Ah, yes… one of those questions that’s been haunting Sailor Moon fans for years: if Haruka and Michiru are high school students, how is it that Haruka is able to drive a car? Upon their first appearance in the manga,1 they are supposed to be first-year high school students, which would put them both at 16 years old.
Considering the legal driving age in Japan is, and has always been, 18 years old,2 it’s a bit of a mystery as to how Haruka gets around this issue and is seen driving around the city. So how do you explain this?
Haruka’s International Driving Permit
Though Ms. Takeuchi never addressed this discrepancy in the manga, it seems that the anime explained away this issue once by stating that Haruka held an international driving permit and a foreign license, which is what allowed her to drive. This is certainly a possibility, to a certain extent, because up until 2002 the Japanese government would allow foreign drivers to use an international permit indefinitely, though after that point it’s been restricted to only one year (after which you’re required to obtain a Japanese driver’s license).3
Unfortunately, this explanation is problematic. Annex 8 of the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic4 clearly states:
“The minimum age for driving a motor vehicle under the conditions set out in Article 24 of the Convention shall be eighteen years. Any Contracting State or subdivision thereof may, however, recognize the driving permits issued by other Contracting States to drivers of motorcycles and invalid carriages of a lower age than eighteen years.”
So even if Haruka were able to have obtained a driver’s license from one of the many countries which have a lower legal driving age,5 she would still not be allowed to obtain an international driving permit in the first place. What’s more, even if it were possible, Japanese law still doesn’t allow anyone under the age of 18 to operate a normal motor vehicle on public Japanese roads. So unfortunately, we’re going to have to put to rest any possibility that she would have been able to actually engage in driving a car in any legal sense.
One thing that is interesting to note, however, is the fact that obtaining a driver’s license to operate a motorcycle is actually easier in Japan, with the legal age being set at 16 years old, so Haruka would be able to have a license for her motorcycles (of which she had several). This, of course, only answers half of the question. What does this mean about Haruka’s career in racing?
Haruka as a Race Car Driver
It might surprise you, but while the very idea that a 16 year old high school girl could be an accomplished race car driver, this part of the story is actually more plausible than the assertion that she could drive a normal car on the streets of Japan.
First off, going with the story provided in the anime that Haruka is a licensed driver in another country (never mind that Japan doesn’t observe it for road driving), it might be safe to assume that she’s also a race car driver in another country. Since we don’t know what country she was racing in we can’t say much more, but NASCAR has allowed 16 year old drivers and younger for much of its existence. Mexican-born driver Germán Quiroga,6 for example, made his debut in the NASCAR Reto Neon series in 1996 at the age of 15.
Across the pond in Europe, Formula Renault7 (an entry-level racing series) allows drivers as young as 16, so it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Haruka had possibly been a championship racer either in the United States or somewhere in Europe. But what about in Japan?
Unfortunately, things don’t quite work out as well for Haruka’s racing career in Japan as they do around the rest of the world. The Japan Automobile Federation (JAF), which manages most of the racing circuits in Japan, requires a normal driver’s license in addition to being 18 years old in order to get a racing license8 and Haruka, unfortunately, meets neither of those conditions.
All is not lost, however. Japan has a rather strong tradition in kart racing circuits which are open to younger drivers – as young as 16 in fact!9 This is, of course, quite different from the illustrious, jet-setting, trendy race car driver image we have in our minds for Haruka, but it’s unfortunately the only possibility open to her if we were to try to match up what we know of her back story with the situation in Japan.
Personally, I’m actually quite impressed that it actually is possible for Haruka to have been a race car driver at all (even if internationally, or limited to racing karts in Japan) and that there was even a bit of truth behind this. Obviously this is a fictional world and we need to give some leeway for the sake of story telling, but it’s always comforting to know that there’s some basis in reality. Once again, the world of Sailor Moon doesn’t disappoint!
- See vol. 9, p. 31 of the original manga ↩
- See Japanese Drivers Licenses (Wikipedia) ↩
- See U.S. Embassy Website on Driving in Japan ↩
- See the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (Wikipedia) ↩
- See the List of Countries by Minimum Driving Age (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Germán Quiroga (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Formula Renault (Wikipedia) ↩
- See the JAF’s License Acquisition Requirements ↩
- See Racing Karts (Wikipedia) ↩