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Driving a Car in Japan (License, violations, etc.)

Japan With Kids - Forums: Traveling to/from and in Japan: Driving a Car in Japan (License, violations, etc.)

By John Rich on Monday, August 7, 2000 - 9:38 am:

I renewed my Japanese Driver's License a few years ago and moved shortly thereafter.

It is now time to renew again. Will I need to provide the DMV with any documention (from the ward office) mentioning my new address?

By Cornelia on Thursday, March 8, 2001 - 5:17 am:

This is not specifically an answer to John Rich but here is some info that might be helpful:

Japan Automobile Association (like the
AAA/CAA) is at

(For those people who need an International Driver's License issued here in Japan.)

Also there is a page up on getting a driver's license in Japan at:

You also need a license if you drive any two wheeler with an engine over 50cc (I think).

By Scott Hancock on Saturday, March 10, 2001 - 5:36 pm:

I assume that John Rich has since renewed and updated his license.... but for the information of readers-

1. If your address changes, you're supposed to go to the nearest police station (not box) and show them your updated gaijin card (you did update that at the kuyakusho, right?).The police will make an entry with your new address on the back of the license.

2.If you don't have a certain number of points on your license, you should get a simple renewal. But, I believe you still have to go to the "DMV" (shikenjo) to do the process. If you have some points or an accident, you may have to attend a short lecture to do the renewal.


By Natalie B on Saturday, April 27, 2002 - 7:05 pm:

I just received an American Community Service Update 4/26/02 and was surprised to read that Americans (and probably all nationals) residing in Japan (no definition of "resident" provided) must convert their license to a Japanese license or face fines or arrest if stopped when driving with an international license. I've pasted the complete excerpt so it is a little long but quite informative.

Driving in Japan
Americans cannot drive in Japan with only a U.S. drivers license. Persons found driving in Japan without a legal license are subject to fines, arrest and possible deportation.

Getting a Japanese License:

For Americans resident in Japan, it is possible to convert a valid U.S. drivers license to a Japanese license. However, this cannot be done at the Embassy.

Note that "residents" are expected to convert or obtain a Japanese drivers license. Persons using an international drivers license who are resident in Japan can be subject to fines or arrest. The exact boundary between "resident" and "not resident" is unclear; contact local police for additional information.

International Driving Permits (IDP):

An international driving permit issued in the United States by the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) is required of short-term visitors who drive in Japan.

International driving permits (IDP) are not issued by the U.S. Embassy or by its consulates. IDP's must be obtained prior to arriving in Japan. They cannot be obtained in Japan.

Note that IDP's are not intended to replace valid U.S. state licenses and should only be used as a supplement to a valid license. In other words, you must also have a valid U.S. state license in addition to an IDP to drive in Japan.

You can obtain a valid IDP only from an automobile association authorized by the U.S.Department of State to issue IDPs. Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic (1949) authorizes the U.S. Department of State to empower certain organizations to issue IDPs to those who hold valid U.S. driver's licenses.

The Department has designated the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance as the only authorized distributors of IDPs.

There are, however, many scams on the Internet charging significant fees for licenses and/or making false statements. International Driving Permits should cost only US$10-20,though they are sold online for as much as US$300.

Driving in Japan:

Driving in Japan is quite complicated and expensive. Those who cannot read the language will have trouble understanding road signs. Highway tolls are assessed at about US $1 per mile. City traffic is often very congested. A 20-mile trip in the Tokyo area may take two hours. There is virtually no roadside parking. In mountainous areas, roads are often closed during the winter, and cars should be equipped with tire chains.

Foreigners should be alert to traffic on secondary roads, which does not come to a full stop at traffic lights or stop signs. Roads in Japan are much narrower than those in the United States. Vehicular traffic moves on the left. Turns at red lights are forbidden unless specifically authorized.

Japanese compulsory insurance is mandatory for all automobile owners and drivers in Japan. Your U.S. auto insurance likely does not provide coverage in Japan; check with your insurer.

For travelers coming to Japan for the World Cup in June 2002, note that no parking is available at any of the stadiums. Please plan on using public transportation.

Accidents and Liability:

Japanese law provides that all persons who drive in Japan are held liable in the event of an accident, and assesses fault in an accident on all parties.

Drivers stopped for driving under the influence will have their licenses confiscated. Laws passed in late 2001 make persons found guilty of "drunken, speeding or blatantly careless driving that results in death" subject to up to 15 years in prison, tripling the previous maximum sentence. Japanese police, under these new laws, will also be permitted to contact financial institutions directly to determine an offender's financial status to combat evasion of payment for traffic violations.

The National Police Agency (NPA) oversees the administration and
enforcement of traffic laws. Further information in English is available on the NPA's web site.

Emergency Assistance:

Within Japan, please dial 110 for police, and 119 for ambulance.

For roadside assistance, please contact the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) at 03-5395-0111 in Tokyo, 06-577-0111 in Osaka, 011-857-8139 in Sapporo, 092-841-5000 in Fukuoka, or 098-877-9163 in Okinawa. Service is usually only available in Japanese.

By dian mertani on Friday, June 7, 2002 - 5:14 pm:

Hi I just being informed from a friend who study this that the rule may applicable to American only because:
US doesn't accept the Japanese driving licence in USA becuase both countries have opposite hand driving style. Japan reciprocate that. Country that drive the same side as Japan, the same left-hand driving, therefore, there Internatoional licences are considered valid in Japan. Bellow is the URL of the Ibaraki Police. Hope that it will help to rectify the confusion that International Driving Licences are valid in Japan. But there are two conditions to be fullfilled:

1. These must have been issued before 90 days of arrival in Japan

2. They are valid for only one year

By Lynn Chen on Monday, July 22, 2002 - 4:11 pm:

I have been driving in Japan for almost two years now on my IDL. Was I not supposed to do that? I was told by someone, not sure who, that as long as I don't stay in Japan for more than a year consecutively, I can drive on my IDL. Since we go on vacation a couple of times a year abroad, I thought I was covered. Is that true?

I was stopped for speeding (April this year) and fined for illegal parking (last month) :oP Both times I used my IDL and there was no problem. Did I just luck out?

By Scott Hancock on Monday, July 22, 2002 - 6:02 pm:

I would say, basically 'yes, you lucked out', but sliding by rules is very common here, isn't it.

The long quote from the U.S. Embassy about driving spells it out.

I have always been concerned that it would be the time I really needed insurance to be there that they would find some reason such as "your license is wrong" to wiggle out of paying some big damage claim.

We all know people who have driven for XX years on a IDL with no problem, though. Depends strictly on one's personal tolerance for risk.


By rach on Saturday, August 31, 2002 - 6:33 pm:

Here is a post from one of the boards I visit:

<< International Driver's license:
I am writing today to tell you about an unfortunate occurance that happened to a friend of mine this past week. He was driving on a little-traveled road, and a car coming through an intersection ignored a stop sign, causing my friend to hit his vehicle. Everyone was ok, and the accident was 100% the fault of the other party, but what happened later is the problem. The police came to investigate, and they found that my friend (an American) had been driving on an international driving permit. The permit had a valid date, but my friend had been in Japan for more than one year. International driving permits are valid for only one year, but my friend had consistently renewed his permit so that it always had a valid date. He thought that this was OK to do, but the police arrested him and charged him with driving without a valid license. They set a date when he must appear in court, and then they released him and drove him home.

Here's what the law says: you can't drive on an international permit if you have been in Japan for more than one continuous year. If, after having been in Japan for a year, you return to your home country and renew your international permit, you must remain outside Japan for at least three months before they will allow you to drive on an international permit again in Japan. Even if you have a permit with a valid date on it (as my friend did) you will be considered to be driving illegally. The penalties are harsh.
If you are caught, you will immediately lose driving privileges. You may be fined up to 500,000 yen, which must be paid immediately upon sentencing, or they will detain you until the money is paid. You will not be allowed to drive for one year. You could not obtain a Japanese license, even if you wanted to, for a whole year. They can even sentence you to time in prison. Thankfully, my friend was not put in jail (perhaps because the accident was clearly the fault of the other driver).

After this incident, I spoke with a few of you, and I found three people who have been doing the same thing: driving without a Japanese license. I also found one guy who checked the expiration date of his Japanese driver license and discovered that it had expired last year! I didn`t even speak with very many of you. So anyway, I thought I would write to you all because it is apparently a common mistake to believe that it is OK to keep using an
international permit. The authorities do not care one whit whether you know the law or not; you cannot use ignorance as a defense in the courts. My friend drove nearly every day for several years in Japan without getting so much as a parking ticket, but that didn`t matter, either.

If you still have not gotten your Japan license, please have someone drive you to your local licensing center. But call first, because you will need some documentation. If you have a valid license from your home country, it is not too difficult to get a Japan license.

Also, please take a moment to check all of your personal documents (driver licenses, passports, visas, etc.) to be sure that they have not expired. The police in Japan can be extremely unforgiving, even to the point of detaining people. That could be disastrous if you are on your way to a wedding! (Other expired documents, I mean. We aren't supposed to drive to weddings at all--company policy.)
--Ted >>

By Scott Hancock on Saturday, August 31, 2002 - 6:37 pm:

Thank you very much for taking time to post about this person's experience. I hope it will make the point to those who need it.

By Natasha on Monday, February 3, 2003 - 4:35 pm:


The Japanese National Police Agency finally amended regulations for switching a foreign drivers license to a Japanese one.

The Embassy, Tokyo confirmed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Police Agency. As of February 01, 2003, holders of a valid Canadian drivers license (all provinces/ territories) are waived from a written test & driving skills test for switching.

All you have to do is:
1) Have your drivers license translated into Japanese by the
Embassy/Consulate or the JAF;
2) Bring to a Japanese licensing office in the prefecture of residence:
i) Canadian Drivers license
ii) A certified Japanese translation of Canadian drivers license
iii) Certificate of Alien Registration
iv) One photograph (3cm in length x 2.4 cm in width for ID purposes)
v) Canadian passport
vi) fee (currently 4,150 yen for a car-license, 5,050 yen for motorcycle-license, subject to change).

3) Take an eye-test at the licensing office.

Those who pass the eye-test and prove that they were in Canada for at least 3 months after obtaining the Canadian drivers license can obtain a Japanese drivers license.

Website reference:

Best regards,
Chieko Yamashita
Canadian Consulate General, Osaka

By Cornelia on Tuesday, February 4, 2003 - 10:23 am:

This website has quite comprehensive (and up to date) information in English on the driving license requirements in Japan:

for further links on the same site see:

By mono on Friday, February 28, 2003 - 5:12 pm:

Hi. I'm a Japanese mother who recently moved back to Japan. I've lived in the U.S. for many years, and have obtained my driver's license there. I'd like to know the other people's experiences in getting DLs in Japan, and possibly receive the advices and/or information on cheap (or the painless) ways to get a DL (if they ever exist).
I've called a local agency that deals with international drivers (or someone like myself), but I hang up the phone in frustration because the people who answered my calls were very rude (I bet their attitude will be much nicer if I was an English speaker!). I don't have any driving experiences in Japan, so I really don't know anything!!
There's an excellent newsletter in Tsukuba called Alien Times, and their latest issue has an awesome article about DL. Their URL is

By Dennis Mobley on Friday, February 28, 2003 - 6:45 pm:

The process isn't actually that difficult, but from my experience you need to approach it from a very "Japanese" point of view.
I would recommend getting the study book which you can get at Koyama driving school. You will also need to prove that you lived in US for at least 3 months while you had the licence.
The process is bureaucratic, but "doable" the computer test is only 10 questions, and is very easy.
You will probably fail the driving test the first time, but after that, you will understand what they expect. You cannot drive like an American -- it is too aggressive for them. I learned this when I took the driving test. The second time I did it the "Japanese" way and passed no problem.
Be sure to budget at least half a day for the process, and good luck.

By Scott Hancock on Sunday, March 2, 2003 - 12:46 am:

You refer to the computer test, but I believe that is only for non-Japanese speakers. Mono will probably be given the much longer Japanese version, from what I understand. Which written test is given depends on language spoken, rather than whether or not one is "trading in" from a foreign license.

One of the driving schools - maybe it's Koyama has a one-day advisory course for the test. A friend of ours recently took it. However, here again a driving school might offer a Japanese person something different

Mono- please let us know about your experiences after you go through it.

By Pato on Monday, March 3, 2003 - 6:20 pm:

Dear Mono,
I figure you can use an international licence for one year since you can prove that you were living longer than 3 months in other country. Then you can get lots of practice actually driving on these roads, before it is necessary for you to get the Japanese DL. You will pass easily then.

By Michael on Wednesday, March 5, 2003 - 12:10 pm:

From the March 2003 Newsletter put out by the American Embassy:

Why Do Americans Have to Take a Driving Test?
The Embassy spoke recently with the Superintendent of the License Division, Traffic Bureau, of the National Police Agency (NPA) about complaints from American citizens with valid international driver licenses who have been told they have to take a practical or road test as well as a written examination in order to obtain a Japanese driver license. The NPA confirmed that this was true.

Prior to June 2002, Japanese law had allowed foreigners bearing international driver licenses to drive indefinitely in Japan. As of June 2002, however, foreigners are only able to drive on an international driver license for up to 12 months, then have to have applied for and received a Japanese driver license. An additional requirement is that the foreigner has to have obtained the international driver license at least three months before first arriving in Japan. We have also heard from a small number of Americans who were told by the police that they could not use international licenses for even 12 months because they were "resident" in Japan.

The driving test in Japan consists of hearing, eyesight, written and practical/road test components. Citizens of 21 countries, not including the United States, are exempt from taking everything but the eye test. Some of these countries met the exemption requirement because the NPA examined their domestic traffic safety record and determined that it was at least as good as Japan's. The NPA stated that these nations also exempt Japanese license holders from taking a driving test, while some states in the United States require Japanese license holders to take a written and/or a road test before acquiring a state driver license.

The Embassy has been in communication with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which acts as a liaison between the federal government and the states on driver licensing requirements and highway safety issues. While the federal government is unable to force individual states to change their driver licensing requirements, NHTSA is in communication with the state motor vehicle administrations regarding licensing requirements for Japanese citizens.

We shared with the NPA statistics which showed that the United States had a risk value much lower than that of Japan's with respect to fatalities as a share of vehicle kilometers traveled, but were told that the Japanese police still needed to see the safety records of each individual state.

The total number of people applying for Japanese licenses who already had U.S. state driver licenses in 2001 was 5,698. Of these, 4,821 were Japanese citizens returning from work, study or travel in the United States, and 879 were Americans or third country nationals. The first-time pass rate for Americans was slightly higher than the 35 percent pass rate for Japanese returnees, but not much. On the other hand, for those who take the regular test, they have to go through an intensive (and expensive) driver education program. The first time pass rate for this group, even with the harder test, is 90 to 100 percent.

Converting to a Japanese License
For Americans resident in Japan, it is possible to convert a valid U.S. drivers license to a Japanese license, but does involve a driving test. Note that the required translation of your U.S. license cannot be done at the Embassy.

Follow these links for information on converting your license, including sources to help with the translation of your U.S. license. Please note that these links are to for-profit private organizations, and are provided here for your information only. Inclusion of Non-U.S. Government links or information does not imply endorsement of contents.

Japan Automobile Federation at

Japan Drivers License at

Follow this link for the locations of license bureaus in the Tokyo area:

By Lynn Chen on Friday, March 14, 2003 - 12:48 pm:

We finally overcame procrastination and decided to convert our US licenses into Japanese license. Made the trip to Samezu driving center yesterday. What a nightmare! I just want to share with you our experience so you can take steps to prepare your documents to avoid similar problems.

We arrived the Samezu center shortly after 1pm, handed in our US licenses, Japanese translation of licenses, US passports, Japanese Alien registration cards and two photos. Then we waited. And waited and waited and waited for almost 2 hours. When we were finally called to the window, the little Japanese woman told my husband that there is a problem in his documents. Turned out that she couldn't find proof that my husband had been driving for more than 3 months in the US! My husband got his first license in Tennessee when he was 14 but had moved a couple of times since then and the license he has now was obtained in 2001, in Virginia. This posed a problem because, from the license, the woman could tell that it was a renewal, rather than a newly issued one. So she extrapolated back 5 years, which put the time in 1996. That is the same year that my husband was transferred to Singapore. The stamp in his passport says June 1996. Since we had no proof that he got his original license before 1996, we had to prove that since 1996, he had been back in the US for more than 3 months, which he had. He was back in NY for 3 months in 1997 but proving it was also a problem. In Singapore, if you hold a employment pass, immigration does not stamp your passport when you leave or enter the country. And of course, being a US citizen, US immigration doesn't stamp your passport either when you leave US. So he only had a stamp that proves his entrance into the US, but nothing to prove how long he was there. We were trapped! It was obvious to the woman that this is just a technicality issue, but still she insists that she could not let him take even the written test without us showing her written proof. Even if we were to call his company and have someone lookup the record and guarantee to her over the phone that hubby had indeed spent 3 months in NY, it wouldn't have been good enough. In the end, she agreed to let him take the written test and schedule a driving test. But we had to bring back a letter from his company along with his tax return from that year as proof when he take the driving test. And the most hilarious part: he has to stick one of those yellow and green arrow signs that new drivers have to display on our car. Here is a man who has been driving for more than half of his life, but it doesn't matter.
I totally understand the reasoning behind the 3 month requirement, but would think that it applies more to Japanese citizens who try to circumvent the licensing process in Japan by obtaining one in the US. Here we are, US citizens with US drivers licenses, having to provide proof that we had been driving for more than 3 months in the States? Behind the ridiculousness of all this, I have to give credit to the female bureaucrat who painstakingly went through our thick passports with added pages and full of stamps, and actually tallied up all the days that hubby was in the US, which came up to be 48 days. In the end, what made her agree to let my husband take the written test was a dependent pass from the Singapore govt in MY passport six months after his entry date to NY. Her reason is that I wouldn't have gotten it if he wasn't in Singapore at that time. I did not point it out to her that it only means that my husband was in Singapore six months later, after he went back to NY. It doesn't say anything about his length of stay in NY. But somehow, that's what she needed to get out of the corner that she got herself into.

What an experience! Again, only in Japan!

By Dennis Mobley on Monday, March 17, 2003 - 7:11 am:

Hi Scott,

I have Japanese friends who have said that they prefer to do the test in English, and have been able to do so. What they must do is, as mentioned above, go through all the hoops that the bureaucracy put you through. I fell into the same trap as Lynn's husband. I lost my passport, so had no proof that I had lived in the US for 3 months after obtaining my licence. In the end, I had to supply 6 months of bank statements, payslips and visa bill statements to prove that I had been there for at least 3 months. After all that, even though I have been driving for 20 years, I was issued the first time licence, so if I have any infractions in the first 2 years, I get higher "points".

Funny thing is, I just got back from California. While there, my wife (Japanese) discovered that her licence had expired. We went to DMV, she filled out a form, had her picture taken, and was finished in less than 20 minutes -- in the San Francisco DMV with no appointment. For a country that prides itself on effeciency, it's a real paradox.

By Cornelia on Monday, March 17, 2003 - 9:49 am:

Yes, and in Virginia one has been able renew one's license over the internet for a few years now. They have one's picture stored digitally and just use the same photo on the new licence which they send to you in the mail! Pay renewal fee by credit card! And if your address has changed you can do that on the DMV's web site as well ! And I can also say from experience that in general the bureaucrats in the USA are also more efficient than in Germany, though I never got a driver's licence there.

By John Master on Saturday, January 3, 2004 - 1:06 am:

Hi.. I live in Ohnocho and I'm going to take Japan driving licence test at the end of January 2004. My problem is, i dont know how to go to JAF office in Chiba (to buy Japan Rules of the Road). May someone give some guidence how to go there by train. need help.

By Bridget Kihara on Saturday, January 3, 2004 - 3:27 am:

I think JAF will send you the book for 1000yen. See:

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