Tuesday, October 03, 2006

You ain't seen bureaucracy until you've visited Japan's DMV

Ok folks, its official, I can no longer criticize the stifling slowness and bureaucratic stupidity of any State-side Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office...(Ok, I guess I still could, but the reasons would be different)...

Well this morning I was introduced to the Japanese DMV as I traversed some twists and turns in registering our "new" Nissan Stagea (think station wagon) in our name...the closest DMV to Misawa Airbase is about 40 minutes outside base, in the city of Hachinohe. So we got there shortly after 9am, and the parking lot was pleasantly empty...a good sign, or so I thought.

Well all of my wife and I's preparatory work (getting the insurance, and the all the proper forms from the base police) did pay off somewhat...

Hachinohe's DMV works something like this:

Step 1: enter and go to Window 2 (I didn't see a Window #1, but there might have been one)...turn in paperwork to clerk, uttering traditional morning greeting Ohayo (pronounced O-hio) followed by a series of grunts and nods and pointing the stack of papers to confirm with him that yes, you are indeed there to perform some sort of DMV-related task and hoping that he can figure out what you need without any other sort of formal conversation...

Step 2: wait..about 5-10 minutes later the clerk will return the sheaf of paperwork to you. You may now proceed to step 3

Step 3: the clerk grunts and points at map on the counter, you eventually interpolate this as instructions to go to Window 12 (note: saying "twelve" to the clerk will be a nodding return grunt of something that resembles the English pronunciation of twelve, at least this lead clerk remembered some of his high school English)

Step 4: Finding Window 12...which is in, of course, an entirely different building, conveniently located directly behind the building you entered first...exit, wander around back and look around for something labeled 12...its easy to find...step up to Window 12...and proceed with the next step.

Step 5: Handover sheaf of paperwork to the woman working at Window 12, which is named the "Application forms window"...repeat the greeting/grunting/nodding ritual performed during Step 1. Hang loose for the next step, practice finding your zen.

Step 6: wait...about 15-30 minutes later, the clerk will wave you back and kindly slip you two receipts, and all of your paperwork (which apparently has been dutifully shuffled between the half-dozen or so workers sitting behind the counter at various desks. She then shows you a calculator that reads out about 2,800 Yen (that slightly less than $28 to you and me)...time to pay up...hope you remembered your Yen...once you get your change you are instructed to return to Window 2.

Step 7: Re-trace steps back to Window 2, and hand-over the receipts that confirm you've paid the fee for all the forms the Japanese are consuming while shuffling your registration request between the two buildings...

Step 8: wait...about 10-15 minutes later you will be waved back to Window 2 and given a screw-driver...your instructions: remove your old Japanese plates and turn them in to Window 14.

Step 9: take off your plates, and wander around to the back of the second building again and turn in your plates...you are given a receipt that says you've turned in your plates (no real words are needed here, just a nod or two and a "domo" or "domo arigato") and instructed that it is time, once again, to visit Window 2...

Step 10: Trek back to the first building, clutching receipts and dutifully turn them in to the waiting clerk (its helps if you catch when he's not busy helping another client...cause the morning is getting on and more and more Japanese are showing up to shuttle their way between buildings)..note: DO NOT return the screw-driver you need that later...

Step 11: Wait...5-15 minutes afterward the clerks will again summon you forth with a head nod and a slight grin (afterall, at this point the two of you are practically on a first-grunt basis) for your next expedition to building 2.
Your mission is two-fold: venture to Window 16 and pay your Road Tax...and shimmy over to Window 14 to buy your new plates.

Step 12: Trudge to Window 16...and get pointed (very politely pointed) over to Window 15, whereat you grunt your paperwork over to another very attentive clerk, who will reef through your hefty stack of papers, stamping some in blue and others in red. No need to sit, this guy is a stamping-demon, and will quickly finish adorning every piece of paper you have with some form of very official looking stamp. Next, you guessed it, a very polite instruction for you to turn right and shuffle over to Window 16, where...

Step 13: You will turn in the stamped sheets, and be given a calculator with a figure on it...be prepared to cough up more Yen to pay whatever this figure is...In my case, the Road Tax on our Nissan was 7,900 Yen (or about $79 to you staties)....you are then instructed (extremely politely) to have a seat.

Step 14: wait...you may not know it yet, but your DMV journey is nearing its end-game...in about 5 minutes you will be given whatever change is due and handed back your paperwork...its time to complete the second part of the mission: new plates...

Step 15: trundle on over to Window 14 (the same one you got your receipt from earlier), perform the standard grin-n-grunt and show the clerk all your colorfully stamped paperwork...rest assured you need not know which one she needs to see...she'll recognize it, even if you don't....grab a seat

Step 16: wait...less than 5 minutes later you will be summoned back to Window 14 and shown a calculator...you know the drill by now...cough up whatever amount of Yen happens to be necessary to get the clerk to fork over your damn plates....should be about 1,550 Yen (you know how much that is?? Well I ain't sayin', perform some deductive reasoning and figure it out.) The clerk will hand you a little baggie that has 4 new screws and small silver circular open-top tab (note: this circular tab is extremely important as it apparently plays some mystical role in Japanese DMV history, so DON'T discard it!!!)

Step 17: Return back out front (you do remember where you parked, right?) and use the screw-driver you remembered to keep to put your hard-won plates on your car....Are you done? Can you get in and drive away, after at least 2 hours and 3 payments and tons of grunts and domos?

Not until you've completed the final step:

Step 18: Look up from the kneeling position as you finish screwing in the final screw on the back plate (note: make sure the silver circular tab is on the top left of the back plate) and you should see a golden aura surrounding a little Japanese woman who is trundling busily out to your car....When she gets there she will ask (extremely politely) for you to pop the hood, will verify your VIN number, and only then, will apply a silver cover to the circular tab you've dutifully put on the upper left of the back plate (which apparently is the final act to all vehicularly-associated rituals here in Japan)....and THAT IS IT FOLKS....You have completed your DMV initiation...you are now a registered car owner in Japan...all you have to do now, is return to the Base police and get the completely disinterested Senior Airman to pay attention to you so you can get your base-pass issued....but THAT is another story.

One final note: the pain of this process is ameliorated greatly by the incredible and unending courtesy that the Japanes extend towards all their customers at all times...Unlike a US-related experience, wherein disinterested people look at you like they do when inspecting the soles of their shoes for dogshit....

1 comment:

Ze'Manel said...

Doesn't sound too bad, you spent what, 3 hours all told?

I'll have to let you know how Virginia does things once I register cars here.