Getting a Japanese Scooter License

Getting a Japanese Scooter License

So I finally got a Japanese driver’s license, which anyone who lives here for more than six months should really get.  Well, okay, so I got a scooter license.  Contrary to popular belief, this does not automatically make me gay.  Astride my Japanese moped, I’m easily as macho as that construction worker from The Village People, plus I have more chest hair.  Man, I love that guy.

Life and Death in Japan

They say that life is a series of accidents waiting to happen.  But I say, why wait?  Get yourself a tiny scooter in a country that rains all the time and hug the side of the road at 19 mph.  Ken Seeroi lives for danger.  People say that all the time.  They do.  No, really.

For such a safe country, it seems like people in Japan can’t kill themselves quickly enough.  Like I was in Shibuya Station last weekend after midnight, waiting for the last train.  A guy in a suit was drunkenly rocking back and forth in front of me, like he’s dreaming of falling into a nice, soft futon.  I’m always super-careful when I’m on the platform, because it’s dangerous, really, with all these trains coming in.  I guess I should mention that I’d also had a couple of cocktails.  But according to the Japanese Wikipedia, no one’s ever waited for the last train in Shibuya without being “drunk as a tanuki.”  Now, that’s a true fact—you can look it up.  I entered it myself.  Anyway, I was kind of fixated on this guy, because I had one of those bad feelings that I sometimes get.  And as the train roared in, sure enough I saw him stumble and take a header for the tracks.

A lot of people don’t know that I have cat-like reflexes.  But I do.  Even cats are like, Wow, damn, that’s pretty fast.  Really it has nothing to do with my childhood years spent training as a Shaolin monk, although I can seriously walk the hell out of some rice paper.  Whatever.  So as this businessman lurched off the platform, at the last possible second, I lunged at him, grabbed a big handful of suit, and yanked him back.  The train rushed past his head.  I was like, Wazaa! I save you with kung-fu!  He just looked at me like, Who the hell are you?  And I was like, Dude, what the eff?  You almost died!  Only I said it in Japanese, and then he looked sad.  He just stared at his shoes, and suddenly I felt bad, because I’d saved his life only to hurt his feelings.  Jeez, Japanese people can be so sensitive.

“What the eff” is the equivalent Japanese phrase you can expect to hear from exactly everyone when you tell them you want to get a Japanese scooter.  In the minds of the Japanese, riding a moped is on par with being a kamikaze pilot, only you look way gayer.  Everyone was quick to tell me about friends who’d been vaporized by trucks.  But I scoff at that, partly because I’m without fear.  The other part is that there’s nothing I fear more than being without coffee for a couple hours, and I seriously needed an easier way to get to Starbucks.  So after riding my tiny Japanese bicycle for half an hour just to get a Venti soy latte, I went to the DMV.

The Japanese Driving Center

In Japanese, they call a moped a gentsuki, which is good because it sounds way less effeminate.  And from what I could gather online, there was a book about the Japanese rules of the road available at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Unfortunately, the DMV happens to be stuck in about the year 1972 and hasn’t yet discovered the Internet.

The DMV building looks like a square version of the Death Star.  Inside the enormous entrance lobby was a little Japanese lady sitting alone behind an information desk.  She looked kind of sad.  I know I can be rather intimidating, in a big and white way, so when I walked up I tried to use my smallest and cheeriest Japanese voice.  I said, Excuse me, I’d like to get a gentsuki license.  Might you tell me where one would find a driver’s handbook?   She just glared up at me and said, in English—We have no English help.  That’s when I realized she wasn’t sitting; she was standing.  Christ, she really was mighty tiny.  So in an even smaller Japanese voice, I bent down and said, Okay, a book in Japanese is no problem.  Where might I obtain one?

She squinted at me and said again in English, We don’t sell a book.

Then she thrust a sheet of paper at me with Japanese instructions for obtaining a gentsuki license.  I thought, Isn’t this kind of sending mixed messages—speaking in English and then handing me this sheet?  But whatever.  Then I noticed that with her tiny arm she was pointing to another counter, so I went that way.  Two women were standing at attention behind the counter, waiting all day just to deny the existence of any book covering Japanese rules of the road.  I was like, You mean that the DMV has nothing to do with the rules of the road?  And they looked at each other, like it was the first time anyone had ever thought to ask such a question.  Maybe you should go to a bookstore, they said.

A small, black cloud formed over my head and I walked out of the DMV mumbling.  As soon as the double doors closed behind me, I saw a Japanese policeman walking into the building.  Suddenly I was like, Well, let’s just see what this fool has to say on the matter.  So I ran up behind him and said, Dude, really, is there no book for the rules of the road?  Isn’t this country a bit lacking in documentation?  He turned around, looked me up and down, then out of the corner of his mouth said, Go around the corner.  There’s a driving school.  They have a book.

I went around the corner.

The Japanese Driving School

I walked past the driving school three times before going in because I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a homeless shelter.  It was easily the most ghetto place I’ve been in Japan, rivaled only by the izakayas I typically hang out in.  When I opened the door, a fat guy with sweated-out armpits jumped bolt upright behind a glass case.  Papers and books were everywhere.  He’d obviously been sleeping in his own filth.  I was done with the pleasantries.

“Rules of the road book,” I said.

“We have no book,” he countered.

“I know you have it.  A cop told me.  I want it.”

At which point he rummaged through the display case and finally produced a green pamphlet covered in Big Mac stains.  “2000 yen,” he said.  I opened it and it even smelled like hamburger.  There was a list of true/false questions written in Japanese, and below them, an English-esque translation.  Here’s the first one, and I swear to God I’m not making this up:

T/F:  When operating.  When making a operation plan.  Because it has taken a feeling to that.  It had better do operation the place, the place.

I looked up at him.  You are effing kidding me, right?  Really?  He just shrugged and looked away.  I stared at him intently and he gazed out the window, like maybe there was going to be an eclipse or something.  Reluctantly, I picked two 1000 yen notes out of my wallet, handed them to him, and took that delicious-smelling book back to my place, my place.

I studied like crazy for about a week, because the test has 48 questions and you can only miss 3.  To make matters worse, the DMV is only open on weekdays, and as I actually succeeded in getting yet another job here in Japan, I had to take a day off work.  It sure is a lot of work to get a moped just so you can get flattened by a bus, but I was determined.

The Day of the Test

I spent so much time studying for the gentsuki test that I kind of overlooked one small detail, which was the entire licensing process.  Like, I knew the test registration opened at 8:30, so just to be on the safe side, I got there at 8:15.  Count on good old Seeroi to be the first one in line.  With an easy stride, I breezed through the sliding doors, stopped, and promptly crapped my pants.

The entire population of Japan had decided to relocate to the DMV.  Every kid, office lady, and grandpa had gotten up at dawn to go to there and stand in line for windows that weren’t open.  Even people who didn’t need a license had gone to the DMV just to hang out.  Everybody was filling out forms like mad.  Now, whenever I see that, I reflexively know I also have to fill out forms like mad, so I started running around the entrance hall trying to find the right ones.  Only I couldn’t find them, because there’s about a hundred different forms and everything’s in Japanese.  And for the first time in years, I wished for English.  Then I felt guilty for wishing that.  But I felt guilty in Japanese, so then it was okay.

I mean, I’m pretty good with Japanese in bite-sized portions.  I can mail a letter.  I can order a pizza, but only thin crust since I can never remember the word for “thick.”  I once even went to the dentist.  But in the middle of this ginormous room surrounded by posters in Japanese and signs in Japanese and everyone speaking Japanese and about a million forms, everything started to go black and rotate around me and I thought, The hell, I’ll never manage this one.  Might as well just go straight to Narita and airlift out.  Then I looked at the form in my hand and I heard a voice.  It said, Remember your training and trust your instincts.  Use the form, Ken.

You know, any time you hear voices, you really shouldn’t be allowed to get a motor vehicle license.  Whatever.  I started to decipher what I needed to enter.  I asked a pretty girl for help and she said she’d be right back.  And then she ran away.  So I was like, okay, better find an ugly dude.  I went up to the ugliest guy in the room and he told me “Just check all ‘No,’” which was exactly the kind of easy answer I was looking for.  I was like, Thanks a bunch, man, and have you heard about Proactiv?  I mean, just trying to be helpful.  Anyway, pretty soon I’d filled in all the necessary boxes and even some of the ones I shouldn’t have, and got in line with everyone else.

Oh, one small piece of advice for anyone getting a Japanese driver’s license, in addition to “be born in Japan.”  That is:  be able to write your address freaking perfectly, because you’re going to need to do it about a billion times.  Every single form needs your name and address, so if you, like me, take about two minutes to write your own address, you’ll be hating life.  I have a really complicated address, seriously.

The Japanese Gentsuki Test

Somehow I managed to fill in all the right forms, pay some cash, and fool the DMV into actually letting me take the test.  At which point I was herded into a room with about 50 Japanese kids, all about sixteen years old.  Everybody got a test.  And then there was me.

It was really a toss-up between taking the test in English—with its bizarre grammar—and taking it in Japanese—with its, well, Japanese.  I eventually opted for English, because if I’m going to fail a test, at least I want to do so in my native language.

Practically though, this meant I had singled myself out, which I hate to do.  I mean, it’s not like I don’t already stand out.  So the whole class had to wait for me, the white guy in the front row, while three Japanese ladies carried in the precious English version in a plastic bag.  They unwrapped it and laid it in front of me.  “Don’t look,” the one lady said in English.  I glanced at the page and in about one second had read every question.  Gotta love English.  “I won’t,” I said.

To be honest, the gentsuki test is pretty damn hard.  I still don’t know if I’m supposed to slow down when I reach the top of a steep hill, or speed up.  I mean, how fast am I going, how steep’s the hill, and what’s the visibility like?  Anyway, I put True, because blasting over top of a hill on a moped just seemed like the greatest idea ever.  But the question that really stumped me was the picture of a One-Way sign, facing left.  It read:

T/F:  This sign means the gentsuki can turn left.

I marked False, because that sign means One-Way.  Then I read the question again, and I thought, Well, wait, that sign doesn’t prohibit a scooter from turning left.  It doesn’t mean you can’t turn left.  So I erased it and put True.

After the test was done, I walked out in the lobby and was like, No, you fool.  You should have marked False.  You’ve just doomed yourself to a life of riding a one-speed mamachari.  Then suddenly came the excited squeals of a dozen teenage girls as the overhead a scoreboard lit up with the numbers of the people who’d passed.  My number was 0419.  For some crazy reason, the numbers on the scoreboard were only 3-digit numbers.  I was like, What’s my number?  041 or 419?  Am I even looking at the right number?  Anyway, some of the digits were up there, so close enough, I figured.

The rest of the morning was taken up with eye tests, paying more money, getting pictures taken, and writing my address about a million more times.  Then we sat in a classroom and listened to this retired guy tell us how not to get crushed by a minivan.  Since he’d seen me do the English version of the test, he made it a special point to explain everything in Japanese to the whole class, then turn to me and say, in English, “Do you understand?”  That made me feel special.  We watched a video of people getting run over by tractor trailers.  After it finished he turned on the lights, looked at me and said, “Mister!  Do you understand?”  I mean, really, some people.

Then we had lunch.  You know, I’ve held licenses in four different U.S. states, and I don’t recall the process ever taking more than a couple of hours, including waiting in terminally long lines.  But amazingly the Japanese have managed to stretch it out to a full day event.  After lunch we were given one very special form.  Whatever you do, the retired guy said in Japanese, don’t make a mistake on this form.  Then to me in English, “Do you understand?”  I was like, Yeah, I understand you’re a dick.  I took the form and started to write with a vengeance.

I got two kanji in and effed it up.  I completely omitted the left half of one character.  Maybe I can sandwich it in there, I thought, but when I tried all the lines bled together, so I started retracing the strokes to make it clearer.  Thirty seconds later the whole thing was a dark blob.  Everyone else was already finished.  I wanted to die.

The retired guy made me sit in the back of the class, then went out and got a new form and this very ancient Japanese lady who was probably his mother to sit beside me.  “Write the first character,” she said.  “Very good.  Now write the second one.   Oh, very nice.  Okay, let’s do another one.  Oh, jyooozu.”  I was like, Jeezus, grandma, I made a freaking mistake, okay?  I’ve already written my address a hundred times today!  How do you think I even got to this point?  But of course, it was my own fault for screwing up, so I didn’t actually say anything.  Plus she was a pretty sweet old bird.

The Gentsuki Safety Course

After that ordeal, listening to more safety talks, paying more money, and filling out even more forms, we were led outside for a Safety Course, where we’d actually get to ride the prized gentuski.  “Goodbye, Mister,” said the old guy.  “Write your address more!”  Everybody laughed.  Oh, will you please go to hell.  I smiled and waved thanks.

We filed outside.  It was a beautiful, warm day, with a line of mopeds basking in the sun.  Five instructors divided us into two groups, guys and girls, and gave us helmets and white gloves.  They put me in the girl group.  All of the girls giggled.  Like I’d just failed gym class.  Two girls near me said, in English, “Hello.  Where are you from?”

“America,” I said.

Heeeey.  Do you know a famous person?”

I thought for a moment.  No, actually, I don’t.  Like, I met Bill Clinton once, but that’s probably pretty boring to a 16 year-old chick.  And it’s not like I actually know the guy.

“Sure,” I said. “I had dinner with Michael Jackson.”

Waa sugoi,” The cooed.  “Michael!  Sugoi!”

“Yeah,” I said.  “He has really small hands.”

I’ve never ridden a moped before, which turned out to be an extremely good thing, because the course was boring as hell.  We spent half an hour practicing getting it off and on the kickstand.  I gazed at the warm mountains in the distance just filled with gentsuki-ridable roads.  After an hour, we’d ridden in a straight line.  Maybe I could steal a gentsuki and bust through the fence.  At an hour and a half, we’d learned to go in a circle to the left.  In my mind, I was half-way to the mountains with a horde of gentsuki instructors chasing me, when I heard a voice say, Well, that’s it!  You’ve all passed!  And everybody stopped and took off their helmets and gloves and started saying “congratulations” to each other.  I was like, What?  I still haven’t learned to make a circle to the right.

So we went back inside and paid some more money.  I think the whole thing came to about 80 bucks.  Finally, I got to the last window and they handed me a license that, if I showed it to you, you’d be like, “Wow, you look like you just spent a full day being humiliated by the Japanese DMV.”  That’s what you’d say.  The guy behind the window handed it to me and said, in English, “Good job.”  “Thanks,” I said, “you too.”

And that was that.  I walked outside a free man.  It was still a beautiful day.  I am now licensed to ride a scooter of 50 cc’s or less.  I cannot carry passengers or transport loads that extend more than 1.5 meters on either side.  But ride I can.  Now all I need is a scooter.



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45 Comments

  1. Congratulations – you passed the test! What a story! I hope you can survive on the scooter and not be attacked by anything!

  2. Yeah, thanks. I wish I could ride it on the sidewalk, because that would be safer, plus pretty awesome. But I’m not too worried anyway, since I got me a Yoda figure I can glue to the speedometer. Nothing can possibly go wrong so long as Yoda stays affixed, I think.

  3. OMG, what an ordeal. Funny and awful at the same time. How we take for granted the easier path here (shoot, in Miami, you can get forms in English, Spanish, and Creole and, who knows, maybe Yiddish and Hindi, too, I haven’t checked lately.)

    I wanna see a pic of your scooter. Post one eventually, eh? And maybe the front of some of those divy izakayas. Yes, I am all voyeur up in here.

    Happy scootering! (In a totally manly, hairy, and non-effeminate way, of course. Not that there’s anything wrong with unhairy and effeminate scootering (snarf).)

    • That does it, next time I take a test here, I’m definitely asking for Creole. One of the world’s most delicious languages.

      As soon as I save up enough yen in my ko-buta bank, I plan to pick up the dive-iest scooter I can find and park it in front of the dive-iest izakaya I know. Pictures to follow.

  4. I agree with the above comment. I am highly interested in seeing the legendary flaming gay kamikaze pilot known as Ken Seeroi rip up the streets of Japan.

    I was thinking about just using a bike to get around, but I guess sometimes the circumstances require something faster? Is lane splitting legal in Japan? I was hoping to acquire a motorcycle with at least 300cc in Japan, but it sounds like that would be impossible.

    • After getting the gentsuki license, I started thinking that it might not have been that much harder just to get a full-on driver’s license. The big difference is that, for a real license, you have to do a driving test. (It’s actually weird that, for the gentsuki, you don’t need to prove you can actually ride the thing, beyond going around in a circle.)

      So I’m sure you can do it. Just about everything in Japan is somehow harder than it needs to be, but don’t let that stop you.

      As far as I know, lane splitting is legal. Although somehow that subject never came up on the test. It probably never occurred to anyone in Japan that you wouldn’t use every available inch of road.

  5. Congratulations and well done! I was lucky being an Aussie I could just get my driver’s license converted over to a Japanese license with no actual test, just a bit of paperwork.

    • Darn you lucky bastards from the Commonwealth. My jealously knows no bounds. I wish it were that easy for those of us from the U.S. Fifty states and each one has a different license. Not too sure what the “U” in U.S. actually means, to tell the truth.

      • Japan gives some advantage to Commonwealth Citizens?
        Is there a list for other laws are there in Japan for citizens who belong to a Commonwealth nation?

        The license process sound so freaking convoluted. I’d abuse the commonwealth citizenship status to my heart’s content if they let me :p

      • The paperwork for Australians can still be somewhat exhausting, even if the don’t have to do a driving test. You have to provide a certified translation into Japanese of everything on your licence – only Japan Automobile Federation or your embassy are acceptable.

        You also have to show that you were resident in your country for a minimum of three months after gaining your licence – they will check this with your passport. In my case, the licence only gave the expiry date, not the start, so I had to write to the state traffic authority to get a certified driving record.

        Finally, when you apply for the change of licence, they will take you off into a small room and ask all sorts of questions, like: how long did you learn before you got the licence? did you learn on real streets or a practice course? how many questions were on the exam? were they multiple choice or short answer? etc, etc. If you are like me, it’s so long ago you can’t remember half of that, but patience is rewarded.

  6. “…and took that delicious-smelling book back to my place, my place.”

    You’re a prince.

    • Thanks. I been walking around in robes with a sceptre all week and nobody’s said a word. I think my style’s too understated by Japanese standards. Note to me: more grandiosity.

  7. Hey, Great Blog,

    Quick Question for ya. I’m an American who’s been living in Japan for over a year. I want to get a 50CC Scooter. Do I have to get an official Japanese Driver’s License, or can I just get the “Gensuki” License.

    Do you have a website, or any other resources with information on this? I live in Chiba, and was wondering how I can go about getting the process underway.

    Any information would be really helpful.

    Thanks,
    Ben

    • Hey Ben,

      You can just get the gentsuki license. It’s official, but only for gentsuki.

      There’s really two things you need to tackle. Okay, maybe three. The first is, you should know the rules of the road. This book will apparently help: http://www.jaf.or.jp/e/road.htm . I never actually got it though, so although I’m now terrorizing the local folks on my gentsuki, I can barely tell the difference between a No-Parking sign and a Wrong-Way sign. Eh, probably not that important, but maybe you’d want to know.

      The second thing you’ve got to do is get a hold of some practice tests. A found a couple online (I don’t exactly remember where, but there’s a few floating around out there), but I’m also pretty glad I found a practice test book, pathetic as it was, at a driving school. My test book had five practice tests in it, and I failed every one. In real life, I’m pretty sure you can take the test again the same day if you don’t pass it the first time.

      The last thing is, you’ve got to somehow deal with the administrative procedures at the DMV. Unless your Japanese is freaking amazing, your life will be a lot easier if you can drag along somebody Japanese to help esprain everyting.

      Oh yeah, and a fourth thing: At the DMV, they asked me if I had a U.S. license. I’m pretty sure if I said yes they were going to ask me for an officially translated copy of it, which is a whole other procedure. I was like, License? No way.

      Good luck. Let us know how it goes.

      Ken

      • Awesome read. 🙂

        The license translation process is actually a pretty easy thanks to comprehensible English instructions provided by JAF. Like most everything else in the country, it’s just a matter of time and money. You just send a copy of your license, an application form, and a postal money order to the nearest JAF branch that handles translation requests. Details are on JAF’s website: http://www.jaf.or.jp/e/switch.htm

        One thing I’m really curious to know and having difficulty finding out is: Does getting a gentsuki license from scratch prevent you from being able to convert your US license into a full Japanese car license later on?

        • Thanks very much for writing, and that’s a good question. I’d venture a guess no, only because I can’t think of any reason it would interfere with that process, but I’m not sure. I’ll probably try to get a car license later this year (famous last words), and if so, I’ll let you know then. It’s good to know that the translation process is easy, but what really concerns me is the road test, since I’ve heard most people fail. I envy people from nations that don’t need to take the road test.

          • I’ll look forward to hearing your car license experience, too. 🙂

            Yes, I sympathize about the road test. If it makes you feel any better, you probably won’t have it worse than me. It took me four tries. I was even praised for doing “everything else perfectly” on my third try but failed because I’d committed an auto-fail offence by jumping a curb with my rear tire. I’ve always meant to write up my experiences thoroughly, but this is as far as I got: http://www.accessj.com/2010/02/driving-test-tips-checklist-when.html

            For comparison, the guy at SuperMelf.com took an took an informal survey of American JETs and calculated the average number of tries on the driving test to be 2.375. So I think in many cases it’s just a matter of swallowing your pride and being willing to go back for a second attempt. You do hear the horror stories of the people who took the test like twelve times, but if you’re having that much difficulty, I’d recommend calling up a local driving school. (Even if it smells of Big Macs.) They’re really helpful and will explain all the details of the test that the DMV proctor won’t.

            • Four times? Twelve times? That’s like a part-time job! I just want to rent a car a couple times a year, not make taking the driving test my new hobby. Sigh. I guess it has to be done. I just wonder how I’m gonna get the time off from work to go to the DMV every day for a week.

              Thanks for the pointers. Those are very helpful.

          • Yeah, on try four my employer at the time wasn’t too thrilled with me… But, hey, you get it over with and then it’s just a funny memory.

            At my licensing center, by the way, there was a certain number of slots available per day. You had to call ahead and reserve a spot instead of just showing up. I don’t know if every place handles it like that, but it’d probably be a good idea to call and check instead of showing up and being bummed because you missed a day of work for nothing.

            • Excellent useful advice. You’re right, it would suck to go all the way over there and then not be able to take the test. Ah, phone calls in Japanese . . . on my list of Stuff-That-Terrifies-me-in-Japan, that’s about number two on the list, right after taking the driving test.

  8. > A found a couple online (I don’t exactly remember where, but there’s a few floating around out there), but I’m also pretty glad I found a practice test book, pathetic as it was, at a driving school.

    This might help: http://gentsuki-japan.blogspot.jp/

  9. Hi Ken!

    I just wanted to let you know that I passed the exam this Friday :)I failed the morning one (for which I had a good feeling after taking it) and I passed the afternoon one (for which I was sure I would fail since I guessed at least 5 questions).

    I must say that people in my exam center (Shinagawa) were very nice and they did their best to make me feel comfortable. Also the procedure was a little bit different (Eye exam first, no need to look for the an ugly girl,…)

    Anyway, I am a free man now – almost. All I need now is my gentsuki. Do you recommend any shop in Tokyo? Any important reason why you decided for Super Cub and not another model?

    Cheers,
    Simon

    • Hey congratulations! That’s excellent.

      Can’t say I’d recommend any particular place in Tokyo. Maybe somebody else knows a good spot? All the usual rules apply though–do your research, compare prices, pick a shop convenient to your home and work if possible, and negotiate like a badger. If you buy a used one, don’t trust anybody too much. I mean, it’s Japan and all, but you’re still buying a used vehicle.

      I wouldn’t necessary push anyone to get a Super Cub. Don’t get me wrong–mine rocks and I love it, but there are other bikes that are cheaper, faster, and easier to ride.

      I picked the Cub for three reasons. First, okay, it looks good as hell. But hey, that’s just my own taste; there are plenty of cool bikes out there. Secondly, it’s super reliable and anyone can fix it. Lots of twenty and thirty year-old Cubs are still on the road, so it’s not likely to die on you. Lastly, and most importantly, it can haul as much as a small car, and keep stuff dry. It’s like owning a Jeep. Every day I’ve got a computer, modem, camera, electronic dictionary, and about 20 pounds of books. That stuff does not like water. Don’t forget you need also to carry a rain suit(かっぱ)unless you like being soaked on a regular basis. And a good lock. Normal scooters have limited storage, so depending on how much you need to haul, that may be an issue.

      I’d be interested to know what you end up getting. Be safe out there.

      • Hey!

        Thanks. It feels great.

        I just can’t wait to get my ride haha. Thanks also for all of your advice. If you have some time, I would like to buy you a beer as a thank you one day. So you wont have to drink only with some random beautiful ladies 😛 But no Ikebukuro please, that Yakuza story kind of turned me away form that place for a while.

        Talking about beer… How often do you actually use your Cub? Since even a sip of beer could cost you your license and a lot of money, I am guessing that you don’t use it everyday?

        I tried some shops in Ueno today (close to my work), but without a Japanese friend I have nothing to do there. Also, there was no “san” treatment for me. I guess because I said I want to spend only 50.000 JPY for everything hehe.

        I kind of prefer manual shifting and I drove a lot of weird bikes in Thailand and Philippines, but here I might just get something like Honda Today or that bigger one for which I do not remember the name, but it is Honda G..something.

        About storage – I might just get one of those boxes for the rear. I am not sure if I can attach it to every scooter though.

        Cheers,
        Simon

        • Yeah no, I pretty much ride the Cub four or five times a week, but only for work and to run errands, never to go out. That’s what trains are for, right? No way I’m riding after cocktails. Even the next day could be a problem if you go big the night before, so I figure save that for the weekend and your liver will thank you anyway.

          Keep on shopping. As long as you got the money, you got the power. Maybe we’ll get that beer one of these days.

          • Hey Ken!

            I got my scooter. I visited dozens of shops and the best deal I could get is 69.000 jpy (~870 USD?) for Suzuki Let’s 4 – year unknown, but “maybe 3 or 4 years old” according to the sales man – probably more. The price includes basic insurance and maintenance (I guess every used scooter has to be checked?). The original price would be around 74k, so I got some discount. Maybe I could get more?

            Super Cubs were even more expensive… so I think you got a really good deal or I visited wrong shops. I visited Ueno, Koto-ku shops, Shinjuku and all I could find for cheaper was some two stroke scooter around 55k, but when tried it, I thought the damn thing would fall apart right there in the middle of the sidewalk.

            Anyway, I also did not manage to get any box or helmet, so I have to buy those separately ><

            Oh well, at least I am mobile now. I got my very own plates today 😉

            Cheers,
            Simon

            • Man, Excellent! Congratulations! 690 all included seems like a good deal. Since you’re mobile, I assume you got a helmet too? If not, you should be able to pick one pretty cheap. It took me a while to find a basic black model that I liked and that fit well, but with a bit of pleading–“sorry, that’s all the money I’ve got” (which was the truth)–I picked one up for 3000 even. It’s got the approximate crash protection of a baseball cap, but it looks cool, so that’s all that matters, right?

              Riding a gentsuki ranks pretty high on the Japan Fun-o-Meter. I’d almost rather do that than hang out in izakayas chatting up random Japanese ladies. Well, almost. But watch it out there too, since I’ve heard the police do actually bust people for exceeding the 30 kph. speed limit, which seems absurd, but what’re you gonna do. And I hate to say it, but try to be safe, because the things are pretty freaking dangerous. When in doubt, remember, rubber side goes down.

              Again, seriously, congratulations!

  10. This was fucking hilarious 🙂

  11. Hi Ken,

    I will ask this question here. When I registered my scooter, I payed insurance only for a year. The sticker on my plate says 25/8 which is 2013/August. Does this mean that I am insured until the end of the August?

    How and where do I extend the insurance?

    Thanks,
    Simon

    • That’s a good question for which I have no good answer. I got something in the mail after a year, and I think it was for insurance. It was pretty cheap, so I just went to the conbini and paid it. But what it actually was, well, I’m not really sure. Most of my life in Japan seems to operate along those lines. Sorry I don’t have a better answer.

  12. Well, congrats! For me, I was gonna get only the scooter license but missed the bloody date of the designated test and at the driving centre they told me the next is in weeks (Fukuoka). I got sooooo angry that I asked them: OK, so can I take the car driving exam instead AND immediately? Hearing an answer in the affirmative, I took both the written and driving tests and I passed. :-))))) I could finally jump on my scooter legally (I had been riding it with an International License, not knowing about the crazy rules here).
    The story does not end there.
    3 years later I needed a MANUAL license (for driving a 2ton truck long distance) instead of the automatic one that practically every foreigner gets. At that point, I had been driving my car (scooter sold) for 2 years, plus, when back in Europe, I would drive my manual car on the other side of the road. So I figured, the exam would be a piece of cake. Nooooo suuuuuch thiiiiing. I tried the exam twice and each time I was told that I could not drive!!!!!!!
    Again, I got soooooo incredibly pissed that I decided to track down automatic 2ton trucks and rented one for the 2-day journey (moving my stuff) from Fukuoka to Tokyo. I drove 2,300km in 40 hours… I would have liked to see the face of the driving instructors at the centre, showing them the rental document that had the driven distance on the return contract. :-)))
    Conclusion: nothing is impossible in Japan if you know and can play the system. Not even for a gaijin woman. 🙂

    • That’s awesome. I know eventually I’m going to have to follow in your footsteps and get a car license. It’s just about money and time. And frustration tolerance. I need more off all three. Gotta start saving up.

  13. I think I love you; too bad you’re gay. This was so awesome to read. On a whim, I recently decided I want a scooter instead of my bike because, well, I’m lazy. I live in Saitama and as much as I love the rolling hills and wide open spaces, I hate the distances to the station.

    But I know only like a handful of useless words in Japanese; none of which will likely help me get a license or even a library card, for that matter. So my whim my go unsatisfied, right up there with getting a Japanese credit card. Sigh.

    But I enjoyed this post. Awesomeness.

    • Yeah, I still don’t have a Japanese credit card. Something about having a bank balance in the single digits. I guess I should really tell them about the fortune I keep stashed inside my futon. But as for the scooter test, you can take it in English, so it’s definitely do-able. You still have to fill out all the scary forms in Japanese, but maybe you can grab a homeless guy off the street or something to go with you.

      Yeah, too bad about my gayness and all. But maybe if you’re patient, I could change. I’ve never been with a woman, so you could be my first. I’m willing to try if you are.

  14. Dude, you are funny as hell. I just stumbled across this article when I was googling for those super pimped Japanese scooters. I started reading it like any other article, and I thought you trying to be cute, then I realized that you are genuinely funny. I would copyright this article before someone steals if for a stand up routine. Seriously. Thanks.

    • Man, thanks a lot. I wonder how it would be as a stand-up routine, actually. I guess if Dave Chappelle or Daniel Tosh want to borrow it for a bit, that’s cool. Twenty bucks plus a round of beer and it’s yours. Oh, and mention where you got it, that’s all I ask.

  15. Hey Kenny G,

    Ya know a lot of people that read Ken’s blog are equally impressed with his talents and he manages to continually put out his Comedic Masterpiece’s (CM) almost at whim. He’s like the Paul Harvey of Japan, telling “… the rest of the Story” that most people miss. I hope he’ll publish a book one day soon and include a lot of the repartee at the end of the stories as they often tell some of the most interesting facts relevant to the discussions. IMHO, Ken is a true SAGE of satire and sarcasm and his wisdom and perceptive abilities are beyond his years and experience. I only hope his luck holds out and he’s able to put it all together before his trips to the Temple of Izakaya numbs his talented brain into passivity and mediocrity.

    Thanks for being so positive Kenneth and I encourage you to tell others about this amazing Blog!! Ever since I found it I, have completely enjoyed spending time here and am truly amazed at the wisdom Ken imparts in his funny CMs!!! I have never met Ken personally and we really don’t have anything in common, but I find that I already consider him a person of distinction that I respect and admire greatly. I found his Blog after reading a column he wrote that was printed in an online Japanese newspaper about a woman that committed suicide (look at the index of stories – “A Japanese Suicide”) and I assure you Ken can also write pieces that are heartwarming and socially redeeming (like the story – “My very brief fight with a Yakuza”) . Please, everyone keep encouraging Ken to write a book and make the larger community of readers aware of this great (the honest to god truth) man’s talent (he reminds me so much of my favorite author Robert Heinlein!) BTW, I have not been paid for this endorsement, but will certainly accept an autographed copy of Ken’s book when it is finished!! Oh… OK, I’ll buy it first silly!!!

    • Thanks always for your support, Bud. I’ll get around that book one of these days. It’s all about time management—Japan’s just so darn interesting. There’s always something delicious to eat, or some young lady who needs talking to. I mean, priorities.

      I appreciate what you and others have done to spread the word about my site. That really means a lot to me.

  16. Such a funny and lovely article…I laughed to tears…. I had the same such experience.. ams till trying to get the scooter liscnece…gonna give my 4th trial soon ;( …I don`t find any book in english…Lucky u were Ken..

    • Thanks much. Getting a license in this country makes going to the DMV like a hobby. I’ve been there about a dozen times now. But keep going—you’ll get there eventually. Then once you do, you can try the car license. That’s another fun challenge.

  17. Hi Ken,
    I just came across your blog. I went through that whole process to get my gensuki license, now it is time for renewal. I have no idea how to go about this process, so I’m wondering what did you do?

    • Heh, I got a car driver’s license.

      I suspect the license renewal process is pretty easy, but I never went through it. Before my gentsuki license expired, I went through the painful process of getting the car license. Well, it’s painful if you’re from the U.S. Anyway, I don’t think it’ll be too difficult to renew your scooter license.

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