my-car

How To Get A Japanese Driving Licence

There comes a time for every foreign driver in Japan who is using an International Driving Permit (IDP) to take the plunge and get a Japanese driving licence, or stop driving since the IDP only has a maximum validity of a 1 year. This is a quick guide on how to get your Japanese driving licence.

Actually, the title should be, how to change your IDP to a Japanese driving licence. Actually that should be, how to change your IDP to a Japanese driving licence in Yamaguchi prefecture. Actually that should be, how to change your IDP to a Japanese driving licence in Yamaguchi if you hold a British licence. Sorry if you don’t fall into that hugely wide category, but … well … I don’t know about other situations.

First, here’s a list of things you will need.

  • Your full UK Driving licence (both card and paper counterpart, this must be valid and not expired,
  • if you have renewed your licence there’s a chance this must also have happened at least three months before your arrival in Japan [see below]).
  • Your International Driving Permit.
  • Money (3000 yen for translation, 2200 for the licence).
  • Your passport.
  • Your Alien Registration Card (this might have changed with the new registration system, 2012).
  • The ability to communicate in Japanese (this could be a Japanese speaking friend if you’re not fully confident).
  • Photographs – The size for the required photographs is SMALLER than standard UK passport photographs (3cm x 2.3cm), but there’s a photo booth at the centre so you can get some there.
  • A book – There’s a lot of waiting, so if you’re not taking a Japanese friend to chat to, you’re going to want something to kill the time.
  • A quick disclaimer, I really should have written this up sooner. I changed my licence back in August 2011, so I can’t remember all the ins and outs. The JAF (Japan Automobile Federation) website has a lot of information in English. There’s also a full guide on the Yamaguchi police (yes, the police deal with licences here) website, though it is all in Japanese.

    So you’ve got all your things ready and you’re just about to hop in the car and drive into Yamaguchi city. WAIT!!! Before you go anywhere, you need to call the traffic centre and book an appointment. There’s a bit of a pre-screening process which in some cases could take longer than a day, so call them in advance. A few of us Some folk have turned up out of the blue, with varying results. The phone number is 080-973-2900, it’s available weekdays (excluding public holidays) after 2pm.


    View Larger Map

    Before you go to the centre you have to go to JAF’s Yamaguchi branch for a translation of your licence. The application form is available online, so you can save a little time by filling it out before you go (http://www.jaf.or.jp/inter/translation/pdf/pdf_apli_english.pdf). The translation costs 3000 yen and is usually sorted on the day, so feel free to sit and wait in the air-conditioned room (like I said it was August!).

    On the form (and this comes up again later on), one question is “Did you stay in the issuing country for at least three months in total after you obtained your current licence?” I’m not sure if this means your licence in general (in my case I’ve had my full licence since 2004 but renewed it in 2011 … three months and 4 days before arriving in Japan). Be aware that conflicting dates on your licence may cause confusion, so this might need explaining (see later on).


    View Larger Map

    Once you have your translation it’s time to go to the traffic centre. From here on there’s some forms to fill in, documents to show cash to pay and waiting to be done … a lot of waiting.

    The first main step is an interview, and be prepared for an intense interview. You could be asked anything (and I do mean anything). Often things that come up might seem obtrusive, but just stay calm and answer all the questions as well as you can. And be sure to answer HONESTLY, many of the questions are to try and pick out inconsistencies and falseness (these are the police after all), especially when you’re being deeply grilled. Here’s a list of things I was (or at least can remember being) asked about.

  • My driving history
  • My parents and siblings driving history
  • The UK driving test
  • The difference between provisional and full licences (not helped by the fact that when I used the word ‘provisional’ in a katakana word it sounded like ‘professional’)
  • Why I didn’t drive the first time I came to Japan
  • Why I drive now
  • What I don’t like about driving in Japan
  • Why I came to Japan
  • Driving rules in the UK
  • How long I’ve actually held my licence
  • The length of my licence came up a lot as I’d renewed up. Though I’ve held a full licence since 2004, my current licence is valid from 2011. But it also says that I’ve been allowed to drive since 2004. Again lots of confusion, but calm (and often repetitive) explanation helped the interviewer to understand … I think.

    After the interview I had an eye test. I have a lazy eye, so I was upfront and honest about that, but I don’t need glasses to drive (in fact I’ve not worn glasses in about 15 years). We did the eye test anyway to see how they were.

    There were two parts to the eye test. The first checks your peripheral vision. You’re asked to look straight forward while two markers are moved further from your field of vision. When you can’t see them anymore, you say so.

    The second is similar to the standard letters on a chart, however instead of letters you have circles. Each circle has a space in it, and you say where it is (top, bottom, left, right). You can see an example of it on the blog ‘Here and There in Japan‘.

    From here you’re led upstairs to a huge examination room. Normally there are more people, but in my case it was just me … one lonely Brit. I thought I was going to have to take a test, but instead I just had to watch a video which covered the rules of the road. Well, I say that … there were some technical difficulties so instead of the video I was just asked a few questions to prove I already knew what I was doing. I doubt that happens too often though.

    Next I went downstairs to have my picture taken (this is the picture for your actual licence rather than the form). I was wearing an Aston Villa shirt on the day, so my licence has that on it. Oddly enough my UK licence has me in a Japanese national football team shirt. Ahh, internationalisation.

    After this (and a bit more waiting), I was presented with my licence. So there you are, as we’re from the UK there was no need for an actual test since rules and signs are mostly similar, and the fact that we drive on the right (left) side of the road. Bear in mind that things might change, so if you have any questions about the process it’s best to get in touch with the traffic centre directly.

    Safe Driving!

    2 thoughts on “How To Get A Japanese Driving Licence”

    1. @Dan
      I would hazard a guess and say that they need the original. I really can’t be certain either way, as I had my original with me.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *