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How to get a Japanese Drivers License - From Start to Finish

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Prior to June 2002, it was okay for foreigners to drive in Japan by continuously renewing their International Drivers Permits. Unfortunately now…


  1. You cannot simply keep on renewing your International Drivers Permit and more importantly...
  1. Your international driver’s license is ONLY VALID FOR A PERIOD OF 12 MONTHS AFTER YOU INITIALLY LAND IN JAPAN (regardless of what it says on your international drivers license).

This means that after being in Japan for 12 months, you will have to get a Japanese drivers license if you want to drive. AND depending on your country, you may have to take the practical exam. EEEEK! But don’t worry, here’s how to do it...

Get your license translatedEdit

The first thing you need to do is get an official translation of your current driver’s license. You can't just have anybody do it: only the JAF (Japan Automobile Federation) or your country's embassy can do it for you.

In order to get an official translation from JAF:


  1. Photocopy the front and back of your license
  1. Print and fill out this application form: http://www.jaf.or.jp/inter/translation/pdf/pdf_apli_english.pdf
  2. Mail both #1 and #2 along with ¥3380 yen (¥3000 yen application fee + ¥380 return postage) in a 現金書留 (genkin kakitome) envelope from the post office to: Nihon Jidousha Remei, Kanazawa-shi Shinbohon 4-8, 921-8062 (Japanese: 日本自動車連盟、金沢市新保本4丁目8、〒921-8062).
  3. Eventually (usually within three days to one week) you will get your license "translation" back. (If you miss the delivery, you will have to go to the post office to pick it up.) Time for the next step!

Note: Make sure that your license has a section that indicates when your license was issued. The driving center needs to know when your license was issued. If it was renewed in the three months immediately prior to your arrival in Japan, make sure you have some proof that your license was issued before that last renewal date. Otherwise, you will be considered a new driver, and you will not be able to convert your license, but will have to apply for a new license. If you bring a separate form proving the date of issuance of your license, make sure to have someone translate it for you (you should be able to get away with an amateur translation of this form).

Make an appointment at the Licensing CenterEdit

Now you need to actually make an appointment at the 運転免許' 'センター(Unten Menkyo Center) to get your license converted.

Call the Center at 076-238-5901 and explain you want to convert your Driver's License into Japanese (in Japanese, it would be 外国免許の切り替え gaikoku menkyo no kirikae). If you don't speak Japanese get a fluent Japanese speaker to call for you. The Center will schedule you an appointment. Please note, these appointments can only be scheduled at 1 p.m. from Monday to Friday. They can only process two conversions a day, so make sure you start the process early, as in June and July, the center tends to get very busy. Please note also that it can sometimes take up to a month to get an appointment.

Your first appointmentEdit

Everyone has to go through this first appointment, which is more or less a documents and background check.

For your first appointment at the Center you need to bring:

  1. Your passport
  2. Any previous, expired passports
  3. Residence Card
  4. Home country's driver's license
  5. Proof of Residence (住民票 Jyuuminhyo - available from City Hall or your local city center)
  6. Previous, expired home country's driver's licenses (if possible)
  7. Your International Driver's Permit (not absolutely necessary - this is to prove that you are driving legally if you drove to the center)
  8. The awesome translation you got from JAF
  9. Someone who speaks Japanese (if you don't)
      • You must be able to prove that you were in your home country over a certain period of time. If there are stamps that are out of order in your passport, it may be an idea to take your academic transcripts with you as supporting evidence


Getting there:

運転免許センター'

'金沢市東蚊爪町2丁目1番地' '〒920-0209

Google map link

The center is next to Uchinada, so basically if you don't have a car, you should take the Hokutetsu Rail from Kanazawa Station to the end of the line in Uchinada, then jump off and take a taxi (just say "unten menkyo center"). While you're in the taxi, make sure to grab the taxi's dispatch phone number, since you CAN get stranded at the center if you end up running late (meaning like past 4pm) and it's a very long walk back.

What to expect:

When you get to the center, ignore the Japanese lady at the entrance who will try to help you, and head up the stairs to the second floor. Go to window 45; it will open promptly at 1 p.m. (You may be asked to wait a little bit if the guy at the window decides to do other peoples' stuff first.) When your name is called, bring all of your documents to the person at the window, and he will give you a paper with a list of Yes/No statements for you to fill out and sign. (Questions are something like: "I have not driven illegally in Japan." "I have not gotten a ticket." ) If your passport is fairly new, you may be asked to bring back your past passports. After all of your documents have been processed, you will be asked to wait until about 2:15-2:30 p.m., when they will call you again, give back your documents, and ask you to make the 2nd appointment at a later date (usually at least one week later). For those who come from countries that have to take the practical test, your next appointment will also be at 1 p.m. For those lucky ones who come from countries that don't have to take the practical test, your next appointment will most likely be at 2 p.m. Usually, these appointment times are non-negotiable.

Your second appointmentEdit

If you come from a country that does NOT need to take the practical exam (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, or the United Kingdom):


The 2nd appointment will have to be at 2 p.m. you need to bring the same documents from the 1st appointment, plus a photo of yourself (3 cm x 2.4 cm) taken in the last six months (you can take this on the 1st floor of the driving center), and money (about 5000 yen).


Go again to window 45, and your documents will be processed. You will have to fill out some forms with your name and address, and sign a form about your health. After that, you will have to go to the cashier window and pay an initial 2400 yen.


After paying, go back to window 45, and you will be asked to wait. You will eventually be called to take the eye exam (you have to tell what direction the open side of the “C” is facing, and you have to say the colors of the traffic light).


After that, they will send you down to the first floor (Window 3, just sit and wait.) and you will wait until about 3:15 p.m. when they will 1) call you to make two PIN numbers at an ATM-like machine(you will never use these PIN numbers, so they can be the same, or they can be different), 2) take your picture for the license (so look nice for the appointment!), 3) ask you to pay a fee (around 2100 yen) at another window, and 4) ask you to wait a final 10 minutes for your license to be printed.

People usually receive their licenses around 3:30 p.m.


If you are from a country that has to take the practical test:


The 2nd appointment will have to be at 1 p.m. as well, and you need to bring the same documents from the 1st appointment, plus a photo of yourself (3 cm x 2.4 cm) taken in the last six months (you can take this on the 1st floor of the driving center), and money (about 6000 yen).


Go again to window 45, and your documents will be processed. You will have to fill out some forms with your name and address, and sign a form about your health. After that, you will have to go to the cashier window and pay 4050 yen.


After paying, go back to window 45, and you will be asked to wait. You will eventually be called to take the written exam (very simple and no studying needed; nobody has failed it so far), the eye exam (you have to tell what direction the open side of the “C” is facing, and you have to say the colors of the traffic light), and the practical exam.


If you pass everything, they will send you down to the first floor (Window 3, just sit and wait.) and you will wait until about 3:15 p.m. when they will 1) call you to make two PIN numbers at an ATM-like machine (you will need these if you ever have to have your license replaced), 2) take your picture for the license (so look nice for the appointment!), 3) ask you to pay a fee (2100 yen) at another window, and 4) ask you to wait a final 10 minutes for your license to be printed.

People usually receive their licenses around 3:30 p.m.

PracticeEdit

It is highly highly recommended that you take a lesson for at least 1 hour (2 hours ideally) before you take the exam because they will show you exactly how to pass the test.

Many JETs have taken 1 or 2 hours of practice right before taking their exam so they can actually practice the test course of that day.

There is a practice center conveniently located right next to the unten menkyou center in Uchinada. It's called the Anzen Unten Center ('安全運転センター' ).

Phone: 076-237-2735

Google map link

The ExamsEdit

What to bringEdit

On the day of your exam, DO NOT FORGET ANY OF YOUR DOCUMENTS AND IDs. They already have copies of everything, but you still need to bring the originals again. You can't take the exam without your paperwork present.

REMEMBER:


  1. Your passport
  2. Previous, expired passports
  3. Alien Registration (Gaijin) Card
  4. Home country's drivers license
  5. Previous, expired home country's drivers licenses (if possible)
  6. Your International Driver's Permit
  7. Translation of your license
  8. International license
  9. A 3x2.4 (standard) photo of yourself
  10. Money - you pay for the written and practical exams separately. It adds up to about ¥6000 in total
  11. Someone who speaks Japanese (helpful but not mandatory)

The Written ExamEdit

The written exam is made up of a random ten out of fifty True / False (O/X) questions. It's in English and Japanese. The English is a little funny, but there are accompanying pictures. Don't get hung up on the bad English. Most of the questions are common sense. Review street signs and road lines from your JET Diary before if you are nervous. It is not common for anyone to fail this exam.

The Eye TestEdit

Everyone has to sit the Eye Test, regardless of whether or not you are sitting the Practical and Written Exams.

You will get shown a bunch of "C" shaped figures and you have to say which way the opening is pointing:

Up - "Ue"

Down - "Shita"

Right - "Migi"

Left - "Hidari" ("ue/migi/hidari/shita").

Next you'll do the color test. Are you part of the 0.5% of women or 5% of the men in the world who are colorblind? No? Then you should be fine. Remember that "green" is actually "blue" in Japanese (seriously).

The Practical Exam

This information applies to AUTOMATIC license tests. Some of the information can be applied to MANUAL/SHIFT.

Before getting in the car

1. Check around the car in the front and the passenger side and the back, around and under the car to make sure that a small creature is not located anywhere near the car. BE OBVIOUS! Check to the left and right for traffic BEFORE heading to the door.
2. Walk to the driver's side, but before opening the door check OBVIOUSLY left and right.
3. Open the door.


How to start up the car

1. After you get in the car, move the chair up two notches so that you are basically uncomfortable, especially if you are a very tall person.
2. Lock the car door.
3. Put on your seatbelt.
4. Check mirrors and adjust the rearview mirror. The other two mirrors are on the hood of the car, and you won't be adjusting them. Look at the bottom half of
the two mirrors. The top two are for the inspector.
5. Put foot on brake.
6. Check all the mirrors again, and the bike area which is located on the left side middle back.
7. Start engine.
8. Change Park to drive, but look at the dash not the panel on the floor.
9. Take off the emergency brake.
10. Check again all mirrors and the bike area.
11. Put the blinker on and go.
12. Check again all mirrors and the bike area.


Making a left turn

1. Keep left within 1 meter of the curb. Your car needs to be within one meter of the curb, but no more. Do not go over the white line.
2. Slow down.
3. Turn left blinker on about 30 meters before the turn.
4. Keep left. Angle wheels to the left.
5. Look to the right.
6. Look in the rear view mirror.
7. Look at the left mirror.
8. Look at the bike area.
9. Look to the right and go.
10. Keep to the left.

Making a lane change - even if there isn't a new lane.

(A lane change here is if you are on the left and you need to make a right turn, then you must move over to the right hand side.) The right hand turn is a separate action.)
1. Remember you are on the left to start.
2. Put on your right blinker.
3. Staying in the same lane, count 3 seconds, out loud if you have to, because you need to be OBVIOUS.
4. Do a safety check. Right mirror, right check back, rear view mirror, left mirror, review mirror. No bike check necessary because bikes/mopeds can't make right hand turns like cars/motorcycles.
5. Move to within 50cm, not more and not on the white line, and turn off your blinker.
Now, if you like, you are READY to make a RIGHT turn, but are not going to make another immediate RIGHT

Making a right turn not followed by another right TURN

6. Turn your blinker on again to make the right turn. Remember 30 meters before, so if you just came out of a lane change, then do put the blinker on right after you turned it off.
7. Stay straight in the lane, close to the right hand side line.
8. Check straight ahead, left, and then right. Move slowly.
9. Move the car into the far left lane, and KEEP LEFT.

Making a right turn followed by another right TURN

If you are going to make an Immediate RIGHT turn, turn into the right turn lane. Turn off your blinker, or it hasn't turned off, and then turn it on again to make the next right turn, following, of course, the steps on how to make a right turn.

Making a U-Turn

1. Beginning in the far left-hand lane, make a lane change to the right-hand side of the left lane. (Do NOT move into the right-hand lane.

2. Performing mirror checks like those in a right turn, you will turn from YOUR far left lane into the opposing direction's far left.

Passing a stopped or parked car

1. Put blinker on 30 meters moving the car to the right.
2. Staying in the same lane, count 3 seconds, out loud if you have to, because you need to be OBVIOUS.
3. Do a safety check. Right mirror, left mirror, rear view mirror.
4. You can move into the next lane, straddle both lanes, but keep a distance of 9 feet between you and the parked/stopped car. The 9 feet is about the same width of the test. car.
5. Immediately, put on the left turn signal.
6. Staying in the same lane, count 3 seconds, out loud if you have to, because you need to be OBVIOUS.
7. Do a safety check. Right, rear, left mirrors, and BIKE area.
8. Then, move back into the left lane.

Blind intersection

1. Stop at the stop sign or just stop if there isn't a stop sign.
2. Check left and right mirrors.
3. Move forward slowly to an invisible line in front of the white line. Check left and right.
4. For a left turn, turn car in an angle to the left. For the right, stay straight.
5. Follow general guidelines for the different turns.
6. Make sure you go very slowly.

Blind curve

1. Slow down before entering the curve.
2. Provide space in the left area in case there is a bicycle there.
3. Then, resume lane and keep to the left.

S-curve, Crank, and Ramp

-S-curve- drive very very very very slowly around the curve. Keep to the far left, then far right, and so on. When you drive into the curve, hug the left or right side of the curve to make sure that you do not go into the ditch.

-If you do go into a ditch, STOP. Then, reverse (LOOK in MIRRORS). If you go forward in the ditch, you will fail.

-When exiting the Crank and S-curve, be careful not to touch the curb. Passing over the edge as you turn onto the main road is an IMMEDIATE FAIL.

-If you are about to hit one of the poles, use REVERSE. It is better to REVERSE than hit a pole. (I reversed twice, and still passed the FIRST time.) When reversing, check all mirrors and back up looking over your LEFT shoulder. You will fail if you hit a pole or go into a ditch.

-There is a ramp in the test (which you may or may not have to go on). When you are on the main road, and before the two paths of the streets meet, LOOK to the left and bike area to make sure that the driver on the ramp doesn't come crashing down to kill you because they forgot to YIELD. As you approach the top of the ramp, slow to a stop as soon as you can see over the top. Honk once, then proceed slowly over the top.

Intersection Notes

4 way diamond

Passing by a diamond in the intersection.

-When turning through a four way intersection, DO NOT pass over the center diamonds. You should come close to them, but not over them

-When passing through an intersection with crosswalks, look to the left and right and make a

T turn

A T-intersection

n audible "check" noise. If you are in the middle of the intersection slow down a bit to do so for the farthest crosswalk, but do not stop

-When turning at a T-intersection, two of your tires should pass over two points of th

Crosswalk Check
e T. (Barely touching, if you pass over the center you will lose points.)




How to get out of the car

1. Park the car.
2. Push on the foot brake.
3. Set the emergency brake.
4. Put in Park.
5. Turn off the engine.
6. Take off seatbelt.
7. Check mirrors again.
8. Look to the right and the right back before opening
the car door.
9. Get out, and pray that you passed.

NOTES
1) Read and practice the preceding information until you are doing it naturally.

2) This is Japan. The driving test is not so much about skills, but about appearance and memorization of procedures and the course.

3) Dress nicely. Wearing business dress might help.

4) If you can understand and speak some Japanese, be polite and bow a lot. Use onegaishimasu a lot.

5) Memorize the course well. If you did not memorize the course well and you realize that you drove down the wrong road, then pull over safely and stop. ASK the inspector what you should do. You will not lose points if you lose your way.

6) Be prepared to have your picture taken after passing the test.

7) There are white lines on the practice course, spaced about 10 meters apart. This visual will help you to remember what 30 meters looks like.

8) You will be given a map of the course after you pass the written section of the test. If you fail, you will get a new map with a new course the next time you take the test. There are extra maps/handouts nearby. Take one and draw the course on it. Practice in your mind how you will do the course. (I wrote out what I was going to do.) Look at the course outside.

9)The inspector will sit in the car with you, but he won't say much to you. You are supposed to know the course. Sometimes you are allowed to walk the course before you drive it. This will be between the hours of 12 and 1 (lunch time). There are occasionally other courses being shown on the monitors, make certain you look at the screen and course for foreigners.

10) He/She will tell you when to go to 50 kph.

11) You will be allowed to do one small loop on the test course as a practice. It is a very small loop and not enough to get used to the car. All the cars are the same.

12) BE PARANOID! DO EVERYTHING OBVIOUSLY! STOP OBVIOUSLY, No California rolls or stops.

13) Turn your head to make your mirror and bike area checks. Make it VERY OBVIOUS that you are Turning your head. Turn your head unnaturally so far to look, and look again. If you have to, say, Check, or Yoshi when you check each mirror.

14) There will be a yellow flashing light. Slow down before it, and look both ways before crossing over it.

15) A little before curves, slow down, and PUMP the brakes at least two times, then enter the curve at a safe speed. Do not speed up in a curve. You should travel/coast at 25-30 kph in the curve. Do not touch the brake or accelerator


Vocabulary

Japanese English
kosaten or jyujiro intersection
mitoshi ga warui kosaten blind intersection
kotai reverse
shupatsu start (begin)
migi right
hidari left
masugu straight
cado curve/corner
tomare stop
kakunin check
shinro henko lane change
shingo signal
hayaku speed up
yukkuri slow down/more slowly
owari finished
ushiro o miru koto ga dekimasen I can't see the back/behind.
mira o kaeru koto ga dekismasuka Can I change the mirror?


Measurement equivalents

30 meters 98 feet
2.7 meters 9 feet or width of car to pass a stopped car
50 centimeters 1.6 feet for space between you and the right hand side line to make a right turn
1 meter 3.2 feet to leave a space between you and the left side (Keep left rule)


**Disclaimer: This is by no means comprehensive and if you fail, sorry. This information has been written and shared to help others in the same situation.

Tips from past JETsEdit

  • I PASSED the FIRST time! What I did: 1) I took the Japanese driving school course for two hours ¥9200 (¥ 4600 yen per hour). I brought a Japanese friend to help me understand and to write down procedures. 2) I practiced what I learnt in the driving school for three days (I drove my friends crazy practicing as a SAFETY Driver). 4) I traced the map given to me on the test day, and I wrote out how I was going to do each turn, when and how. 5) I asked for more time until I was ready to take the driving test. (Anonymous, Ishikawa JETs Forum, 2004)
  • Say everything out loud. Check. 1,2,3, etc. (Leah, 2010)
  • Take the classes!!! (Adam, 2010)
  • Regarding the manual test:

    First: You are driving a manual car that you have probably never driven before. There were two types that I drove: The standard Toyota taxi and another much older Nissan mid-size sedan. The Nissan had a very light clutch (compared to my beast) and relatively short gears. If I remember correctly, the Toyota taxi has a slightly heavier clutch and MUCH taller gears. I don't think I got out of third gear on the Toyota at all, but needed fourth on the Nissan. I also remember lugging the engine a bit on the Toyota since the gears were so tall.

Second: I never stalled the car. It's better to rev it a little higher than normal than to stall it. I can't imagine that stalling it would help you pass.
Third: I read on the wonderful walkthrough posted earlier in this thread that you are adjust your seat close to the wheel, even if it's uncomfortable. I disagree with this, at least for the manual test. You simply can't comfortably shift a car if you're smashed against the dash. Make it comfortable for yourself.
Fourth: The car will be parked in first gear when you get in the car. When you leave the car, you are to leave it in first gear as well.
Fifth: For me, the most difficult thing to remember was to always keep both hands on the wheel. When driving naturally, you find yourself keeping one had on the wheel and another on the shift lever. If you do not do a 'hand over hand' motion when making turns and instead do something like using the palm of your right hand to spin the wheel while using your left to manipulate the gears, you will fail. You must take your left hand off the wheel to shift gears and then put it right back on the steering wheel. Every time. Get over that habit before you take the test. It is extremely hard to change years of habit in a single sitting.
Sixth: When you stop, do not put the car into neutral. Come to complete stop and shift gears back to first. Since you won't be going much past second anyway during the main part of the course, I don't think is much of an inconvenience.
Seventh: When making one of those wide sweeping turns after speeding up to 50 km/h, of course pump the brakes twice to bring you down to a crawl and go through the curve with the clutch to the floor and let the car truly coast through the turn. I went very slowly through these curves (agonizingly slow, I thought) and passed.

--Nalhagen (Ishikawa JET forum)

Useful links and sourcesEdit

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