Driving and Getting a License in Japan

This page was written using information on license conversion from the Tokushima Prefectural Police Website as well as first-hand accounts from Tokushima JETs.

Before you start driving in Japan, be sure to familiarize yourself with the local traffic laws and new signs as things may be a little different than what you are used to. Traffic travels on the left here, there is no turning at a red light, etc. Check the PDF here to view the different signs and markings you will see in Japan:

Japanese Road Signs and Markings

If you are coming to Japan, please be sure to come with an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), and your License from your home country. With an IDP, you are cleared to drive in Japan for a period of one year from your date of arrival or it’s date of issue, whichever is first, from most nations with such an agreement with Japan. Please check for your situation. At the end of this period, you will need to have your license translated, and in some cases take the written and practical Japanese driver’s test.

Getting a License

If you’ve been driving in Japan on an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), it is valid for a period of one year from your date of arrival or it’s date of issue, whichever is first.  At the end of that period, you will need to have your license converted into a Japanese license (外国免許証切り替え gaikoku menkyosho kirikae), and in some cases take the written and practical Japanese driver’s test.

It is suggested that you start the gaimen kirikae process about 3 months before your IDP expires, as appointments must be made at each step–if you fail, you need time to make an appointment for a retest. If you wait until you have under a month left, there is a very good chance you will be without the ability to drive a car for a few weeks/months.  On the other hand, there have been stories of people getting pushback from trying to convert the license “too long before” the IDP expires.  Three months generally seems to be enough time, but begin getting your things together early and definitely plan ahead.

If you are from a nation that honors reciprocal agreements of driver’s licenses with Japan, you will only need to take the Eye Exam and your license will be translated.  Those countries are:

Iceland, Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy, Austria, Australia, Holland, Canada, Korea, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, France, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg, Taiwan

However, if your country lacks such an agreement, the process is much harder and more involved, as you will have to take both a written and a road test in order to convert your license.

The Process

The rough outline of the gaimen kirikae process is outlined below.  Read in order by simply scrolling below, or click the links to jump to the respective sections.

Regardless of what country you are from, the process is the same though to the end of STEP THREE.  The content of the second appointment (STEP FOUR) then differs depending on whether Japan has a reciprocal agreement with your home country, as discussed in the section above.

 

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Eligibility Requirements

  1.    Already possess a valid foreign driver’s license
  2.    Have received and operated under said license for at least three months in that country
  3.    Necessary Documents (all original items, not copies)

 

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STEP ONE

Assembling the Necessary Documentation

Before you can even make any appointments with the license center, you need the following items in your possession:

All items must be originals; copies will NOT be accepted.  They will not keep originals of things like your passport or residency card, but must see the originals and make their own copies to keep.

  1. Your Passport
    • Including any older passports you have in your possession.  This is especially important if you have renewed your passport since coming to Japan.  See “The First Appointment” for more details.
  2. Residency Certificate (住民票 juuminhyou)  
    • You can get this at your local city office branch for a small fee.  Make sure that the certificate lists your home country/nationality, as the driver’s license office will not accept it if it does not list it.  Take a look at it yourself and be sure you can point out where it shows that information if the clerk doesn’t see it.  They were trying to reject mine until I showed them where it was printed in the corner.  If you’re from the United States, be aware that the certificate may say 米国 (beikoku) rather than アメリカ (amerika).
  3. Residency Card (在留カード zairyuu kaado)
  4. Your License from your home country
    • You must have acquired your license in your home country more than 3 months before moving to Japan.  If you did not, you are not eligible to directly transfer your license (ie, this process), and you must go through the full process of getting a Japanese license.
    • IMPORTANT:  If you have been licensed more than 3 months in your home country, but have renewed that license less than 3 months before moving to Japan, you may need extra documentation.  Check if your license lists the ORIGINAL date of acquisition.  Many licenses from the States only list the renewal date.  If that renewal date is less than 3 months before your move to Japan, you must prepare item 6 below.
  5. License Translation
    • This document must come from a governmentally-recognized source, NOT simply something you or your JTE translates.  The place to do this in Tokushima would be JAF.  You can visit the JAF center in person, or mail in your application for a small return-mailing fee.  See “JAF License Translation” for details.
  6. 1 Japanese passport-style photo
    • 3 cm × 2.4 cm, encompassing the upper third of your body, no hat or other facial obstructions, plain background
  7. **ONLY if your license needs support (as listed in Item 4 above)**  Contact the driving license body of your home country/state and request a copy of your driving history or other document that shows how long you have been driving (must be longer than 3 months).  This will support your application in terms of your eligibility.

 

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JAF License Translation

Getting your license translated by JAF is a fairly easy process.  You can go in to the Tokushima Branch Office if you’re nearby, but they also accept applications by proxy as well as by mail.

If you are reading this guide out of order, please note that a JAF License Translation is merely a sub-step in assembling the necessary documents for foreign license CONVERSION with the prefectural driver’s license center.  The JAF Translation alone will not allow you to drive in Japan legally. 

The information below is from the JAF website, adapted slightly.

Necessary Documents

  1. Application form for Japanese Translation of foreign driver’s license:
  2. Your home country driver’s license (original if you apply in person; a copy is accepted if your application is mailed in):
    • Your license will be returned as soon as it is copied. Photocopies are accepted if you mail it in. In that case, prepare clear photocopies of the front and back of the license, preferably in color, that allow the inscriptions on the license to be read clearly.
    • A fukuye is only required for licenses issued by the People’s Republic of China.  An Official Receipt is only required for licenses issued by the Republic of the Philippines.
  3. A photocopy of a residence card or a resident record etc.
    • This is only required for licenses written in Arabic or Russian and licenses issued in certain countries, including the Republic of Korea, the Kingdom of Thailand, and the Union of Myanmar.

 

Translation Fees

Issuance fee – 3,000 yen per license

Please note that JAF will not refund the translation issuance fee even if your application for gaimen kirikae is rejected by the Driver’s License Center.  A fee of 3,000 yen is also charged for re-issuance when the license translation is lost, etc..

 

Turnaround Time

  • from same-day, up to two weeks
    • Dependent on issuing country, condition, content of the driver’s license, and JAF Branch Office.  For details, please contact your nearest Branch Office in advance
  • It takes approximately two to three weeks to obtain translations for the driver’s licenses listed in Item 3 of “Documents required.”

JETs that have gone to JAF in person have received the license translation that same day in all experiences I have heard about.  From my own experience mailing it in, I believe it took about a week to get the translation back in the mail.

 

Applying for a Translation by Mail

Applications via mail are also accepted when the applicant cannot visit the office

  • Send the application form and a photocopy of your license (preferably clear photocopies of the front and back of the license in color) with the issuance fee (3,000 yen) plus return postage (392yen) by registered postal cash envelope (“genkin kakitome”).
    • Photocopies of a Fukuye (the front and back) are only required for license issued by Peoplefs Republic of China. A photocopy of Official Receipt is only required for license issued by Republic of the Philippines.
  • For sending method of registered postal cash, please contact the Post Office.
    • At the post office, ask for a Registered Postal Cash Envelope (genkin kakitome futo).  The envelope costs about 21 yen.
    • Write the sending and return addresses on the envelope.  Press hard, as it is carbon paper.
    • Do not put the money in until the clerk confirms the amount with you and witnesses you placing it in the envelope.  Seal the envelope with postal glue (they will have a stick to provide you) and sign/hanko the spots they indicate.
    • The sending fee for the registered service is 500 yen.
    • If you aren’t sure what to do, the Post Office staff will be able to help you through it.
  • Applications are only accepted from Japanese addresses, and the return address must be within Japan and match the address submitted on the application.
    • Please note that JAF does not accept the application (including the transmission of issuance fee) from overseas and that JAF does not send the Japanese Translation to overseas.
  • It takes approximately one to two weeks from application to delivery (about two to three weeks to obtain translations for the driver’s licenses listed in 3. of “Documents required”).

 

Other important notices

JAF does not offer translation services for International Driving Permits.

A JAF License Translation is merely a sub-step in assembling the necessary documents for foreign license CONVERSION with the prefectural driver’s license center. The JAF Translation alone will not allow you to drive in Japan legally.

See the JAF website for more information.

 

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Getting to your appointments

Depending on your placement, you might have help getting to your appointment (have your absence counted as a business trip [shuccho], or your supervisor might give you a ride there), or you might not.  In my case, I had to take vacation days off [nenkyuu] and had to arrange for various friends to take me back and forth all the way from the other end of the prefecture.  You should ask your school/BOE if they’ll help you, but don’t be completely surprised if they won’t.

If your IDP is already expired, make sure you go by bus or get a ride there.  You shouldn’t be driving illegally in any case, but if they see that you’ve driven yourself you could get in big trouble… they are police, after all!  It seems self-explanatory but it’s happened before.

Note that appointment times for foreign license conversion at the Driver’s License Center are always at 2PM, so depending how far away you live, you’ll be forced to take more nenkyuu to get there.  Make sure you leave yourself enough time to get to your appointment!

Getting to JAF

  • For getting your license translated as part of the packet of documents you need to schedule an appointment at the license center
  • You can also mail in your license translation request in case the JAF location isn’t convenient for your placement

JAF Tokushima
Address: 770-0867 Tokushima Shinminamifukushima 1-chome 4-32
Tel 088-625-6511

 

Getting to the Tokushima Driver’s License Center

If your IDP is already expired, make sure you go by bus or get a ride there.  You shouldn’t be driving illegally in any case, but if they see that you’ve driven yourself you could get in big trouble… they are police, after all!

Tokushima Driver’s License Center
Address: 板野郡松茂町満穂字満穂開拓1番地1
(Mitsuhokaitaku-1-1 Mitsuho, Matsushige-chō, Itano-gun, Tokushima-ken 771-0214)

Telephone: 088-699-1107

 

By Bus

There is now a bus that goes directly to the Driver’s License center.  As with other public transportation in Tokushima, times are infrequent, and depending on your placement it may not be convenient to you.  Be sure to check bus and train times for any connections you need to make in order to get to your appointment on time.

Hyperdia and Google Maps (set route to the public transportation option) work well for the train schedules, but you’ll want to look up details for the bus to the license center on the Tokushima Bus Website.

Fare:  440 yen  (from Tokushima Station to the License Center)

How to ride:  Board the bus in the back.  Take a ticket from the dispenser by the entry door.  When your stop is announced as the next stop, press the button to alert the driver.  At your stop, get off at the front of the bus.  Pay when you get off.

Coming from Tokushima Station, you want the bus bound for “鳴門公園行” that goes via “老門・田ノ浦経由” The bus site doesn’t tell you where to board the bus or the bus number, but the people working in the booths are super helpful.  Just tell them you’re going to the menkyo sentaa and they’ll tell you where to catch the bus.

I *think* you want the middle bus platform (there are three, counting the Eddy highway-bus stop on the far left when you walk out of the train station) but you should double-check with a staff member to be sure.

Looking up service times:  On the Tokushima Bus Website linked above, choose the “バス時刻表検索(文字入力)” option, then enter “徳島駅前” (Tokushima Eki-Mae) as your departure stop (出発地) and “免許センター前” Menkyo Sentaa Mae) as your destination (目的地).  As appointments are always at 2pm, it looks like there is ONE bus on this route that will get there on time — it leaves Tokushima Station at 13:00 and should arrive at the center at 13:30.  There’s a return bus once an hour, at 11 minutes past.

Another bus stop a very short walk from the License Center is 免許センター口.  It runs service slightly more often than the 免許センター前 stop.  This stop is about 5 minutes down the across from the Marunaka.

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STEP TWO

Schedule Your First Appointment with the License Center

 

Tokushima Driver’s License Center
Address: 板野郡松茂町満穂字満穂開拓1番地1
(Mitsuhokaitaku-1-1 Mitsuho, Matsushige-chō, Itano-gun, Tokushima-ken 771-0214)

Telephone: 088-699-1107

Call the Driver’s License Center.  Make sure you have all necessary documents already gathered.  The number above is the general line; you will have to be transferred to the foreign license conversion department.

If possible, have a supervisor or other native Japanese speaker call to set up the appointment for you.  There have been stories from JETs with fairly conversational Japanese ability calling and being rudely told to have a native speaker call back.

When you call, they will ask which country you will be converting the license from.  In my case, when the reply was America, they further wanted to know which state.  Then they went through item by item and made sure that I already had in my possession all of the necessary documents.  They especially wanted to ensure that 1) the translation was from an official source (JAF is valid), and 2) the jyuuminhyou listed my nationality on it.

See “Necessary Documents” for more information.

Depending on the time of year, the center will be more or less busy, so you may have to wait a few weeks before the next open appointment.  Appointments are always set from 2PM on a weekday.  They are not open on weekends or national holidays.

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STEP THREE

The Paperwork Appointment

Before going to this appointment, you will want to do a bit of research/memory jogging relating to the process of getting your license in your home country.  This portion of the process is often described as one of the most off-putting parts, as it can feel like a really aggressive cross-examination.  Just keep calm and try to prepare answers to the information described below.  It also helps to bring a native speaker with you if you can, even if your Japanese ability is pretty high, as some people have had unpleasant experiences with staff in regards to being told they had to bring a translator.

See “Getting to Your Appointments” for directions to the license center.

  1. When you arrive, go to the international license transfer window, which is on the second floor, station #21
    • The appointment will always be set from 2pm, but if you get there between 1:30-2 they might deal with you if they’re free.  In my case, they allowed me to start turning in paperwork at 1:45.
  2. They will check over your Necessary Documents and give you a form to fill out regarding your driving license history. It is translated somewhat badly into English, and at times it was easier to see what they wanted by reading the Japanese.


    The Intake Sheet

    Here is the information that you will want to know the answers to.  Commit the answers to memory because they will ask you about it verbally later, and even though it may have been decades since you went through the process in your home country, they will expect you to know it; it looks bad if you can’t answer off the top of your head.

    Note: when asked to write your name, always write it as it appears on your Residency Card—LAST NAME  FIRST NAME  MIDDLE NAME

    Date you acquired your first driver’s license:  Year / Month / Day
    Where was it acquired:  Country, State
    What kind of license?  Regular vehicle (futsuu 普通) / bus / motorcycle / etc
    In your country, what is the legal age to get a driver’s license?
    What type of license do you have?  (Automatic / Manual Transmission)
    How many years have you had a license?
    In that time, have you renewed it at all?
    Did you attend a driving school?
    What is the name of the driving school?
    How many months did you attend classes?
    How many questions was the written test for your license?
    What was the content of the practical test?
    What kind of car did you use for the practical test?  (Automatic/Manual)

     You can answer somewhat generally, but try to be thorough.  For example, for the “content of the practical test”, don’t just put “how to drive a car.”  Put things like “correct response to road signs like ‘stop,’ ‘yield,’ and speed limit signs; various types of parking; use of signal lights; changing lanes; right of way” etc. etc.

  3. Turn the form back in and settle in to wait for them to call you back into the meeting room for the paperwork review.  This review is the portion that you want to really know your answers to and be confident about.  It’s a lot of stuff that is probably from so long ago that you can’t remember, so do a little bit of research through your own paperwork, your memories, and good old Google.
  4. Passport Check
    • First, they will go through your passport and ask about all the dates that corresponded with visa stamps in it.  It seemed bizzare and not pertinent, but it ended up being tangentially related to the next point:
  5. Licensing History
    • Even though much of the information is on the form you’ve already just turned in, they will ask about your licensing history in your home state, from the year you were first licensed, to asking for all the years the card was renewed, leading all the way up to the current license.  They are using the information from this and the passport visa questions above to make sure that you were using your license for at least 3 months consecutively before moving to Japan (a bit overkill, but whatever).
    • If your home country driver’s license doesn’t show an issue date that is more than 3 months before you moved abroad, you will need to turn in your supporting documentation as discussed in the Necessary Documents section above.
  6. Home Country License Process Timeline
    • Basically, how did you go from being a car-less teen to your full-license-wielding self?  How old were you, what were the rules and laws and hoops your country/state wanted to you jump through?  In my opinion, he seemed to already know the answer, and it was more of a test for me.  Honestly, that’s a lot further back than any of us remember, so I would just suggest Googling your state’s DMV or DPS and just looking up the rules for how driver’s licenses are given.  You can then parrot it back, and reading through it might  actually jog your memory.
    • My example (TX, USA): I started back when I was 15, entering drivers ed (gotta say the name of the company/school), took classroom lessons for 2 months wherein we learned rules of the road, as well as driving safety, basic car maintenance, and basic driving theory.  Then I took a learner’s permit test.  There were 20 questions on the test.  The learner’s permit meant that I could drive a car with an instructor or parent in the passenger seat, for the purpose of learning to drive.  I was not allowed any other passengers.  I had to log my hours of in-car practice as part of my driver’s ed school requirements.  At 16, I took a provisional license test.  It was a written test of 50 questions and a practical, in-car exam.  The written test covered rules of the road and driving theory.  The practical test covered driving skills like recognizing road signs, parking, switching lanes, turning, etc.  When I passed, I was granted the provisional license.  Provisional License meant I could only have one non-family member passenger in the car.  I couldn’t drive after 9PM.  At 18, my license was upgraded to an “under-21” license.  I could take more passengers and drive after 9PM.  At 21, my license was a full license.
  7. Japan Driving Experience
    • They will ask a few more questions about any driving experience you have in Japan; if you’ve been driving on an IDP, if you’ve been pulled over, if you’ve had an accident, etc.  Driving experience in-country is a plus for your application, and small infractions on your IDP don’t preclude you from switching your license.
  8. Set an appointment for the follow-up testing
    • At this point they will allow you to set an appointment for any testing you have to do (dependent on your home country).  They will not allow you to do it the same day as your paperwork appointment; there must at least about a week waiting period in between.  If you need to confer with your supervisor about it before you commit, they will allow you to call back to make the 2nd appointment.

Citizens of nations with a reciprocal agreement:
If you are from a nation that honors reciprocal agreements of driver’s licenses with Japan, during your second appointment you will only need to take the Eye Exam and your license will be translated.  Those countries are:  Iceland, Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy, Austria, Australia, Holland, Canada, Korea, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, France, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg, Taiwan

You can skip the OPTIONAL STEP below and go to STEP FOUR.

Citizens of nations without a reciprocal agreement:
If your country is not one of the ones listed above, the process for the second appointment is much harder and more involved, as you will have to take both a written and a road test in order to convert your license.

It is recommended you read the OPTIONAL STEP below to get information on how the course will go.

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OPTIONAL STEP

Attending a Practice Lesson

If you are from a country that has a reciprocal agreement with Japan regarding license conversion, you do NOT have to take a practical exam on your second visit, so you can skip this step altogether.

Exempt countries are:  Iceland, Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy, Austria, Australia, Holland, Canada, Korea, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, France, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg, Taiwan

If you are from a country that does NOT have a reciprocal agreement with Japan regarding license conversion, you WILL have to take a practical test during your second appointment.  You have probably been driving for a long time, but the test is not like actual driving at all and is more just proving that you can take the test.

As of 2014, they will NOT allow you to do a practice lap on the actual test day, nor will they drive the course for you.  They will only explain what you have to do verbally, BEFORE you are even on the road.  You are expected to memorize the course, and during the test they won’t say a single thing about what you need to do.

Scheduling a practice lesson with a driving instructor can really help improve your chance of passing on the day.  The contact information below is for an instructor who will drill the test course with you on the actual course.  Please note you cannot schedule a practice lesson until you have a test appointment (2nd appointment) set with the Driver’s License Center.  He has to file paperwork to get approval to use the course with you from the Center, and the Center will reject the paperwork if you are not scheduled for the test yet.

Driving Instructor
(Mr.) Katsuura-San
Telephone:  088-663-3433

All calls are routed to his cell phone automatically, but with the lack of voice mail in Japan, you may need to call back. He only speaks Japanese, but unlike the experience you may have with the driver’s license center staff, Mr. Katsuura is pretty good at speaking slowly and clearly if he knows you’re a foreigner.

Fees:
5000 yen for 1 hour of practice

Venue:
Practices at the license center, on the actual course

Scheduling:
practice lessons are from 1 pm Monday-Friday, Saturday*

*During peak seasons, you HAVE to schedule during the week if it’s your first lesson; he won’t do Saturday lessons with first-timers.  To schedule Saturday practice, you have to let him know the Friday before you want to come, before 1 pm.  You must pay up front and be sure to attend; if you cancel a Saturday lesson there’s no refund.  Saturday lessons start at 9AM.

 He will meet you at the License Center.  He will explain the course, drive it once for you, then you drive it and get his feedback.  An hour seems like a long time, but you will only get to run the course a few times, and before you realize it, your hour is over.

 For more information on the Course, see “Detailed Instructions for the Practical Test”

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STEP FOUR

The Test Appointment

For countries with a reciprocal license agreement with Japan:  At this point, you simply need to show up for your Eye Exam and pass (with or without glasses) and your license will be given a Japanese equivalent.  This will still be separate from the paperwork appointment, so a total of two appointments (one to turn in documents, and another for the test) are required.

For all others:  Since you are an international driver, and you already have your license, they will give you the simplified renewal test on testing day.  If you do not bring any proof of having driving experience, you may be able to apply anyways, but will be given the full written test which is much more difficult by most accounts.

The simplified test is written in English, and consists of 10 questions about signs and basic rules of the road in Japan. You will be able to review most of these things by Googling “Japanese Driver’s Test” and trying the online practice exams. Try one here. Be sure to review a list of road signs, and the rules regarding left hand turns, as there are in fact special conditions where they are and are not allowed.

For your practical test, you will be tested using either an Automatic or a Manual transmission. You are allowed to choose so they do not discriminate, however it will be on your license which you are certified for so choose correctly for the car you currently drive!

Time:  

Yet again, you can’t pick an appointment time.  It’s always from 2pm, though you can show up as early as 1:30 to check in… and then just sit there for forever lol.

Necessary materials for second appointment:

(This list was compiled as necessary documents for someone from a NON-AGREEMENT country.  If you are from a country with a reciprocal agreement, please confirm which fees, etc. apply to you.)

  1. ID sized photograph.
    • Not passport-sized.  It must be 3 x 2.4cm.  If you can’t get to a photo booth beforehand, they have some on the ground floor of the license center for 700 yen.  You get two pictures from the booth, but they only need one.
    • This picture is used to file your test application, it will not be used for your actual ID card.  They take a different picture for that after you pass.
  2. Test Fee: 2200 yen
  3. License Fee (if you pass): 2050 yen
  4. Make sure to bring your glasses or contacts if you need them
  5. Shoes: make sure you are wearing functional shoes like trainers or walking/running shoes.  They will not let you do the practical test in sandals, heels, etc.

The Process

  1. Check in at station #21 (second floor) at 2:00 pm.  Was given two forms to fill out, easy info like name (write it the way it’s written on your Zairyuu Card:  LAST FIRST MIDDLE)
  2. Turn it back in to station #21 to be checked over, then they hand it back to you and ask you to take it downstairs to the cashier’s window (first floor, Stations 1 or 2)
  3. Pay the 2200 yen test fee and get stamps on the form to show you paid.  Go back upstairs and turn the stamped form in to window #21.
  4. Wait until you’re called for the vision test.  If you’re wearing corrective lenses, they’ll test you without them on and then with them on.  This is to determine whether or not you get a restriction on your license to wear corrective lenses while driving.
    • If you’ve never taken a Japanese vision test, it’s a bit different from the eye tests (at least it’s definitely different from the tests in the US)  Rather than reading off letters to them, there are a series of circles with a gap in them.  You tell them where the gap in the circle is: up, down, left, right.  For example, something that looks like a C is “right”.  They also check to make sure you can see the difference between green, yellow, and red lights.  The test takes like 2 minutes, and they allow you to respond in English or Japanese.
  5. Wait longer until you are called for the written test (ペーパーテスト“paper test”).  They’ll confirm you want the English translation version (they have the written test available in a few different languages), then put you alone in a conference room with it.  It’s a stack of 10 True/False questions with a picture and a situation (the English version was pretty well translated, but just in case, the Japanese is there, too, so if you have Japanese ability you can read and confirm that the question means what you think it means).  Write O for True, X for False on the answer sheet they give you.
  6. They’ll take it to check.  You will probably sit there for longer than it takes to check 10 True/False questions.
  7. They’ll come back and tell you if you passed the written portion, then give you a map of the practical course.  They will walk you through the course verbally, step by step, and showing you on the map.  Hopefully, you’ve already memorized it beforehand, because they won’t give you instructions during the actual run.  If you need, they will give you some time to commit the course to memory (though just staring at the paper isn’t that helpful… hopefully you’ve taken a practice lesson)
  8. They’ll tell you a time to meet them outside on the course starting bay.  Be sure to get there a few minutes early.
  9. Don’t be surprised if two instructors both ride along with you.  One will watch you from the back; one from passenger seat.  They won’t talk at all or give you any hints on what you’re doing, so you’ll be doing it all by memory.

The Course:

See “Detailed Instructions for the Practical Test”  and the Course Map

When you’re finished, they don’t tell you that you’ve passed right away, though it seems that if they tell you to “go back to the 2nd floor and wait for the score to be discussed” then you’ve most likely passed.

Getting the License Made

Go back to the 2nd floor and wait for them to call you.  They will tell you if you passed, then give you another form to take to the cashier.  This fee will be to process your license.

Take the form to Station 1 or 2, first floor.  Pay 2050 yen and get the paper stamped.  Bring it back to the guy.  They will have you wait while they prepare your license.  If you’ve had any infractions on your IDP, they will confirm them with you so that they know they have the correct driving history on file for you.  Wait more.

They will call you over to take a picture for the card.  You are not allowed to smile in the picture.

Wait more.

They will call you over to check and make sure that your name, address, etc. is correct on the card.  Make sure it is, then walk out of there with your shiny new driver’s license!

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APPENDIX A

Detailed Instructions for the Foreign License Transfer Practical Test

The following are the tips and detailed breakdown of the test as was relayed to me during a paid practice lesson on the actual course.  The driving instructor who does the practice runs is not a staff member of the driver’s license center, though in my experience the advice he gave was true to the task on the actual test day.

General Tips

  • There will probably not be anyone else on the course with you, but you are expected to drive as if you are on an actual street with traffic all around you.
  • You will be using a taxi-style white-plate.  If you’ve become used to cruising around in a little kei car, make sure to be extra careful of the differences.
  • Exaggerate all your checks for traffic.
    • Turn your head all the way, don’t just use your eyes.
    • Take a good look, not just a quick head turn.
    • BUT!  Don’t exaggerate too much by leaning your whole body forward.  They will take this as a minus.
  • Stay to the left.  Obviously, traffic in Japan runs on the left side of the road, but also be sure to stay to the left INSIDE your lane.  Especially when you’re taking any curves to the right, make sure you track along the outside, left edge of the curve, or they will take points off for cutting off the turn.
    • EXCEPTION:  when making a right turn, drift to track along the RIGHT side of the lane while you signal.  Then make sure you signal for 3 seconds before actually turning.
  • If you accidentally miss a turn during the course, don’t panic.  Keep driving as if you were on a regular road and missed your turn… then when you can, turn around on the course and get back to where you need to be.  Just make sure you are using the course as if it were an actual street; don’t panic and slam on the brakes, don’t hit it in reverse to back up to the spot, don’t swerve lanes.

Pre-Course Checks

It’s not an official requirement, but even if you don’t have any Japanese ability, make sure to start off with a “yoroshiku onegaishimasu” to your proctors.  It will start you off on the right foot.

  1. Start in the parking bay.  Move counterclockwise through the following:
    1. Bend down and check underneath the front of the car as if looking for obstructions.
    2. Look at the front left tire as if checking for a flat tire.
    3. Look at the back left tire.
    4. Bend down and check underneath the back of the car.
    5. Look at the rear right tire.
    6. Look at the front right tire.
  1. Before opening the car door, check left and right for oncoming traffic.  Then open the door and get in.
  2. Adjustments.  Even if the settings are already perfect for you, make a point to fiddle with the adjustments to the following:
    1. Put your foot on the brake and adjust the seat distance/seat back incline.
    2. Put on your seatbelt only after you have adjusted the seat.
    3. Adjust the rear view mirror.
    4. It seems side mirror adjustments don’t matter.
  1. Make sure the e-brake (/sidebrake/parking brake) is engaged.
  1. Push down on the brake.
  1. Start the engine.  Keep your foot on the brake.
  2. Put the car in Drive.
  3. Disengage the e-brake.
  4. Right signal on.
  5. Not required, but a “Hai, ikimasu” doesn’t hurt you here.
  6.  Check left side.
  7.  Check right side.
  8.  Turn your body and check right blind spot.
  9.  Ease out of the parking bay.

 

The Course

  1.    Immediately after step 14 above, turn left signal on.
  2.    Without stopping, check right, left, blind left and ease into the furthest left lane of the course proper.
  3.    Don’t slow down, but check left and right when coming up on intersecting streets.
  4.    Bring speed up slightly on the straightaway, but be careful to (5)
  5.    Check left and right when coming up on pedestrian crossing.
  6.    Take the curve to the right at about 25 kph.
  7.    Past the row of yellow poles (before the second curve), check left for merging traffic.
  8.    On the straightaway, accelerate to 50kph.  You must bring it up to 50 all the way, yet not go over.
  9.    Slow down to 25 kph to take the curve to the right.
    1. Do not brake smoothly; instead “pump” the break–step on the break 3 times to get down to speed.
  1.  Speed up for a second on the short straightaway, then take the curve at 25kph.
  2.  Wait until you are out of the turn, then right signal on immediately.
  3.  Go straight for three beats with the signal on.
  4.  Check right, blind right, switch lanes.
    1. Do this slowly, and when you switch to the right lane, make sure to keep your car on the right side of the lane, towards the lane line.
    2. If your signal light clicks off, turn it back on to signal a right turn.
  1.  Slow down to turn right.
  2.  Check right, blind right, turn.
    1. Turn into the LEFT lane in front of the stoplight.
  1.  Left signal on.
  2.  Wait for the light to turn green.
  3.  On a green light, check right, left, blind left.
  4.  Turn left INTO THE RIGHT LANE.
  5.  Right signal on.
  6.  Slow down to a stop to turn right into the crank (Sign #24)
  7.  Check right, blind right, turn into the crank slowly.
  8.  The crank:  Go slowly, pretty much riding your brake the entire time.  Make wide turns so as not to ride up on the curb.  If you do, stop and back up immediately.  You are allowed a few back-ups on this part, but if you run over or scrape against the curb, or hit the poles, it’s an automatic fail.
    1. Halfway through the crank, turn your left signal on.  You will be busy trying to navigate the second corner, but if you forget to “signal early” it’s points off.
  1.  Check right, left, blind left.  Turn left slowly.
  2.  Immediately signal left again to turn into the S curve which is directly beside the crank.
  3.  Check right, left, blind left.  Turn into the S curve slowly.
  4.  The S –curve.  Much like the crank, take it slow and keep your turns wide.  Halfway through the S curve, signal to the right, even though you will be busy navigating the second curve.
  5.  Check left, right, blind right.
  6.  Turn right into the right lane SLOWLY (make sure you don’t confuse yourself here and start driving on the right side of the ROAD.  It’s the right LANE on the left side of the road.)
  7.  Turn your right signal on immediately after making the turn.
  8.  Creep up on the blind corner but do NOT stop.
  9.  Check left, right, turn right into the left lane.
  10.  Take the curve at 25 kph.
  11. Past the poles, check for oncoming traffic again from that merger lane on the left, but turn your right signal on to do a lane change.
  12. Wait 3 seconds with the signal on, then smoothly change lanes.
  13. Immediately after, signal to the right again.
  14.  Slow to a stop to turn right at Sign #8
  15.  Check right, blind right, turn right into the left lane.
  16.  Immediately signal left.
  17.  Stop at the stop sign.  Come to a complete stop, then wait/check for three beats.  Right, left, blind left.  Turn left.
  18.  Accelerate slightly (immediately decelerating to stop if the traffic light ahead is red.)
  19.  When the light turns green, check left, right, continue straight ahead.
  20.  Once you’ve crossed under the light, signal right.
  21.  Wait three beats going straight, then check right, blind right, switch lanes.
  22.  Slow to a crawl to approach the double blind.  DO NOT STOP.
  23.  Check right and left as you crawl through.
  24.  Turn right into the left lane.
  25.  Take the curve at 25 kph.
  26.  Signal left.
  27.  Check left, blind left, ease into parking bay.
  28.  Pull up to the black/yellow poles.
  29.  Put the car in park, engage the e-brake, turn off the ignition.
  30.  Look right and left outside of the driver’s side window before opening the door and getting out of the car

IMPORTANT!  It is instant failure if you:

  • Drive over the curb.
  • Hit a yellow pole in the crank
  • Cross into oncoming “traffic” at any point.
  • Fail to stop at a intersection or light.
  • Fail to check for incoming “traffic” at intersections.

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APPENDIX B:  Map of the Driving Course for the Practical Test

 

Annotated Map of the Foreign License Conversion Practical Test
Annotated Map of the Foreign License Conversion Practical Test

 

The test starts in the far left lane of the parking bay and follows the traffic flow indicated by the arrows.  For a detailed breakdown of the test, see Appendix A.

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APPENDIX C:  Useful Links

Here’s a list of the websites that were linked throughout the above article, as well as a few others.  Together with our guide, we hope you’ll find all the information you need and more for the license conversion process in Tokushima!

Tokushima Prefectural Police Website  – (Japanese)  The official word on the license conversion process in the prefecture.

JAF website – (English)  The Japan Automobile Federation is your source for an official license translation (one of the documents needed in the license conversion process).  On the website, you can read a little more about the conversion process, as well as how to request a translation document from JAF.  You can also download the translation application if you plan on mailing in your request.

Japan Post – (English)  If you plan on mailing in a translation request to JAF, you’ll need to send the application via registered post.  The Japan Post website has some info you can read about that process.

Hyperdia – (English)  For those of you who need to coordinate a way to get to the license center, this is the go-to website for train times in Japan.  The only drawback is that you have to know the exact name (in romaji) of the station, or it won’t find it.

Google Maps – (English)  Setting the route to “public transportation” works pretty well to look up the train schedules in the prefecture, but some bus routes (like Tokushima Bus) won’t show up as part of the search

Tokushima Bus Website – (Japanese)  The website to look up fares/timetables for the bus that runs to the Driver’s License Center.  The only drawback is that you have to know the exact name (in kanji) of the departure/arrival stations

Sample Written Tests – (English)  On this website, you can go through some practice questions similar to the kind that are on the written test.  Citizens of countries without a reciprocal agreement with Japan will have to take a written test as part of the conversion process.

Japanese Road Signs and Markings – (English)  Link to a PDF that reviews Japanese road signs and markings.  Helpful for reviewing before any written/practical tests, or just to review before you get on the road here.

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APPENDIX D:  Japanese/English Glossary of Selected Terms

Below are a few terms you may run into/have need of during the license conversion process.

foreign license conversion   外国免許証切り替え   gaikoku menkyosho kirikae
(
sometimes abbreviated to 外免切り替え gaimen kirikae)

driver’s license   運転免許証  unten menkyosho

residency certificate   住民票   juuminhyou

residency card   在留カード  zairyuu kaado

registered post   現金書留 genkin kakitome

business trip  出張 shucchou

vacation days off   年休 nenkyuu

car  車  kuruma

regular vehicle   普通車  futsuusha

motorcycle  オートバイク  ootobaiku

automatic transmission  オートマチック   ootomachikku
(they often said エィー・ティー [A.T.] to me)

manual transmission  マニュアル  mannyuaru

written test  筆記試験  hikki shiken
(In my experience they always said pepaa tesuto [“paper test”] to me)

practical test   実地試験   jicchi shiken
(In my experience, they always said either doraibingu tesuto [“driving test”] or roodo tesuto [“road test”] to me)

lane change  進路 変更   shinro henkou

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