Driving Schools

  • Peter Barakan

    Host

    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Matt Alt

    Reporter

    Born in Washington D.C. in 1973, Matt's interest in Japan was kindled by robot toys in his childhood. He worked as a translator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before co-founding a company that produces English versions of Japanese comics and video games. He also writes extensively about cultural trends including yokai, ninja, emoji, and more.

  • Yukihiro Yamada

    Main guest

    Director of the Japan Risk Management Society. With a special focus on road transportation, Yukihiro Yamada is an expert on driving safety, risk management and the training of drivers. He has published textbooks on obtaining a driver's license and related matters.

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April 11, 2017

Driving Schools

*You will leave the NHK website.

One feature of learning almost anything in Japan is a teacher who pays close attention to detail, and this is certainly true of the typical driving school instructor.

A strictly practical reason for sharing such thorough guidance is that Japanese roads can be daunting for an inexperienced driver. The safe practice spaces at a driving school therefore play a key role in building confidence as the learner prepares to make the transition to driving along a narrow street through a busy part of town, with pedestrians and other vehicles in very close proximity.

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Japanese driving schools offer spaces to learn, away from the dangers of public roads.

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Peter Barakan struggles to remember how to do a handbrake start on a slope.

Some of those vehicles will be two-wheelers, of course, and being able to ride a motorbike slowly without wobbling is an absolutely essential if pretty difficult skill, as Matt Alt discovers.

And then you have to take into account the possibility of snow on the road, a challenge that drivers of all vehicles encounter in many parts of Japan in the winter months.

All in all, for the novice driver there is plenty to feel anxious about on the roads of Japan, and so it is hardly surprising that driving schools go out of their way to make students feel relaxed and comfortable, even pampered.

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Matt receives guidance on riding a two-wheeler.

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Peter tries out a driving simulator. The confident smile proved to be somewhat premature.

Meanwhile, some de facto rules of the road are so widespread that there's barely any need to teach them. Examples include the custom of flashing hazard lights to signal thanks to the car behind for letting you into a line of traffic. While this is second nature to drivers in Japan, it's one of various features that help to differentiate the Japanese driving scene. Others include the comparatively low frequency of road rage, the sounding of car horns, or even jaywalking.

Something else that a lot of visitors to Japan will quickly notice is the immaculate appearance of most cars. While it is not so common these days to see chauffeurs tending to their vehicles with big feather dusters, great care is typically taken to keep the family car looking clean, and even mildly dented ones are far less visible than in many other countries.

But then how many people in other countries would take a new car to the shrine to get it blessed by a priest? Not everyone does that in Japan, either, but it is one indication of the importance that the Japanese attach to cars, to safety and to doing things properly -- all things that are reflected in the careful instruction available at a Japanese driving school.

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Driving schools even teach some basic life-saving skills for use in an emergency.

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Intensive residential courses offer a chance to relax and focus on mastering the necessary skills in a comfortable environment.

*You will leave the NHK website.