Mt Yotei in Hokkaido, Japan
On a trip to Japan I spent some time on the northern island of Hokkaido. I wanted to see what winter was like so I stayed in a ski hotel on the island. I'm not much of a skier but I was there for the experience of the area.
I rented a car during my stay and anticipated an issue which did not manifest. To rent a car in Japan an international drivers license is required. I had such a license but it had expired just days prior to my visit. International licenses are good for one year and I had secured it the previous year.
My license, issued in Florida, was filled out in pen. After a year the ink was a bit faded so I cunningly thought to use a pen and write over the year to change to the current year. I must say my forgery looked quite genuine.
With counterfeit license I easily secured my rental and took to exploring the island. But it didn't take long for me to get into trouble.
In Japan the driving is done on the opposite side as the USA. You're seated on the right side of the car, and you drive on the left side. I was already well experienced at this, but I was unaware of the nuances of driving in this country,
We in the USA are well familiar with the right turn on red after stop concept. But I was unsure if left turn after stop applied in Japan. So, I did the prudent thing and observed others before I made the leap. Such pressure not knowing! I didn't want to hold up traffic behind me if it was legal, but also did not want to break their laws, especially with an illegal license.
After a while I had observed several people affirming this was allowed in Japan. Now I was ready to follow suit. I came to traffic light and was first in line for a left turn. To my left at the intersection I could plainly see a police officer, but confident in my observations I took the left turn after stopping.
Well, you can guess by the title what happened next. Shortly after I could see the police lights behind me. Pulling me over the officer attempted communication but it was difficult. He didn't speak English and I don't speak Japanese. So, through his translation app he informed there is no such allowance in Japan.
I tried to give him my USA license when he asked but he rebuffed. He asked for my international license of course. Well, now I was nervous. I could handle the stop sign violation fine, but I had no idea the penalty for a forged license! Is this an incarceration offense? My paranoia kick in. I knew in many other countries I could simply pay a cash "fine" to the officer at the scene and this would go away, but I was sure those rules didn't apply here.
He disappeared into his police car for over 20 minutes leaving me to sweat. How can it take this long? Obviously he was verifying my license somehow. Not knowing was killing me and I imagined the worse.
Finally, he exited the vehicle and approached. He simply handed me my license and spoke the only English words he uttered outside the app. "Stop mean stop" was all he said then turned and went back to his car.
What a relief! I was a free man! So, I stuffed the forged instrument back in my wallet and sped away (at legal speed of course).