Goumon 拷問 – Torture


Anyone who has worked in a Japanese school/office will get the sub-joke above.

Today I had to go and renew my driving licence for another three years.  Who would have thought such a simple thing would lead to today’s word being Torture?  Read on…

I should have known the Gods were against me when I punched in the phone number of the traffic centre to my car’s navigation system: “No matches found”.  I then looked for the post code of the traffic centre on the little reminder postcard they had sent me: no postcode.  No problem, I thought, lets just type in the address.  Oh, I cant read the kanji…:(  I then spent about 10 mins trying to find the place randomly on the navi before getting out of the car and trying to find someone to read the address.  A kind lady looked at it and said ‘Im not sure how to read that kanji, why dont you call them?’.  So I did, but its was 12.30 (lunchtime) and there was no reply.  In the end, I found someone who could read the kanji, got it registered in my navi and we (my son in tow) were off.

Once on the road we got there OK, parked illegally in front of a restaurant with a ‘no parking – fine 10,000yen’ sign in front of it, and went inside the traffic centre. They might as well write ‘welcome to the microcosm of Japan’ on the doors because that is exactly what it is – all the best and worst things about Japan rolled into one little 100m3 space.

The entire building is dedicated to renewal of car licences.  Thus, you are basically put onto a conveyor belt system the moment you step inside and guided, cajoled and sometimes pummelled around the building through “steps 1-8”.  Division of labour, Fordism…I now know exactly how a sausage roll feels on its journey from being a pig to a little deep fried thing wrapped in coloured plastic.  I am not complaining about the efficient bureaucracy, I was just surprised (impressed?) to see such a simple task improved to such a degree…at the expense of any humanism whatsoever.  I think they must have gathered 50 of Japans most anally retentive people into a building, put little blue jackets on them, then left them there to breed for two centuries with instructions to improve the licence renewal system.

Steps 1-6 were great, you just get given a bit of paper at step 1, you give it to someone else at step 2 and they stamp it.  You show the stamped paper to someone at step 3, then pay some money to someone at step 4.  Next was the eye test, which took about 8 seconds.  At this point I was almost having fun because it was so ridiculous but also so smooth.

But Step 6 was odd.  I was given a bit of paper with two 4-digit pincodes on by an old man.

Him: Please invent two 4-digit pincodes and type them into this machine.

Me: OK…do I have to type these numbers?

Him: No, just make some up.

Me: So whats this paper for then?

Him: Its just an idea for some numbers.

Me: Ah OK…well should I make up some numbers that I can remember?

Him: No, theres no need to remember them.

Me: What is the purpose of the numbers actually?

Him: They get written on your drivers licence card.*

Me: Yeah, but why?

Him: You dont have to understand why, just pick some numbers.

Me: OK. Can I use these numbers on the bit of paper?

Him: yes of course.

Me: OK then I’ll do that.

Him: Thanks.

Me: By the way, why dont you just put the numbers onto the card automatically instead of printing them on paper, asking me to use them or pick new ones, then getting me to type them into another machine?

Him: I dont know.  Please go upstairs now to Step 7.

* This is not actually true, as the numbers are not printed on my card.  I think you have to quote them if you ever lose your licence card.

Step 7 was only one step of 8, but it took 2 hours whereas the other steps took only a total of maybe 8 mins combine.  Step 7 was the torture step.

You see, 4 years and nine months ago, I ran a red light on my scooter and picked up some points and a small fine.  Because that occured less than 5 years ago, it affected my licence renewal.  Not only could I only get a 3 year licence (standard one is five years), but I got put in the naughty room with all the other naughty people that had picked up points on their licence.  This is what step 7 was – torture/revenge for breaking the law.

I handed my card to the man upstairs, and his smile turned to a look of mild disgust and admonishment as he saw that I was destined for the naughty room.  He led me all the way to the end of the corridor and set me down.  The room was like a Japanese classroom – spartan and designed to last the eons, not for comfort.  The chairs were harder than the desks, and we were packed in like sardines too.  Shortly after another man came in and lectured us all for 10 mins about what the next 2 hours would entail.  He then showed us a crappy video which lasted 40 mins, then spent 80 minutes telling us various obvious things.

First up was that we have to wear seatbelts.  He illustrated the point with literally 7 or 8 different newspaper articles, and several sets of charts.  Several other points were given in exactly the same way: speed, drink driving, running red lights – all of these are dangerous and the stats back it up 100%.  About 10 mins into his lecture my son fell asleep on me and started snoring – I made no attempt to stop him as I was starting to hate the lecturer with a passion and came close several times to just standing up and throwing things/people around the room.

But the time passed, I got my licence (and a numb arse), then we were back on the highway.  I thought to myself: next time I will bring a magazine.

Translation Notes

I actually learnt the word Torture last year, for reasons I will explain in another post one day.  I was told that it can be translated as GOUMON 拷問 or GYAKUTAI 虐待, however when I looked up Torture on ALC I could not find GYAKUTAI mentioned anywhere.  It turns out that GYAKUTAI means ‘abuse’ rather than torture.


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