How To Get A Driver’s License In Japan: Tokyo Tuner Edition

How To Get A Driver’s License In Japan: Tokyo Tuner Edition

If you only knew how long I have been procrastinating doing this lol … I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who could use this information and when I was looking for the information, there wasn’t just one site that could accurately describe the experience so I guess Tokyo Tuner will have to be that website! Thus I’ll quit procrastinating and get straight to the point.
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You are a foreigner living in Japan and you’re looking to get your driver license (Menkyosho | めんきょしょう|免許証) ! What is the process in transferring your license over? What all do I have to do? Is it as difficult as all the random websites / blogs say it is? Having done it recently, I’ll try my very best to give you a comprehensive list of what you will need to do / have to do to obtain it without too much headache. I’ll also add pictures because lets face it, reading a big articles full of instruction is pretty boring.
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Before beginning let me clarify a few things- If your license was issued in the following countries, you don’t need to do anything. Just head to the license center in your prefecture and you’re pretty much golden:
Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Taiwan, South Korea, or USA (Maryland only ← I have no idea why..)
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**Note** The overall process took me about 1 month to complete and cost around 10,000円 after you factor in fees, and transportation to and fro the testing site. I was able to pass the test in one go but since I am an automotive journalist, my job requires me to drive often so I’ve had a lot of experience driving in Japan and was used to the roads / signs. I also can speak Japanese which helps A TON!! **
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1] The first step is you MUST have had your current valid driver’s license and can prove you have lived in Japan for at least 3 months. This means you need to have some type of VISA besides tourist AND be registered in your ward office!!
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2] To begin the translation process, you will first need to download the application form from the Japanese Automotive Federation (JAF) website [http://www.jaf.or.jp/inter/translation/index_e.htm ]. The form is pretty straight forward but you will need to make sure you have 3,000 円 for fee’s ( Cash only!)
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3] Once the form is filled out and completed, you must head to the your nearest JAF Translation Office to hand in the form. Make sure to have your resident card on you! This process will take a few hours depending when you go. For me, it took about 2 hours.
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4] With your newly acquired ‘Japanese Translation of Foreign Driver’s License’ ( Gaimen Kirikae), you can now head to your nearest drivers license center to really start the process.
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5] Before going to the drivers license center ( I’m going to call it a DMV for now on) you must have a ton of documents on you. Without it, they will tell you to go home and not come back till you have it (not really but you will not be able to proceed without them)

Valid foreign Driver’s License , Japanese Translation of Foreign Driver’s License, Residence Card (Zairyu Card), Resident Certificate ( Juminhyo) ← If you don’t have it already, you MUST get it at your local ward office!! I F’d this up the first go x.x , Passport, 3×2.4cm Photo ← They should have a photo booth there so no worries if you don’t have one

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6] Once you have turned in all the information, you will have to take a written and visual test. The written test (at my DMV at least) was only 10 questions and asked incredibly basic questions. Note, it is not OK to pass on the far left lane and the red sign with 止まる does in fact mean stop. The visual test is just looking in a machine and telling the colors you see and which direction the ‘ c ‘ is facing.
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7] It will be incredibly rare to take your driving test on the same day. In fact, I think it is impossible but you will be able to schedule your drivers test. The soonest I could take it was a month later (hints why it took me so long).
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8] Now this is the part where you need to use your judgement. If you have NEVER driven in Japan let alone Tokyo, the next part might be pretty tough. Especially the manual test. The drivers test doesn’t test if you can drive but if you can pass a test. You have probably read this online and that isn’t a joke. I’ll walk you through it the best I can but if you aren’t use to being on the left side of the road and driving a right handed car.. Well.. it will be hard. There are some places that you can practice driving to get the hang of it. I didn’t use this company’s services but they apparently have a good English speaking staff. [ http://www.koyama.co.jp/english.htm ] . It will set you back around 40,000 円
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9] Before getting into the car, you MUST check underneath the car! Start from the front and seriously look under the car. Don’t fake anything. Move to the rear of the car and do the same thing. Then you can proceed to get into the car (remember driver’s seat is on the right side)
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10] The instructor will ask you for your residence card and the sheet that you receive on the day of your scheduled test. He will then in Japanese ask you to get prepared (Junbi Shite Kudasai |じゅんび して ください|準備して下さい ) This is where you move EVERYTHING. Move your seat. Move your side mirrors. Move your rear view mirror. If you can move it, move it. Once you’re ready, let the instructor know by saying it’s OK (daijyoubu | だいじょうぶ|大丈夫) . You will then be permitted to turn the car on.
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11] The instructor will then tell you can proceed to the first stop sign. Make sure you signal to pull out. In fact, you’re gonna want to get your signal finger warmed up because for every procedure you will do will require you to turn it on. They are watching it! The course will have numbers all over the place and depending on what number the instructors says, you will have to turn onto that road. This will be done in Japanese so it’s best you know the numbering system in Japanese. ( Sugi wa Jyu yonban | Next, 14 ) Reply the number the instructor says for confirmation and say ‘yes’. (Jyu yonban. Hai) ** For extra points, you can say wakarimasu instead of hai – I understand. I changed it up from time to time just to show I spoke and understood Japanese.
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12] The best advice I saw floating around on the internet was to be animated. For every procedure you are going to do, animate the hell out of it. Every time I came to a stop sign, I used my finger and pointed to each mirror I was looking at along with moving my entire head. Don’t glance with just your eyes. You will fail. Repeat this technique for everything. Even changing lanes, signal with your hand that you’re looking at the mirrors before making the maneuver.
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13] Since I took the manual test, it goes without saying – Stall once and you pretty much fail. So.. don’t do that
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14] Depending on the place, the course might be different, but from what I heard, the overall concept is the same. There will be an obstacle blocking a lane and you will have to move around it. Again, signal and point.
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15] I’ve heard people saying they have failed for turning too fast and too slow. One girl did fail for turning too fast but that is because she was driving like a normal human. Don’t do that. Make sure you do the police shuffle and turn with smooth application and you should be ok.
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16] When it comes to braking applications, unfortunately even this can be tricky. They instructor wants to feel you hit the brakes. Don’t smash them! However there is a technique for this. The Japanese instruction sheet that I received revealed that when braking, the first time you press the brake should be about 1/2 to 1/3 your current speed. So if you’re traveling at 50km/h, then your first braking should put you down to around 20- 25km/h. Then once again, you should press the brakes reducing your speed once more 1/2 to 1/3 your current speed. Finally, you can come to a stop. I honestly did the process in two steps and was ok but you get the point.
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17] There will be a section they call the ‘crank’. It basically a ‘S’ shape with 90 degree turns. The trick to this is if you accidentally do drive on the curb it’s OK!! Stop immediately and back the car up and continue with the test. If you keep going, that is an instant fail! Oh, remember them signals ^__^ Use it for each turn on the crank.
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18] There might also be another section similar to the crank but up a hill. This is much easier and doesn’t require much effort. Just proceed with caution!
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19] You’re almost home free but that is the prime time for people to mess up. On the way back to the starting point, you might come across a crosswalk. You must stop behind the line and look both ways to check as if people were walking across the road. Again, point to show your looking and then proceed.
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20] When pulling into the starting location, again, use your signals, point and park where the instructor tells you to. If you have done everything correctly, you SHOULD pass. I did at least.
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That should be that! I don’t believe there will be a railroad crossing but if so, make sure you come to a complete stop and wait for 3 seconds. If you are pointing like your suppose to, the time you finish pointing to all the mirrors, it should have taken 3 seconds.
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So remember! Everything needs to be animated! Every time you want to signal to make a maneuver, point to the mirrors before proceeding. Follow the braking application technique. Police shuffle the steering wheel and make sure to stop before crossing any of the white lines. This isn’t a fool proofs guide but this is exactly what I did to get my license in one go. Again, I have been driving in Japan for a while and can speak Japanese and without a doubt that helped, but I don’t see if why you can’t gain your license in one go by follow these steps!
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Happy driving!

About Celestine Photography

Traveling automotive photographer that is currently living in Shinjuku, Japan (新宿、日本). I some times go by the name Rurounin Photographer where 'Rurouni' comes from the fact that I tend to be a wonder and never know where I'll end up, but that's the adventure in it.

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