Finally, I am now doing something which was rather unthinkable a couple of months back: driving my own car in Cambridge. I had to hurdle two main obstacles to achieve this. First was to justify my so-called need for a car. With our residence close to the city center, the university and Aya’s primary school, we really don’t need a car. On weekdays, that is. Weekend after weekend found me wanting to have a car so we can at least go somewhere farther than a 1-kilometer radius from our house. It’s great that I can just order my groceries online and have them delivered at home, but call me old-fashioned or whatever, I admit that I did miss the "joys" of going to the store and picking up whatever I wanted off the shelves. You know that feeling? Just go and grab something you want. If the veggies don’t look as fresh as you want them, throw them back in and grab something else. You can pinch and grope and inspect products at your whim, after all, you’re the almighty consumer! You feel like you’re in control of your shopping. It’s just different when you look at products online. And besides, what better reason is there than the fact that I do have a little girl with me, and I couldn’t just drag her across town to get groceries in close to zero degree weather! And let me not remind you about the rain in Britain!
The second hurdle was to actually find a car, one that is reasonably within my means and one that satisfies my criteria. I didn’t want to drive a manual-transmission type, so I looked around for automatic-transmission type cars. It took a while, but I finally found one. And I actually got a rather good deal: it even came with a GPS navigation system (or simply, sat-nav). So I just gotta have it! 😀 Of course, I didn’t drive the car all at once using the sat-nav (excited as I was). First I had to rely on a very good friend to help me figure out the roads during a joy-ride around town. 😉
But before driving is the teeny-weeny step of acquiring the car. Well, to my surprise, I found out that it was relatively hassle-free to acquire a car here in the UK, compared to that in Japan.
In the UK, I have to make sure that the following things are in order: 1. MOT (Ministry of Transport) certificate, 2. road tax, 3. car insurance, and 4. car registration/transfer of ownership. The annual MOT can be easily renewed at an authorized garage. The road tax can be paid at the post office (you can pay by cash, debit or credit card). The car insurance can be bought online (if the car is registered already, all the details about the car will be automatically displayed when you request for a quote, so no need to send any certificates). As for the the car registration, all one has to do is to fill up a section in the certificate about the new owner’s details like name and address, then send it to the transportation office. Once received, the office will send the new registration certificate to the new owner.
You know how long it took me to get these things in order? Two measly days. And that includes the weekend! I got the car on a Friday and was ready to drive it on Monday the following week.
Items 1-4 have their counterparts in Japan, but it is not as straightforward. The equivalent of MOT in Japan is the shaken (sha-ken, not shaken as in stirred!). The shaken is required after three years for a new car, and every two years after. Usually I just give my car to the mechanic and he takes care of the shaken for me. This usually takes half a day. Next, the road tax. Well, in Japan, whoever is registered as the owner of the vehicle as of April 1 of the fiscal year will be liable to pay for the road tax due on May 31. The car insurance – now this is really a pain in the neck. There’s the language barrier, of course, so it’s not that easy to go through the terms and conditions unless you have a very good friend who can explain all of these to you in a language you can understand. Plus you need to give them a copy of the car’s shaken and your driver’s license before they can process your application. If everything goes well, you can get insurance within the day of your application. The car registration – now here it is really messy. First you have to get a certificate of parking, a proof that you actually have a place to park your car (it used to be waived for yellow-plate cars, but I don’t know if the rules have changed recently). This parking certificate is issued by the police station. To get this, one has to file an application at the police station, and then come back after a week or so to get the parking certificate. During that waiting period the police will supposedly check out the said parking space (I’ve never seen any police officers checking out parking spaces, but I assume they do their jobs to the letter). If everything checks out, then you get your certificate.
But don’t think that that document is all you need. No, sir. You still have to get an inkan shomeisho, or certificate of your registered seal or inkan. If you still don’t have an inkan, you’ll have to have one made for you, and then you register that at the city hall. But if you already have a registered inkan, you can readily apply for a certificate and get it in no time at all. It’s just that you’ll have to go through the trouble of having to get it from the city hall, which isn’t exactly next door. And oh, lest I forget, both the previous owner and the new owner have to produce the inkan shomeisho and bring those documents when the application for transfer of ownership is made.
Confused yet? I was overwhelmed myself when I went through the rigors of the paperwork for the first time. But that was okay; driving in Japan eventually made my life easier and more fun, even if it added inches to my waist and contributed to my ever-increasing sedentary way of life. All in all, I have more than nine years experience driving in Japan, so I feel confident enough to drive elsewhere. Just don’t make me drive in Metro Manila, I always feel like I’m getting a heart attack (even if I’m just a passenger at the back!). Sorry, but I am not that brave for that kind of adventure, hahaha.
It is actually fortunate that here in the UK, they drive on the "wrong side of the road," which means driving on the left side, just like in Japan. It’s so much easier for me to adapt. There are some small differences, though, like having the signal lever on the left side of the steering wheel instead of the right (when I drove for the first time, I turned on the wipers by accident as I tapped on the right lever, out of habit, of course!). And the speed limits are in "mph" instead of "kph." Oh dear, why don’t all countries just adopt the metric system? Go figure! Anyway, I just have to remember that there 1 mile = 1.609 km; so definitely I should take care that I do not overspeed!
And speaking of habits, there is another habit which I guess I am forced to squelch while I drive here. After nine years of driving in Japan, it is quite natural for me to both wave my hand and bow my head at the same time at the other driver, as a polite gesture when they give way on the road. At one time, to my horror I actually almost bowed at the other driver! Now I have to keep my neck stiff and remind myself constantly: Absolutely No Bowing. Just smile and wave. Smile and wave.
Boy, I really am beginning to like it here. 😀