically institutional and mildly frightening.
I saved the paperwork they gave me, so when I went the second time, renewed alien card securely in my wallet, I was able to start with window number five (where did four go??) after checking in at the reception desk and the man there looking over the papers. That felt almost gleeful!
At window number five, they checked me in, punched a hole in my old license, and sent me to window number 8 to pay. After that, I had to go to room 11, where they took my picture. No smiling please.
After the picture, they sent me upstairs to room/window 200. There, the man behind the desk looked at me and did a typical Japanese, “hmmm. Very difficult.” I started to panic when he gave me the paper back with “room 200, 1:20-3:20pm” written on it. I was passing!
The last hurdle really to clear was the two-hour class. Road safety. 100% in Japanese, no exceptions. And all foreigners have to sit through it anyway. They gave me an English book, but even then, I understood less than 10% of what happened over the two hours. It was a nice rest and time to let my mind wander. I would pretty much do anything they said in order to renew the license and not have to go through getting a new one. The story of doing that was so painful that I did not even write about it for the blog.
The instructor of this looong class, was an older Japanese guy with a small gut and big, gold-framed glasses. He was so anxious that I was all right – it was cute. In the end, he smiled sheepishly at me and stamped my form with his completion stamp so I could go to window/room #15, back downstairs.
Everyone who had been taking the class, even in other classrooms, filed into the room, and they called out numbers from the front in Japanese. When your number was called, you went to the front, retrieved the license and the whole thing was done. I had to listen very carefully to the numbers, and I sat very close to the front, but they looked right at me when they called my number with my license in their hands. I’m sure I was the only foreigner in the room with about 100 Japanese in it. Note the renewal date in blue on the license in the picture above – the year of renewal is 26 – the 26th year of the current emperor, which is in 2014. The current year is 23.
I got my license renewed. I do not have to do anything like this again for three years. The thought, as I emerged from bureaucracy-land, put a spring in my step.
Japanese bureaucracy. Can’t beat it. It’s efficient and omnipresent – and antiquated. Sort of a metaphor for the country.
The Tokyo American Club is offering any of their member who wants to, a test drive of a Ferrari. Done in concert with the local Ferrari dealership, all you have to do is make a reservation. My husband, Marc, is a real car guy and couldn’t resist taking the opportunity.
We originally had a morning appointment, but the morning in question was very rainy. Luckily, they had a 4pm appointment open. Who really wants to drive a Ferrari in the rain?
When we arrived, we were guided toward a seat in the showroom and given iced tea or iced coffee by a lovely, young Japanese woman. The man who would help us, Kawazoe-san, came out to greet us and in traditional Japanese form, bowed and exchanged business cards with Marc. He then asked Marc to sign a waiver. Note that he never, not once, asked to see Marc’s driver’s license.
It took a few minutes for them to process the paperwork and get the car “ready” – whatever that meant. But it gave Marc and me a few minutes to look around the showroom, which had five cars in it. Marc knew the horsepower, torque, engine size and capacity of each one. I just knew that they were cute – and red.
Finally it was time to go see the cars. In the sunlight, the California sparkled. It was red – like candy apple red. Marc took in his breath with excitement. Kawazoe-san showed him some of the finer points of the car and gave him pointers on driving. He then squeezed himself into the tiny back seat so I could sit shotgun.
Kawazoe-san had a route in mind for Marc, which took him essentially under the Rainbow Bridge and into Daiba, where the streets are wider and less crowded so Marc could really open it up and feel the car. There’s only one word in my vocabulary for the experience: exhilarating. We had the top down and cruised through town like we hadn’t a care in the world. The whole thing lasted perhaps twenty-five or thirty minutes, but it was a week’s worth of fun all compacted.
When we got back to the dealership, Marc traded cars to the 458. I could not ride along on that once since it is a two-seater. I took a few photos of him with the car, but then went on my way.
Marc says that the most amazing part for him was hitting sixty miles per hour or so and then putting the pedal to the floor and getting pushed back in the seat as the RPMs hit 8000. He keeps talking about the BBC “Top Gear” guy who shouts out “what a machine!” with great glee during his test drive. I think if Marc wasn’t self conscious, he might have done the same!
All in all, it was a great experience – a heady one – and one we won’t soon forget. It was a great Tokyo moment.