How the Japanese driver’s license system killed creativity

As a footnote to Sir Ken Robinson’s “How Schools Kill Creativity,” I wanted to add that the Japanese driver’s license system kills it as well.

Friday, I spent 6 hours renewing my Japanese driver’s license. 2 hours were due to the fact my Japanese is not up to par. Ok, it’s not even close to par. I arrived at 10:15 a.m. and my time window was 9-9:50 a.m., so I missed it by 1/2 hour. The next time slot was 1-1:50, so I made sure I was in line at 12:50.

12:50, I began the queue along with about 50 people in front of me. Efficiency is key, though, in a Japanese system, so while we waited in line number 1, someone came along and took our expiring licenses to make a copy and prepare so that when we reached the window, we could grab and go.

1:05, I arrived at the window, grabbed my form and was off to window number 2. A short queue again, with a quick stamp payment, and on to window number 3. Imagine about 1,000 people in a very large room in lines at various windows (1-13). Number 3 was to take my vision. Quick again. On to number 4. Number 4 was a picture, but I had to get a special code 1st. All of this was in Japanese, and due to my limited nature of Japanese, and the woman’s English, she couldn’t communicate that I needed 2 special codes–different from each other–so I could proceed. Finally, a man who spoke English translated. With the 2 special codes, I moved on to get my photo. I tried to remember the codes in case they asked later since I had no idea why I needed them.

Photo taken, hand the code to a man who hands me a book, gives me directions and points to the floor, which is color coded to where I need to go. On to number 6. I follow the color-coded floor, thinking how wonderfully efficient this all is. I’m almost done, I think. I haven’t gotten any tickets in my 2 years of driving. It’s been 45 minutes since I arrived, and I’m almost done.

Door number 6 is a classroom. A large classroom with rows and rows of traditional one-man desks. There are people already in the classroom, playing, texting on their phones or sleeping. They look like they’ve been there a while. People are also streaming in, grabbing a pencil and sitting anywhere. I follow. That’s all I can do. A man in a blue suit is welcoming me. I smile and find a seat in the middle.

The seat is small, and I squish in behind the desk. I take out my phone and Kindle, prepared for the wait. On the board, it says 2, so I’m guessing we’re starting in 1/2 hour at 2 p.m.

We start, promptly at 2 p.m. The man in the blue suit starts talking up front about white pieces of paper and pink ones. I have a pink one. He counts, writes down a number on the board. There are 76 of us in the room, 9 have a white piece of paper. I seem to be in the majority, at least, whatever that means. The man goes over things that we have–the book, a Japanese manual to driving, I assume. The pencil–looks like a number 2–sharpened nicely. And buttons. There’s a special compartment on top of my desk that opens and reveals buttons. The man seems to demonstrate that if we push a button, the number will appear up front. No one pushes the button, though, so I decide not to. I think of airplane attendants and the little call button.

The man seems to be explaining about his suit and some exercises in Japanese. He points to his blue suit, which is quite nice. He’s arching his back and touching his toes. No one seems to follow, so I assume it’s not Simon says. I’m ready, though. Ready to participate in this Japanese fun so I can get my license. Whatever it takes.

A video is next. The curtains automatically close, and the room goes dark. I thought only people with tickets had to watch a video, but here it is. A samurai warrior and then Zen monk appear. The monk (or I think he’s a monk) stands in front of a table with two fans. He talks in a rough, deep, warrior voice and slaps the fans on the table as he talks. Suddenly they show a real car and a real motorcycle, which gets hit. And then it gets hit again. The monk slaps his fan on the table and says something gruffly. I translate it to: “Don’t hit motorcycles.”

Got it. Then, they show another scene and another motorcycle, which gets hit and another and another. The man slaps his fans on the table again. I’m wondering if this is desensitization. See enough motorcycles getting hit, and you will hit one?

There seems to be some analogies. The video flashes to a businessman (salary man) who is too rushed. He’s at home, on the phone, dropping things all over the floor. He drops a very large tack and then steps on it. Ow. Back to the monk with the fans who slaps them on the table and says some words. Ok, got it. Don’t step on tacks. Or, maybe, think about driving and hitting motorcycles like stepping on tacks. They both hurt.

The video continues with bikes being hit and finally children. I was hoping they wouldn’t show children, but there is a child hit at the end. She gets up after being hit, though, and gets on her bicycle. There’s another scene of another salary man at home who’s yelling at his wife and then knocking over everything in his living room and then grabbing his car keys. There are pictures of beer and cell phones. There are charts with statistics.

And then, it’s over. The video is over. The man gives us a 15 minute break, and everyone leaves for a drink, a cigarette.

Then, we’re back. The man counts to make sure we haven’t escaped, and then he begins to talk. He has a long pointer too, which he points at the board, at the screen. There are charts, statistics, words, numbers. It looks like there are a lot of vehicles on the road in Japan. It looks like motorcycles are the number one thing in accidents. I’m only guessing. The man is still talking.

The man talking up front has a mic on his shirt, and he doesn’t make eye contact with anyone. He just talks. There is some test we have to fill in, and I’m worried if I don’t pass, so I totally cheat and look at the woman in front of me’s test. But, the test is just an exercises, and we turn the page in the book, and the answers are all there. My model for cheating got most of them wrong.

He moves on and mentions page numbers. I understand that, and so I flip back and forth in the book as most people do. No one in our class has any expression. The lady on my left side falls asleep. I’m beginning to realize that it doesn’t matter if I speak Japanese. The man keeps talking. I’ve been in the room for 1 1/2 hours.

Absolutely no interaction. Oh, at one point, we have to push the buzzers. Lights appear up front. Then that exercise is done. The man talking looks at his book, the board, his pointer. He even draws things on the board. He seems to be having a great time. We are all completely bored.

And then suddenly it’s done. No crescendo. No decrescendo. 2 hours. Just finished, and we all pile out…That’s it.

That was the most boring, non-inquiry based lesson I have attended in a long time. Not even non-inquiry based. It was non-interactive. It was the teacher going through a script. It was a right of passage. It was all a duty just to get a license. Did we understand anything? I didn’t, but I’m guessing no one else did. Would the teacher know? Did he know I didn’t speak nor understand Japanese? Did he care?

How to kill creativity. I was stir crazy by the end. I breathed a sigh of relief getting out into the crisp, cold air. There was life outside. I saw a motorcycle too, and I thought about how it might go flying off a windshield.


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