Driving in Japan is an exercise in patience. First you need to go through what seems like a million miles of red tape just to get your license. Afterwards comes the second hurdle, actually being able to use your car to and from work.
Companies here in Japan are notoriously strict when it comes to allowing their employees to use their own vehicles to commute to and from work and even more strict with foreigners looking to do the same.
In the case of JET or direct hire ALTs their contract of employment explicitly states that they may not use their vehicles to and from school without the express permission of their supervisor. When I originally asked to be able to use my car to commute to and from work I had to provide the registration papers for my car as well as the insurance coverage forms along with an application form on which I had to actually draw a map of the route I’d be using from my house to my main school. Even after all that they still asked me a million questions before finally allowing me to drive to my main school!
Many people might be wondering why it’s so strictly controlled here in Japan. After all, most foreign countries allow their employees to drive to and from work with very little fuss. Well, if you find yourself living in the more rural parts of Japan with one or two schools that are very far apart you’ll soon realize that commuting by car is the only sensible route. But companies are a bit nervous lest an employee is involved in an accident and the company is held responsible. With the strict road rules in Japan both parties involved in an accident are held responsible even if one of them was blameless in the accident.
With icy roads, older drivers and lots of wildlife on the more mountainous roads it’s certainly understandable why the threat of an accident is taken so seriously. It’s still a bit frustrating when it would be far easier and more convenient to use your car so that you’re not held to a train timetable or other limitations.
Luckily there are no rules or regulations that can restrict your ability to drive outside work hours. So even if you find yourself unable to drive to and from work you can still hit the road for a nice long road trip when the weekend arrives.
So if you’re going to Japan on the JET programme just remember that getting your driver’s license is only the first step in a long journey to be able to drive to work every day.