It’s been more than five years since I last presented an abandoned driving school – those things are pretty hard to find…
In Germany a driving school more often than not is little more than a two room rental, consisting of a tiny office and a bigger seminar room, where a driving instructor is teaching a couple of theory lessons several times a week. Not much more space needed, because German driving schools tend to be small, at least when I got my driver’s license more than 20 years ago. The owner then tends to hire one or two driving instructors, who are usually are out on the road, because that’s where the real money is as you need a certain amount of practical experience to take the final test, including a few hours on the Autobahn (Germany’s infamous highways) and at night. Pretty much all driving school cars in Germany are manual / stick-shift cars – probably because there is only one license (no separate automatic-only license like in Japan). Most cars in Germany, except for taxis, have manual transmission anyway. A lot of Japanese people are surprised when I tell them about it, even more so when they find out that you don’t have to renew your driver’s license in Germany. It’s lifelong, of course unless you mess up by violating traffic rules too often.
In Japan (and probably your country) the situation is a bit different. First of all: Most cars in Japan have automatic transmission, which kind of makes sense since traffic here can be nerve- and ankle-wrecking. So when you enter a driving school you have the choice between a “general” manual license and a “limited” automatic-only license. And a surprisingly high number of Japanese people only have an automatic-only license – which feels totally wrong from my German point of view since I would never give up that kind of control over my car; to me shifting gears manually is part of the fun and it (usually…) reduces fuel consumption. Even worse: In Japan you have to renew you license every 3 years, which costs time and money – if you managed to not violate any traffic laws for 5 years you get gold status and have to renew your license only every 5 years. But it gets worse! New drivers have to put a yellow and green sticker to their car denouncing them as beginners. If you are a senior citizen age 75 or above you need a orange-yellow sticker – guess why… (None of that bullshit in the land of the Autobahn!)
The biggest difference between a driving school in Germany and a driving school in Japan is what we would call a “Verkehrsübungsplatz” in German. It seems like there is neither an English nor a Japanese term, but the literal translation would be something like “traffic training location” – a place that has roads, traffic lights and crosswalks, but is on private property, separated from normal traffic; and therefore you are allowed to practice driving there without having a license (if you at least 16 years old, have an experienced co-driver with a regular driver’s license and are able to pay an hourly fee). In Germany those place are separate from driving schools and usually run by automobile clubs. In Japan those traffic training locations are part of the driving school, which is kind of ironic given the fact that Japan has oh so little space… But it gives the students the great opportunity to practice safely in a driving school car. Worst case scenario in Germany: After a couple of theory lessons and a general instruction by the driving instructor you are pushed right into traffic…
Abandoned driving schools are pretty rare, especially in Japan. The reason is simple: Since driving schools serve customers without a driver’s license, they are usually located within a couple of hundred meters from a train or subway station for easy access. But since land near public transportation hotspots is rather expensive (and driving schools take up a lot of space since they have that huge training area…) they tend to be quite valuable and are rather turned into new real estate projects than being abandoned – especially in overcrowded areas like Kansai and Kanto.
The Japanese Driving School consisted of a lobby area and a couple of seminar rooms, all of them pretty much empty now… except for the remains of a DS-5000 Driving Simulator – apparently once upon a time a state of the art simulator with three main screens and two or three additional ones working as rearview mirrors. The pictures I saw kind of reminded me of a hydraulic simulator I played in Tokyo’s Odaiba district back in 2000 – pretty simple vector graphics, but as a simulator really impressive back then! The building wasn’t accessible at all, signs of intrusion on one side had been professionally patched up.
The training area featured all the usual obstacles, like a ramp, a fake train crossing, narrow tracks, crosswalks (in Japan usually ignored…), traffic lights, and so on… Somewhat in the middle a small tower for observation and car traffic control.
Overall the Japanese Driving School was a lovely outdoor exploration, more memorable for its rarity and the fun company I had than its spectacular looks. Nevertheless a great experience – and I absolutely loved the abandoned traffic school bus on the last picture!
(Please *like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)