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How to Get a Driver's License

(Compiled by Cornelia who says: "I myself have not done it yet in Japan, so I sent out a request to various friends for an account of their experience, and have reproduced their responses below. Good luck!")

Read a couple of personal experiences chasing down a driver's license and maybe learn from someone else's booboos. Find out Where, How, and How Much! And, finally, feel free to write up your own experience and mail it to us (see below for contact info).

Related Links:
How to get a Driver's License in Japan by Koyama Driving School
Driving in Japan by MixPizza
Japan Automobile Association (like the AAA or the CAA in northern America)
Picture of some typical Japanese traffic signs on Musashino City's website.

Date: Tue, 11 May 1999
Experience of an Australian holding a valid Australian license:

As we're Kanagawa residents we had to go to FUTAMATAGAWA on Soutetsu line from Yokohama (first stop on the rapid). The usual hideous grey blob of suburban town, completely dominated by this enormous driving licence centre 10 mins walk from station, everyone knows it.

We were warned we'd have to take a written test, so I went there a couple of months ago and bought a copy of the road rules in sort-of-English. We studied it (fairly) diligently and I went in fear and trepidation with a Japanese speaking friend to get my licence.

There are of course various steps to the process - and I went into shock when I read on the window a notice that suggested we also had to take a road test - but after the eye test and the paying money and the taking photograph and several more steps and a lot of hanging about waiting, we were sent down to another floor to wait some more - and then picked up my licence. Never had to do a written or road test. One of those times it's better to keep quiet and not ask questions. Maybe because they saw from our Australian licences that we'd been driving for so long.

Costs about 4000 yen and the licence is valid until your third birthday after you get it, so it's not a good idea to go just before your birthday or you'll only get just over 2 years. After that it's renewable.

You have to take gaijin card and passport, 3 x 2.4 cm photo, your current valid foreign licence (which you must have had at least 3 months before leaving that country), a translation of that licence (the Japan Automobile Federation will do the translation, for a fee of course) and a driving record - we had to send to the Road & Traffic Authority in New South Wales requesting that, which of course also costs. What they're most interested in is how long you've had the licence.

If you go to Futamatagawa, go to Building 2, 2nd floor, window 12. If you don't have a valid foreign license, I'm reliably informed it's imperative to do some lessons with a driving school or you'll never be passed on the road test.

Annie (from Australia)

Date: Sat, 11 Sep 1999
Experience of a US citizen holding a valid state of Connecticut license:

Why get a Japanese driver's license? You must have one if you are living in Japan and want to drive. An international license is sufficient only if you are a tourist. This law is usually not strictly enforced, but if a policeman decides to call you on it, you could have a problem. With a regular driver's license you can drive a car or a 50cc motor scooter. If you wish to ride anything higher than a 50cc scooter you have to obtain a motorcycle license.

Where: Fuchu
Phone: 0423-62-3591
Hours: Monday through Friday 8:30am - 11:00am; 1:00pm - 3:00pm.
Train Station: Musashi Koganei Station on the Chuo Line. From there take buses 6 or 7 to Shikenjo Mae Station. The bus stops right in front of the Shikenjo (Motor Vehicles Department).
Cost: 2,400 yen for the application and tests; 1,800 yen for final processing.
Test: Computer test: 10 questions. If you pass you must then make a reservation to take the driving portion of the test. You can not do them both on the same day. If you're lucky enough to have a German driver's license you will not be required to take the tests.
Bring: Your passport, your gaijin card, a 3 x 2.4 photo (instant photo machine available there), your driver's license and a notarized translation of your driver's license.

The translation can be obtained at a number of places including the U.S. embassy for $55 (3224-5000), or at the Japan Automobile Federation(JAF) for 3,500 yen (5976-0055). This is the Japan equivalent of AAA. It is located at Ohtsuka Station on the Yamanote Line. The address is:
Nissei Ohtsuka 3-chome Building 3-11-6 Ohtsuka Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo

stop sign I went all the way out to that office five times; once to find out that I didn't have all of the required documents; once to register and take the computer test on which I got nine out of ten questions correct. The one I got wrong? After more than five years in Japan I had failed to identify a stop sign. And, three more times to pass the driving test. I had forgotten how strictly I had to follow the rules of the road when I first took the test in the U.S. ten years earlier.

The third time, I had to be there by 8:30 to take the driving test. There is a comprehensive driving course within the compound, so the only traffic you encounter is that of other test takers. I sat out there in the cold waiting with a group of nervous new drivers. When I was called, I got into the car with two of them and the officer. The two others in the car passed. I failed that day because I went over the line at a red light. My fault.

On my fourth trip, I got a little further along before I botched it up. As all experienced drivers know, sometimes it is necessary to roll over the line at stop signs so you can see oncoming traffic. This time the officer got angry. He said, "It's obvious that you are a good driver, but I simply wouldn't be doing my job if I let you get away with that. You've GOT to come to a complete stop before the line." There I was, a ten-year driving veteran getting balled out in front of a couple of teenagers.

The fifth and final time I was told I would have to go through the whole process again because my computer test was no longer valid. By this time, my patience with myself and this whole lot of bureaucratic nonsense had run out. I lost my temper. I told the gentleman that failing the tests was my fault, but if I had to go all the way back there two more times because of something as tiny and petty as this the fault would be his. Then I said flat out, "I AM taking the test today." Japanese bureaucrats are usually pretty reasonable when you point out how inconsequential some of their shamefully trivial requests are. I did take the test that day and I passed it. I was even used as an example of a brilliant driver. "You see," the officer said to the others, "that's how it's done." I was so proud. It's a good thing he didn't ask me to parallel park. I waited about an hour for my license and got out of there.

Greg (from USA)

Date: 22 January 1999 (but driving in Tokyo for one year prior on an international license)
Experience of a Canadian with valid driver's license for 15 years

First I was told to get a translation of my driver's license from Canada which the Canadian Embassy did for me for about 3,000 yen. Then I took that form , passport, driver's license, a photo and gaijin card to the License Center in Samezu (1-12-5 Higashi-Oi, Shinagawa-ku). I went there as I live in southern Tokyo it was the only place I was told I could go.

When I arrived I had to wait 2 hours to find out that since my passport was new, I would have to come back another day with my old passport! So, home I went and returned the next day with the old one. They took another 2 hours to check everything over then led me into a room in back and sat me at a computer where I had to answer 11 skill testing questions, such as "True or False- it is okay to drive in the buses only lane" I then would push the red button for false or the green for true!! Hilarious, all very common sense. I got 100% without even knowing about driving in Japan. I believe they said that you are allowed only 3 wrong. After this I was sent to a room to do an eye check where I had to identify whether a red or green light (which they call aoi-blue) was shown and in which corner.

After passing this I went back to the original desk and they sent me to another room to make a driving appointment. Since I'm from a country that drives on the right side instead of the left I had to do the driving test. Appointment times are very limited, you choose either morning or afternoon!! And it must correspond with the type of license you are taking (automatic car, standard, or motorcycle). You must show up at the same time as the other 20 people taking the test and wait in a room together where (only in Japanese) they describe the route you will follow. (Don't worry, they also say it as you are driving, you only need to know "right, left, fast, slow, stop, and go".) They randomly pick 3 people who all get into the car and the driver must do certain things before taking off!! Don't forget to put on your seat belt (auto fail if you don't), also, strange, but they want you to lock your door before you take off, also put your signal on as you pull out onto the track.

Follow the guys instructions to a tee, basically go around the track once, then on the second time around he yells "speedy". It's a bit of a trick, speed up but watch your speed, going over the limit is an auto fail. Don't do any California stops (i.e.-rolling) or fail.

The most difficult part is where they tell you to go through a kind of path that isn't much wider than your car!! AND you can't hit any of the dangling steel poles! I strongly recommend renting a car before you go for a week and driving around really, really small streets!!! When it's all done he'll ask you to either go back to the waiting room you were in before you took the test (which means you passed) or, ask you to go to the desk in the main waiting room (which means you failed and should reschedule). You get 4 tries before you must go to driving school (not sure if this applies to us gaijin's though).

So, if you pass they keep you in the room till all the people are done (might be 2 hours-bring a book), and then they hoard you all into the main room to get stamps that you passed, then to another room to get pictures taken and finally a last room to pick up your new license which is valid until the third birthday after the test.

Okay, I think the whole thing was 2 hours the first day and about 3.5 hours the second time. Good luck!

Cher (from Canada)

What is this?

Below is a piece of junk e-mail received. As a rule, you need to show a valid driver's license in your home country in order to get an international one and in some countries you are also required to show your home country license together with the international one when driving as a guest. In Japan it has been allowed to use the International Permit for one year after entry. Then you must get the Japanese license. In the USA it used to be only 14 days, with some variations from State to State. So do not pay the exhorbitant fees for documents through these junk emails! It is usually far cheaper to get one legally!

From: (removed)
Date: Thu, 15 Jul 1999 11:16:41 +0200
To: (removed)


Need a new driver's license? Too many points or other trouble? Want a license that can never be suspended or revoked? Want ID for nightclubs or hotel check-in? Avoid tickets, fines, and mandatory driver's education. Protect your privacy, and hide your identity.

The United Nations gave you the privilege to drive freely throughout the world! (Convention on International Road Traffic of September 19, 1949 & World Court Decision, The Hague, Netherlands, January 21, 1958)

Take advantage of your rights. Order a valid International Driver's License that can never be suspended or revoked. Confidentiality assured. CALL NOW!!! 1-XXX-XXX-XXXX (removed)

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