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カテゴリーのアイコン Life in Japan
How to Obtain a Japanese Driver’s License in Japan and Enjoy Driving
Nov 21, 2023
13 min read
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Obtaining a driver's license in Japan is a convenient way to help you travel freely within Japan. In this article, we will introduce the types of driver's licenses required for driving in Japan, how to obtain one, and where you can enjoy driving in Japan in an easy-to-understand manner.

Types of Driver’s Licenses That Allow You to Drive in Japan

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When driving a car or motorcycle during your stay in Japan, you cannot use your overseas driver's license as it is. Even if you have a driver's license from your home country, you must obtain another one in Japan. The following are the three most common types of licenses that qualify you to drive in Japan.

1. International Driver’s License Obtained in a Country Other Than Japan

There are two types of international driver's licenses: the "Geneva Convention-based International Driver's License" and the "Vienna Convention-based International Driver's License.

Since Japan is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, if you wish to drive in Japan, you must have an "International Driver's License Based on the Geneva Conventions". Note that an "International Driver's License under the Vienna Convention" is not considered a valid driver's license in Japan.

The validity period of an international licence is the period during which it is both 'within the validity period of the international licence' and 'within one year of landing in Japan'. It is not valid if you only have the international licence. Be sure to take your home country's licence with you at the same time.

Reference: Metropolitan Police Department, List of States Parties to the Geneva Conventions
Reference: National Police Agency Period during which you can drive with an international driver's license

2. A license from a country other than Japan that has been converted to a Japanese license

You can exchange your driver's license from your home country for a driver's license that can be used in Japan.

The procedure must be completed in Japan, but don't worry, it is not too difficult.

The license will be valid until one month after your third birthday, which comes after the day you receive the license.

If you want to continue driving after that, be sure to renew your license while it is still valid. If you do not follow the rules of driving, the expiration date of your driver's license may change, so please drive carefully on a regular basis!

3. Driver's license obtained in Japan

You can take a test to get a driver's license just like Japanese people do.

If you get a driver's license in Japan, you can use it until one month after your third birthday, which comes after the day you receive your driver's license.

As mentioned above, if you want to continue driving after that, be sure to renew your license while it is still valid. If you have been driving without obeying the driving rules and have received a penalty, the expiration date of your license may change.

Please be careful when you drive!

How to Obtain a Driver’s License to Drive in Japan

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Here is how to obtain the three licenses.

How to Get an International Driver’s License

The procedure for obtaining an international driver's license differs from country to country. In general, after obtaining a driver's license unique to each country, you can obtain one by going through the prescribed procedures in the issuing country.

In particular, if you intend to drive in Japan, the country issuing the international driver's license must be based on the "Geneva Convention".

Since requirements and procedures differ from country to country, we recommend you contact the issuing authority, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, the International Automobile Federation, or other official organizations to confirm specific information.

It may take some time to obtain an international driver's license in some countries, so we recommend allowing sufficient time for the procedure to be completed.

How to Convert a Driver’s License Obtained in a Country Other Than Japan for Japanese Use

If you already have a driver's license from your home country, you can apply for a new license in Japan.

In order to apply, you must be able to prove that your driver's license is valid in your home country and that you have stayed in the country where you obtained your driver's license for at least three months.

Please note that it is not possible to switch from an international driver's license.

The procedure for changing the license is basically as follows at the license center in each prefecture.

1. Document Submission and Confirmation:

First, the applicant must submit his/her driver's license of his/her home country, its Japanese translation, proof of address in Japan, and other necessary documents to the license center for examination. (Please refer to the reference link for details on required documents.)

2. Aptitude Test: The applicant's eyesight, hearing, and motor skills will be tested. If you wear glasses or contacts, be sure to bring them with you.

3. Driving Knowledge Test: You will be asked 10 questions about Japanese traffic laws and regulations, and you must answer at least 7 questions correctly to pass the test. In addition to Japanese, the test can be taken in English, Spanish, and other Asian languages.

4. Driving Skill Verification: After passing the driving test, you can make an appointment for the test. No interpreter will be allowed to accompany you during the test. If you have any questions about the test that you do not understand at the time of the "precautions" briefing, you should check with an interpreter before the test.

5. Driver's License Retrieval: Once you have passed the driving test, you will be photographed and issued a driver's license.

Some countries exempt you from the "Driving Knowledge Verification" and the "Driving Skills Verification" as a special exception, so check to see if the country in which you obtained your driver's license is exempt.

If you fail the "Driving Knowledge Verification" or "Driving Skills Verification," you can take the test again by paying the application fee.

If the "Driving Skills Verification" test is fully booked, it may take several months to make an appointment, so we recommend you allow plenty of time to complete the changeover process.

Reference: Metropolitan Police Department How to exchange a driver's license obtained in a foreign country for a Japanese driver's license

How to Obtain a Driver’s License in Japan (The Same Way as a Japanese Driver’s License)

You can obtain a "Japan-specific driver's license" in the same way that a Japanese person obtains a driver's license through a "Driving School". You apply individually and enter the school after a brief orientation. Driving schools are located throughout Japan, and regardless of which school you choose, you will take the following courses.

  • Skill Training: Generally, this is one-on-one individual instruction. After completing the stage of practicing driving on the driving school's course, you will actually drive on the road to understand how to drive safely.

  • Classroom Training: Students take approximately 1 hour of classroom training 26 times. Students learn laws and regulations related to driving, manners, first aid, etc.

  • Final Examination and Provisional License Test: A "provisional license" is required to practice driving on actual roads. In the middle of attending the driving school, you will take the final examination (technical skills) and the departmental test for a provisional license to obtain a provisional license, then proceed to the second half of the training period.

  • Graduation Examination (technical skills) and Main License Departmental Test: You will take the Graduation Examination upon completing the practical and skills training. The main licensing examination must be taken at the Driver's License Center. The test consists of 100 questions, and you must correctly answer at least 90 questions to pass.

  • Driver's License Retrieval: After passing all the tests, a driver's license will be issued.

If you attend a driving school, it generally takes two to three months to obtain a driver's license. Some driving schools offer plans that allow you to obtain a driver's license in as little as 14 days.

In addition, there are an increasing number of driving schools for internationals that use foreign-language textbooks and foreign-speaking instructors for technical training.

Please try to find a school that meets your desired period of study and Japanese language level.

Reference: All Japan Association of Driving Schools Designated driving schools where foreign language instruction is available

The Best Places to Drive in Japan After You've Got Your License

There are many different driving spots in Japan, and we will introduce some of the most popular spots by region.

  • Hokkaido Bihoro Pass: Panoramic view of Lake Kussharo The road has many curves and offers beautiful views of the mountains. It is known for the magnificent Lake Kussharo, the largest caldera lake in Japan, and the otherworldly sea of clouds that cover the entire area.
  • Shiretoko, Hokkaido: The Road to Sky This is a road in Shiretoko with endless straight lines, a World Natural Heritage site. It is said the road leads to the sky because of the difference in elevation and the fact that the end of the road seems to point toward the sky. Credit: Khun Ta/Shutterstock.com
  • Hakui, Ishikawa Prefecture: Senrihama Nagisa Driveway This is the only road running along a sandy beach in Japan. You can enjoy the sea breeze while riding along the 8-km-long sandy beach. In the evening, you can watch the sunset over the Sea of Japan.
  • Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture: Iroha Slope - Chuzenji Lake Iroha-zaka, with its 48 curves, is recommended for driving during the season of fresh greenery and beautiful autumn leaves. This is a course where you can enjoy the natural scenery, passing the observatory and Kegon-no-taki Falls before reaching Lake Chuzenji. Credit: Tuato/Shutterstock.com
  • Daiba, Tokyo: Rainbow Bridge You can enjoy a panoramic view of the nightscape of Tokyo, including Daiba and Toyosu. When entering Shibaura from the Ariake direction, Tokyo Tower can be seen beautifully. Credit: Hit1912/Shutterstock.com
  • Tokyo - Chiba: Tokyo Bay Aqualine The Tokyo Bay Aqualine has a 15-km long expressway that crosses Tokyo Bay. From the Umihotaru Parking Area, a man-made island at the halfway point, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the beautiful coastline and ships along the bay. Credit:KAI AYASE/Shutterstock.com
  • Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture: Izu Skyline This is a driving course where you can enjoy the view from the coastline to Mt. Viewpoints are set up along the drive course, where you can relax and enjoy the scenery or take pictures. Credit:korinnna/Shutterstock.com
  • Hiroshima - Ehime: Shimanami Sea Route This driving course connects the islands of the Seto Inland Sea by a 60-meter-long bridge. Visitors can enjoy the unique characteristics of each island, including art, outdoor activities, historical temples, and hot springs.Credit:hasetetsu/Shutterstock.com
  • Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture: Kakunoshima Bridge {{1}} The bridge, which seems to float above the emerald green sea, offers a spectacular ocean view. Because of the beauty of the scenery, this spot has often been used as a location for commercials and is often talked about on SNS. Credit:Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

In addition to "driving," another popular way to enjoy driving is to visit Japanese "michi no eki" or "service areas" adjacent to expressways.

In addition to souvenirs from various regions of Japan, they are attractive spots for those who want to enjoy Japanese culture, as they offer local cuisine and the opportunity to interact with local people.

Other driving spots are scattered throughout Japan, each with its own unique charm. Choose the best place and time of year to visit and enjoy yourself.

What to Look Out for When Driving in Japan

When driving in Japan, there are some safety precautions you should take.

Stay in the “Left Lane” on the Road.

While many foreign countries use the right-hand lane, Japan uses the "left-hand lane". It is important to be very careful not to be confused by the unfamiliarity of driving in Japan, especially when making a right turn.

In addition, Japanese cars generally have the steering wheel on the right side of the car to accommodate driving in the left lane. There are some differences depending on the type of car, such as having the indicator and wiper levers on the opposite sides of the car, so please check carefully when renting a car.

No Drinking and Driving

In some countries, the allowable amount of alcohol for driving is higher than in Japan.

In Japan, driving under the influence of alcohol is strictly prohibited and is subject to criminal penalties if the amount of alcohol exceeded. For your safety, never drink and drive.

Driving While Distracted Is Prohibited.

"Driving while distracted" is defined as engaging in other activities while driving, such as "operating or talking on a smartphone" or "operating an in-car navigation system".

"Driving while distracted" is prohibited because there have been an increasing number of cases in which attention has been diverted from driving, leading to accidents.

You may receive a phone call or be tempted to operate a map application, etc. while moving, in which case you should stop once and respond to the call.

Watch Out for Highway Entrances.

Entrances to Japanese highways can appear suddenly. Since there are sudden exits and entrances, be sure to check road signs beforehand to avoid confusion.

Also, many expressways in Japan are toll-free. There are two types of entrances to pay the toll: "entrances where cash payment is accepted" and "entrances for vehicles using ETC cards only".

If you enter the "ETC-only entrance" without an ETC card, please do not back out in a hurry and remain there until instructed by a staff member.

In addition, please follow Japanese traffic rules and signs, and be careful when driving at night, in bad weather, and in congested traffic.

Some Japanese roads are narrow and traffic is heavy in some areas, so caution and patience are required when driving.

Get a Japanese Driver’s License and Enjoy Driving!

In order to obtain a driver's license in Japan, several procedures must be completed in advance. By following the steps introduced in this article, you will be able to drive in Japan.

There are many places to drive in Japan, and you will be able to savor a variety of experiences through driving. Get your driver's license and enjoy your life and travels in Japan even more!

Header image credits:Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com

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