Monday, December 30, 2013

We are official drivers in Japan!

With smiles of appreciation --
we have our Japanese driver's licenses!
On Thursday, 26 December, we arose early in the morning to make the hour drive to Yokohama, specifically to the Futamatagawa License Examination Hall.  As we drove, we were counting to ten in Japanese, practicing our Japanese directions (left, right, stop, speed up, etc.).  We tested each other on the "pre-exam" requirements (looking under the car for objects, locking the door, adjusting the mirrors, etc.).  But, we knew that we would be returning to Yokosuka WITHOUT our license.

Everyone told us that NO ONE passes on their first attempt - especially foreigners.  This was our last step in our transition and we really wanted to be done.  

Over the past six months since our arrival in Japan, we have learned that the driver's license conversion for Americans is quite difficult.  In Germany, we were blessed to have contractor status at Ramstein.  This allowed us to get a license from the base without having to get a German driver's license.  In hind sight, we wish we would have had a German drivers license.  Germans have an agreement with the Japanese and they need to pass an eye test and written exam to receive their Japanese Driver's License.  The United States does NOT have that type of an agreement, so we needed to go through the complete process.  Neither one of us has had to take a driving test since we were 16!

The process is a three step process:  (1) formal application; (2) eye and written exams; (3) driving exam. Fortunately, the written exam is in English and is fairly easy.  The driving exam is on a specific course at the exemption hall, is administered by a police officer and is in Japanese.  We are not allowed to have a translator with us during the exam.  You may have a translator to help you with the paperwork and to get feedback after your exam, but not during the exam.

We have been driving in Japan with our International Driver's License.  We have had six months of practice to get use to driving behind the wheel which is on the right side of the car and driving on the right side of the road.  We also took a lesson which was quite expensive!  But, we had an English speaking instructor and we could drive the course that we were taking the exam on.  Keitasan was very patient and helpful, but he too prepared us for first time failure.

After a busy Christmas day, we went to bed and were ready to get up and tackle the test.  Cathy decided to check her email to see if anyone back in the States was awake yet on Christmas morn.  No stateside emails, but we received an email from our friend who was going to meet us at the examination hall to be our translator.  She notified us that she was sick and would not be able to meet us.  It was 9:45PM and we were stunned.  We had to leave at 5:30AM to go to Yokohama and we had no idea who to call to replace her.  We contacted a young man that we thought might have the day off from work to see if he could help us.  Unfortunately, he couldn't.  We checked with another few friends, but of course, at the late hour, everyone was busy.

Takako and Josh
We just stared at each other and decided we would have to change our appointment - which requires you to go in person.  We actually thought about trying to take the exam without a translator, but knew that would be difficult.  On Christmas, we had one of our sailors bring a Japanese friend to dinner.  Takako spent the day with us and I took of picture of her & Josh.  She asked me to email it to her and provided me with her email address AND cell phone.  We decided to give her a call.  We had spent about 5 hours with her, and felt bad for calling so late and asking her such a big favor, especially since we just met her….BUT we were desperate.  It was 10:45PM and Cathy called.  It went to voice mail and we left Takako a message.  At 11:00PM, we went to bed realizing we were destined to have to reschedule our driving test.   

At 11:15PM, the phone rang and it was Takako.  She apologized for calling so late and then told us she would be more than happy to help us out.  It turns out that she lived in Yokohama and knew where the examination hall was and she could meet us there! Takako was a tremendous help.  We would never have been able to complete the various paperwork that was needed nor understand the examiner without her!  The driving test and results took almost 6 hours - what a huge sacrifice of time for her!  We were so grateful!

Cathy was chosen to take the exam first.  The next person that takes the examination actually gets to ride in the backseat to watch.  So, Cathy pulls out with the examiner and a Chinese woman.  When she returned to the beginning station, the examiner told her (through Takako) the things that she had not done correctly.  The Chinese gal hops into the driver's seat and Lou now sits in the back seat.   After a few minutes, the Chinese gal is back at the starting point.  It seemed like she didn't take as long to finish the course as Cathy.  It turns out that she didn't finish the course. She failed somewhere during the test and was asked to return.  Lou had no idea what she did wrong and he automatically thought he was a "dead man".  Lou hops in the front seat and upon return he too learns what he had not done correctly.  We were convinced that we would be returning to retake the exam.

After the other people take the exam, the instructor grades the tests and calls us forward.  He is sitting behind a window and hands the paperwork to you with either a date for your retake exam or information about the next step after passing.  We get called forward as a team…Takako talks to the examiner and turns to us and says "You both passed!".  We were stunned, shocked, speechless.  Cathy said "Did you say 'we both passed'?".  Takako smiled and said "YES".  If the examiner wasn't behind the window, Cathy would have probably hugged him. We honestly were shocked.  

There were 15 foreigners that took the exam that day, 4 of us passed.  One was an Indian man and it was his second time taking the exam.  One was a Chinese lady and it was her third time taking the exam.  The Chinese lady that was driving with Lou failed and it was her fifth attempt.  We felt so bad for her.   It took another 2 hours to get our actual license.  But, we now can drive in Japan for as long as we stay in Japan.  

We are grateful for our driving instructor, Keitasan.  We are VERY thankful for Takako and her willingness to help us with the translation and giving up her entire day for us.  We are convinced we had a fair but kind examiner.  God is good!

Cathy sent Keitasan and Mikisan (she was the lady that provided us with the information on the driving school) an email to tell them that we passed on our first try.  Mikisan told Cathy that in the 5 years she has been helping foreigners get their license, she has never had anyone pass on their first time!  Keitasan told us that we were his first foreign students that passed on their first time. We don't share this to receive accolades on our ability; we share this so you understand truly what a miracle this is!  Stay off the streets in Japan -- Lou & Cathy are driving.  We wish you all a very Happy 2014!  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas is right around the corner!

We don't know about you….but we cannot believe Christmas is in just a few days!  We are excited to be here in Yokosuka and have the opportunity to open our home to the sailors that serve our nation.  We continue to be amazed at how much we LOVE what we do.  We enjoy being a safe place for people.  We constantly tell people that no matter where you are on your spiritual journey -- you are WELCOME in our home.  Come enjoy a home cooked meal, in an environment where you can just be yourself, have fun, ask questions and have a family when you are so far away from yours.

Paul & Natalie & Sam
A couple of our favorite sailors
As we get ready to celebrate Christmas, we have been focusing on WHY do we celebrate Christmas.  Lou has done a fabulous job unpacking who Jesus is and the significant of why we should celebrate His birth.  

The Lighthouse is a safe place for people who have no idea if God exists or why Jesus came, but are curious to find out more.  For the people, and there are many in our community, who are discouraged, lonely, feel adrift in life, they can come and learn more about the peace and comfort they can experience by beginning a relationship with Jesus.  Finally, the Lighthouse is a safe place for those who are in the midst of the joyous journey of being a Christ follower.  

No matter where you are or what's going on with you this Christmas, we love you and miss you.  We wish we could be home in Colorado to celebrate Christmas with our families.  But, we are grateful for our "home away from home" here in Japan and that we can be extended family to the folks that will come through our doors.  We wish you a joyous & holy Christmas.