Obtaining your own set of wheels in Japan is not really a difficult task. Obtaining a Japanese license however, is sometimes a bit of a pain. Hopefully, the information provided below will ease your licensing woes.
International Driving Permit (IDP)
- If you obtain an international driver’s license before coming to Japan, it will be valid for one year from the date of issue or one year from your date of entry into Japan, whichever comes earlier. It is not possible to renew the IDP and you’ll have to obtain a Japanese driver’s license instead.
- Contact your embassy for further details on obtaining an International Driver’s License. Please be aware of any scams. An IDP should cost no more than about $20, or 2500 yen.
Japanese Driver’s License
- Countries and regions that have a driving agreement with Japan
- Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France. Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the UK & the United States (Hawaii, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, Washington, Indiana*)
- By submitting the necessary documents shown below, passing a driving history interview as well as a vision and hearing examination, your driver’s license can be switched to a Japanese one without taking the written or road examinations.
- *For the state of Indiana, only the driving exam is waived. The written exam is still necessary.
- Source: Ehime Prefectural Police (Japanese)
- For countries and regions that don’t have a driving agreement with Japan
- In addition to submitting the necessary documents shown below, the applicant must also take a written and road test conducted on the examination course to obtain a Japanese driver’s license.
- The written test involves a set of true/false questions and is available in English, Spanish, Farsi, Russian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Thai, Tagalog, and Vietnamese (in addition to Japanese).
- For the driving examination, it is generally recommended to do a few practice sessions prior to the examination.
- For those undergoing this process at the Matsuyama Licensing Center, utilizing EPIC’s volunteer services can be quite useful.
- Scooters 50cc and under
- Only the written test must be taken to obtain a 50cc scooter license. There is no road test required.
- Having a Japanese Automobile license automatically covers the license for a 50cc scooter.
- To obtain a license for a scooter and/or motorcycle that is above 50cc, you must take a separate written and road test. A normal automobile license will not cover it.
Necessary Documents Required for a Japanese License
- License application forms (can be prepared at the center)
- Identification photo (3cm by 2.4 cm, taken within the last 6 months)
- Certificate of Residence (住民票, jyuuminhyou)
- A Japanese driver’s license (if the applicant has previously held one)
- Residence Card (在留カード, zairyuu kaado)
- Passport (or something that similarly proves that you were in the country/region for at least 3 months after obtaining license. There may be cases where the passport doesn’t have entry/exit stamps between the issuing country and Japan, so bringing things such as older passports, plane tickets, transcripts, bank statements, or other documents is recommended). For Americans, the center may also request that you provide documentation proving you were in the specific state that issued your license for three months or more.
- The overseas license (must be valid, must have been issued at least 3 months before arrival in Japan). If you recently renewed your license, bringing in older licenses or a driving record from the country/region that issued your license is recommended.
- IDP (if you have one)
- Your personal seal (signature is acceptable)
- A Japanese translation of all the information that appears on your country’s driver’s license. Translation of your license MUST be done by one of the following:
- – Any Japanese embassy or consulate abroad
- – Any foreign embassy or consulate abroad
– Japan Automobile Federation (JAF, Nihon Jidosha Renmei)
- ¥4,600 for the procedure free (¥2,550 for application and ¥2,050 for issuing) in case of the ordinary passenger car license.
- Applications should be made to:Ehime Driver’s License Center
- Change of Address
- If you change your name and/or address, bring proof of this change (amended Certificate of Residence) to the Ehime Driver’s Center.
- If you’re not comfortable speaking in Japanese, the center asks that you bring someone who can interpret along with you to the appointments (EPIC volunteers can provide such a service).
- Your Japanese driver’s license is valid until your birthday in the third year after its issue. You can renew your license beginning one month before the expiration date at the Ehime Driver’s License Center.
- Necessary Documents Required
- – Driver’s License
- – One identification photo (3cm by 2.4cm)
- – Handling Charge ¥2,200
- – Instruction Fee ¥700, ¥1,700
- – If your name or address is changed, please bring the new alien registration.
- Registration times: 8:00 – 9:30 / 13:00 – 14:00 daily (excluding Saturdays and national holidays)
Failing to Renew Your License
- You may renew your license within six months after the expiration date at the Ehime Prefectural Driving Test Center by taking the appropriate tests. Bring the following items with you:
- – Expired driver’s license
- – Certificate of Residence
- – One identification photo (3×2.4 cm)
- – Your personal seal (signature is acceptable)
- – Renewal fee (Testing fee 2,550 yen and Handling charge 2,050 yen)
- If you are seriously ill, are not in the country, or other circumstances prevent you from renewing your license within six months of the expiration date, bring the items listed above and evidence proving why you could not go to the center to renew (passport, doctor’s note, etc.). When you are able to go, you must renew within one month and take the appropriate tests.
- Registration time: 13:00 – 13:30 daily (excluding Saturdays and national holidays)
Owning a Car in Japan
- Proof of parking (shako shomei)
- This is only required for white plate cars (普通車, hutsuusha). Before you can buy one, you must provide evidence that you have a parking space near your home. If your residence does not have a garage, you must rent a parking space in your neighborhood.
- You can get the forms from the local police station (note: not the koban/police box).
- Wherever you park your car must be within 2 kilometers of your residence. If your parking spot is some distance away from your residence, you can provide a Google Maps image displaying the distance between the spot and your home. In addition, you must also provide an image of the parking area (that displays information such as the dimensions of the entrance, the number of parking spots, and the length and width of your individual parking spot. The length and width must be appropriate for the dimensions of your vehicle or it will not be approved).
- Automobile Inspection (shaken)
- Automobiles and motorcycles over 251 cc must be inspected at regular intervals.
- You must always carry your inspection certificate when driving.
- Contact the Ehime Office of the Shikoku District Land Transport Bureau (Shikoku Rikuunkyoku Ehime Rikuun Shikyoku).
- For questions about “K” cars (cars with yellow licence plates) contact the Ehime Management Office of the Compact Car Inspection Association (Keijidousha Kensa Kyokai Ehime Jimusho).
- Insurance (hoken)
- Compulsory Insurance (kyosei hoken) – You must enroll in the compulsory automobile insurance plan when purchasing a vehicle or when having your vehicle inspected. Enroll where you purchase your vehicle or at a vehicle maintenance shop
- Optional Insurance (nin-i hoken) – Compulsory insurance has only limited coverage. Optional insurance plans will cover accidents not included in the compulsory insurance plans. Furthermore, since compulsory insurance may not completely cover increasingly expensive damage awards, some level of optional insurance is recommended. Inquire about optional insurance policies when purchasing a compulsory insurance policy.
- Vehicle Registration (sharyo toroku)
- Cars and motorbikes must be registered in the name of the owner and any change in ownership must be reported. Registration usually will be taken care of by the dealer when you buy a vehicle.
Japan Automobile Federation (JAF)
JAF is dedicated to providing auto users in Japan with services that enhance their safety and their sense of security while promoting the importance of road safety. If you have roadside assistance membership in your country (such as, AAA) JAF may work in partnership, please check your membership.
JAF services include:
- Repairs and roadside assistance.
If you plan on driving often in Japan and/or taking trips; it may be in your best interest to sign up for JAF membership. Pricing varies depending on how long you sign up for but generally around ¥5,000 a year. With membership, if you run out of gas, get a flat tire, or are in an accident, JAF will come to assist you at anytime with no extra charge (only for the repairs/gas, etc). Especially in a country where many have a language barrier JAF can serve as a security net.
DO NOT be like a group of ALTs from Ehime some years back who got a flat tire late at night on the way back from a road trip. Instead of waiting for assistance, and explaining why they were late, they decided to steal a tire! Just DONT! You are responsible for your actions. Either wait for assistance and call your supervisor or join JAF.
- Japanese translation of foreign driver’s licenses.
- This is available for English, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, French and German. Bring your Certificate of Alien Registration, passport and driver’s license.
- For driver’s licences written in Persian, the applicant should take them to respective embassies for translation into Japanese. For more information, contact JAF personnel or Driver’s License Center.
- Publication of “Rules of the Road
- Available in English, Chinese, Korea, Portuguese and Spanish for 1000 yen.
Drinking and Driving
- 0% TOLERANCE!
- Even if you have only one drink, it is ILLEGAL to get behind the wheel of any motorised vehicle. This also includes scooters as well as bicycles. DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE!
- Daiko is a special taxi service that brings you, your friends, and your car back to your residence at the cost of just over a taxi fare. Ask the local JETs for the Daiko number in your area.
Many gas stations in Japan are full service, meaning you do not need to leave your car and they will pump your gas, clean your windows, collect any trash, and check your fluids and tires for you. You just need to pull up and tell them either “Mantan onegaishimasu” (fill up my tank please) or say, “# + sen en onegaishimasu” (# thousand yen please).
They may ask if you will pay by “genkin” (cash) or “kaado” (credit card).
There are self service stations, which usually offer gas a little cheaper They will have a sign by the road that says セルフ “serufu” (i.e. Self Service). Here you will pump the gas by yourself. Notice that fuel in Japan is color coordinated.
- ⬛︎ Gas レギュラー (regyuraa)
This will most in likely be what you will use, its just regular gas.
- ⬛︎ High Octane Gas ハイオク(haioku)
This is used mostly for luxury/sports cars.
- ⬛︎ Diesel 軽油 (keiyu)
🚨WARNING🚨 Many JETs who buy cars buy a type called Kei cars (light cars) It uses the same character as in diesel. That does not mean that you use keiyu (diesel) to fuel up. If your vehicle requires diesel you will be informed. Several JETs have made this mistake and ruined their engines.
- ⬛︎ Kerosene 灯油 (touyu)
Usually those living in the countryside will make use of this more. As many buildings in Japan do not have great insulation you may need to use kerosene heaters to warm up your house. Kerosene will be labeled with blue.
- ⬛︎ Gas レギュラー (regyuraa)