Friday, October 12, 2012

Violator of Japanese Law

I like to blog "in order," which means before I can move forward I'm going to have to retell the saga of my entrance into the ranks of "International Violators of Law." 

Backstory: When an American with SOFA status arrives in country, they take a quick class and are given a 4EJ driving license. This is expires on your DEROS (expected date to leave the country).  Our DEROS, when we arrived, was 13 July 2012. We were extended to 13 July 2013.  My 4EJ expired while I was on an unexpected trip to America in June/July.  A certain member of this union has been hounding another member of this union to get in and have said 4EJ updated with the new expiration date. 

The traffic was HEAVY in Hachinohe last Friday afternoon (yes, I've avoided this post for a week).  There are many one way streets....we FINALLY hit the "highway." I was over the bridge and hitting open road. 

Yes, I knew the speed limit was 60 kph.  I punched it. Akikosan was having American Style pizza and a movie with us. We needed to get home so I could start the dough rising. 

I had just thought, "Finally, I can make some time!" when TWO MEN jumped out of the BUSHES waving little red flags. 

I don't know about YOU, but having seen a rising amount of women abducted by men posing as police officers....I'm not prone to stop if two waving men jump out of the bushes...I don't care if they have red flags and are wearing some sort of uniform. EVERYONE in Japan seems to wear a uniform.  I glanced at Akikosan and she seemed perplexed about what to do as well.  Later she told me she thought they were stopping one of the other cars zipping past me. 

They got out in the road and waved their flags more enthusiastically.  Akikosan said, "This is bad." Oh-oh. 

"De'Etta, could you please stop your car over there." And so I did....but they motioned me to turn left and then go DOWN A HILL. 

Another man in a uniform ran up to the car. I rolled down my window. He said, "You were speeding....may I see your 4EJ?"  Oy vey.... and at that moment I was SO very thankful I had LISTENED to my husband, had submitted even though Thursday was incredibly busy, and updated the 4EJ!  ::snort:: 

I handed him my license. I expected him to walk to one of the three vans waiting at the bottom of the hill and come back with a ticket. Akiksosan expected something similar.  

Instead, he asked, "Will you please follow me?" 

I'm fairly quick on my feet, grabbed my cell phone in case I needed to call Michael or the Security Forces on base....left the keys with Akiksosan (so she could drive the kids home if need be) and stepped out of the car. I had no CLUE what would happen next. (I later learned Akikosan was wondering the same thing.) I momentarily thought of asking him to wait while I grabbed a camera so I could take a photo of him, the set up, the vans, he and I....but I decided he may think I wasn't taking this seriously if I stopped for photos. can thank Arielle - the offspring of a true blogger - for snapping a photo of her view of the incident. 

First we walked around the cars to a little man on a chair. At this point it was explained to me how the radar gun worked.  This man told me, "You were going very fast, VERY FAST." I was worried now.  To be tagged with reckless driving would be serious business in Japan and I had no idea how fast I had been going. I had just punched it when I was pulled over.  They showed me my read out....76 kph. I was relieved. I figured many were passing faster than me, they weren't down here so whatever was up I was probably NOT going to jail. 

THEN they asked me GET INTO THEIR VAN. May I say that along with NOT stopping a vehicle when men jump out of the bushes is not getting into a van at night without a clue as to WHY I'm getting into the van.....but I figured I was in Japan. I would go with the culture and turn off the American paranoia. 

I waved at the kids and climbed into the van. Akikosan started to follow and thought better of it. It was good she stayed with the kids. One of my men was about to defend my honor and needed a calm presence in the car. 

The van was pretty cool. There was an office set up inside. They were bringing lots of folks in and out. For the record there were many brought in while I sat there and I was the ONLY American. This was NOT a speed trap for Americans. Yes, several zipped past me but they couldn't bring them all in.  The thing is most came in, signed a paper and left. 

I was in there for about 30 min - which caused those waiting some worry.  

"Can you speak Japanese?"


I explained Akiksosan could speak Japanese. This got his attention. 

"Akiko speaks Japanese?" 

"Yes, she's in my car." 


"She's my friend and we were seeing the Korekawa Institute." 

"You have a Japanese friend?"


"No, we don't need her." then.... He told me, "You are a violator of Japanese Law." Oh-oh. You were going VERY FAST, you were going 16kph over the speed limit." Once I realized I was NOT in violation of SOFA and was only going 16 kph the whole thing became funny. I struggled not to laugh....because honestly....I think I was going about 8 - 9 miles over the limit.  But I got a long lecture. 

I filled out three sets of paperwork. 

They were trying to pronounce my name to write it in Kanji. We did fine with De'Etta. I could write my first name in Kanji. I was cold, it was getting dark, I couldn't for the life of me remember how to write my last name in Kanji.  This caused frustration for all of us. They couldn't figure it out either (should have gotten Akikosan she's the one who taught me how to write it. ::snort::) 

Without considering the implications of what I was about to say, I said, "My husband is German." 

He called two others over. They asked me again where my name came from. I told them my husband is German. 

"You are not American!" 

"I am American!!"

"Your husband is German, you are not SOFA. You are violating Japanese law." 

Realizing this was getting more serious I attempted to clear up the misunderstanding. "I am a military spouse. My husband is in the Air Force, I'm SOFA. He's an American but his ancestors are from Germany."

"But you said he was German."

"Poor choice of words (and I'd best shut up while I'm in here!). America is a nation of immigrants, we have many ancestors but we are all American."

"Ah, so, so, so."

My address took a long time as I don't LIVE on the base. My address is W700Y - it's the ONLY address I have...but it is NOT a Japanese address. We finally decided we'd use my mailing address on base...but then he wanted to know what PSC stood for and what APO meant....I knew what AP meant....I improvised.

Next were DATES. He asked when I came to Japan by the Japanese calendar. I KNEW that one.

"Heisei 21." (The numbered years begin over with each Emperor's reign. I arrived 3 years ago and my car said 24 on it).

"Very good."

Ah, we're communicating. I'm wowing him with my friendly smile and cooperation.

"What year were you born?"


"Japanese year?"

"I'm clueless."


"Wakari masu sen" - (I don't understand- would have been better if I could have remembered how to say I don't know...but this useful phrase worked).

"Ah. Hai..........." Evidently, HE didn't know what year that would be either. He spent quite a bit of time checking charts and asking the other men while I felt worse and worse about being so old my year wasn't listed on his conversion chart.   In any event, I have the American date on my paperwork. I now know I was born in Showa 39, if I had a smart phone I could have retrieved the info and saved us about 5 minutes.

Then came the signing of various paperwork. I was handed two slips of paper.

I asked if I could just pay him now.

That would be an International Bribe and is also a violation of Japanese law. In my defense my first speeding ticket was in MT and you USED to pay the police when they pulled you over...this is not the case in AK, TX or Japan but old habits die hard.

I was told I had a week to pay my ticket at the bank or post office. I paid it. All Y12,000 of it. 

As I left I bowed and said, "Matanei." (See you Soon). 


Locals often wonder WHY everyone drives so determinedly slow. I often helpfully point out to Michael  they ARE doing the speed limit....but you see...remember I was on the HIGHWAY....I was going VERY FAST at 76 kph (47 mph). I was going about 9 miles over the limit. That's Y750 per kilometer of speed.....That $151+ for 9 miles over; or $16.77 for every mile over the limit. THAT'S why they drive so slow.....and that's 37 mph on the freeway.

Funny thing I discovered - I am NOT the family holder of the highest speeding ticket in Japan.

I wouldn't have CHOSEN to get a ticket...but it was a very memorable ending to a fun day with Akikosan. We did have a fun conversation back at the house with Michael. We learned more about the culture and she saw our relationship. There was concern about how Mikesan would react. He's a champ. He called as we were driving and Arielle told him we were a bit late as Mom had an unexpected adventure.

His response, "Does this adventure include new dents in the car and uniforms?"

Arielle replied, "Only uniforms."

And that is how I became a Violator of Japanese Law.

NOW - I can in good conscience move on and blog this week.

Choosing Joy!
©2012 D.R.G.
~Coram Deo~
Living all of life before the face of God...


Kristine said...

I hope it's okay that I'm laughing. I literally DID laugh out loud when you said Arielle had taken the photo.

47mph. You speed monster, you.

(hand over face, still giggling)

berrypatch said...

Yikes! I'm with Kristine on this one. So glad it was a fun adventure. :-) There is a spot in the neighboring town where folks speed - a lot (way more than just a few miles over the limit). Today I noticed a police car sitting near the road so I slowed down - as did everyone. Two hours later I saw the same car there - hmmmm...yup, it was empty. :-) But it worked - folks were slowing down. LOL

Debbie said...

Wow, not sure I could drive in Japan...way too slow. The kids always tease me when Brian is in the car stating that, "Mom drives way faster than you, Dad." :-)

Enjoyed reading and chuckling over your latest adventure.

Anonymous said...

Glad it worked out okay. What a blessing that Akikosan was in the car with you and was able to advise you to stop.

Speeding by 9 mph over the limit would have been much more serious than a fine here. You'd have lost 3 points off your licence. Only 12 points available. Lose all 12 and you lose your licence to drive for a year. OR, like me, if it's your first offence you may be offered a day's speed awareness course in lieu of the point deduction. Believe me, that's so tedious, you don't want to have to do it!

I guess speeding isn't that big a deal in the US?

Anonymous said...

Best. Post. Ever.
Thanks for sharing and making us all feel like we were really there to witness it! Really, can't stop laughing at what you must've been thinking during the whole incident.

Renee said...

German way is so much less stressful. HIdden camera snaps your pic, ticket arrives in mail and you pay it.
I got one for going about 5 km over the speed limit in our neighborhood - one of those I would have fought in the US (less than a mile over the limit) but not overseas

Lois said...

*chuckle* This would only happen to you, De'Etta!

DeEtta @ Courageous Joy said...

Dorothy - in the states you can get by with going 5 - 10 mph over the limit - most times.

BUT our speed limits were 75 mph on the freeway so it is very easy to go over 37 mph without thinking here.

Anonymous said...

SIS: Dad says he knows you have a HEAVY FOOT! :):) Honey with you and our lady family members... anything in driving is possible. :):) Arielle has become quite a neat young lady in helping and being on top of things.

VERY FUNNY! :):):) PTL for Akikosan!

You and I need to drive someplace together because it would sure be something if we both got lost or whatever in the same car at the same time. :):):) I'm still not driving after my last episode. :):)

PTL for God's protection for you and the kids and Akikosan. God is good. love/prayers - dad/moim t.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Oh gracious, I'm laughing too! Glad it all ended well :D

Julie G

Anonymous said...

Oh my word. Absolutely hysterical! You do the best job retelling stories, De'Etta. You know you're a diehard blogger, when your kid takes pictures of her mother being reprimanded by police! On a side note, it is VERY cool that Akikosan was able to watch how you and Mike interacted with eachother over the whole thing. That will stay with her for a very very long time. She'll ber able to tell stories about her "crazy American friend". LOL

Unknown said...

Love the story! True Japanese style. See how much you learned in that 30 minutes? Sounds like your Japanese lessons with Akiko san would be cheaper, though!
I,too, have police stories from Japan (and Hungary, and Romania and Ukraine...)

Linda said...

I cannot imagine having to go that slowly!

Linda said...

I cannot imagine having to go that slowly on the freeway.

DeEtta @ Courageous Joy said...

It's ok to laugh - I laughed after I got in the car...and Akikosan did too. She confessed she got one where they suspend your license...