executive impact

Driving lessons available for foreigners

By Taro Fujimoto

In Japan, you usually obtain a driver’s license by taking lessons at a private driving school which exempts you from a practical driving test at a police facility. After finishing the course, you take an official government written test at a police station. However, what if foreigners need to get a driver’s license? While some police stations offer an English version of the test, candidates still have to study Japanese laws and traffic regulations.

Filling this niche in English in Tokyo is Koyama Driving School which has been offering diversified services since it was established in 1957. Since 1999, Koyama has helped many foreigners, providing officially approved driving lessons in English. As the first of its kind in Japan, Koyama expanded the service in English at all of its schools in Tokyo from April.

Heading up Koyama Driving School is CEO Jinichi Koyama. Born in Tokyo, he studied mechanical engineering at Koyama Gakuen School which his father runs, and obtained a mechanical engineering qualification. He has been involved in the management of the school since 1975.

Japan Today reporter Taro Fujimoto visits Koyama at the Futakotamagawa driving school in Tokyo to hear more about the business and the school’s service for foreigners.

What kind of services does Koyama offer?

We operate four driving schools in Tokyo. In addition to the school business, our group companies dispatch professional drivers to organizations and companies as well as publish textbooks for driving schools.

What is the driving school market like now?

The market is very competitive and becoming smaller because fewer young people are buying cars and the birthrate is declining. Some driving schools offer their lessons at bargain prices. It’s a cutthroat competition.

Who are your students at Koyama?

Most of our students are aged between 18 and 25. In the past, people tended to get a driver’s license just after they graduated from high school. But recently, college students are more likely to come because they need a license for full-time work after graduating from college.

However, since a driver’s license is used as an official identification in Japan, there will still be a significant demand for driving schools, I think.

Has the tightened traffic law had any effect?

Not really. But what will have an effect is the relaxation of the law on issuing drivers’ licenses for those who have hearing problems. We have already started lessons for them with instruction in sign language.

How did you come up with the idea of lessons in English for foreigners?

Over the years, we have had a lot of requests from foreign residents in Japan for driving lessons in English. The government’s official written test is conducted in English in many prefectures. After spending 4-5 years for preparation, we started the service in 1999.

Local public safety councils, which supervise driving license administration, didn’t permit lessons with interpreters for foreign students because they said it would be unfair for certain people to have such personal assistance. The councils requested fair driving lessons for everyone. So we decided to start offering lessons in English. As long as students take the same lessons as Japanese, it is fair.

What kind of foreigners take the lessons?

Most of our students are from India and the Philippines. Some international companies, like Nissan, BMW and Coca Cola Japan, request us to give driving training to their expats because they need to learn Japanese driving rules and laws for safety purposes.

We have about 400 foreign students a year. More than 2,000 foreigners, including Charles Jenkins in Sado and Alberto Fujimori (ex-Peru president), took lessons from us.

The Japanese government urges foreigners who stay in Japan for more than three months to obtain a Japanese license. Those who have an international license, which expires within a year, tend to take our lessons for bigger motorcycles, for example, because their international license doesn’t cover those motorbikes.

How do you hire English-speaking driving instructors?

As long as they have an official qualification as driving instructors, we are willing to hire anybody regardless of nationality. But since the qualification test is conducted in Japanese, our instructors are Japanese who speak English. We hire bilingual people but we also give English lessons to our existing staff.

How do you advertise the service?

We don’t do it so much. What is interesting is that local police tell foreigners about us because they often receive inquiries on driving lessons for foreigners in Japan. Word-of-mouth through foreign embassies, the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) and our English-language website are very effective publicity means.

How much do English lessons cost?

Lessons for the English service are 380,000 to 390,000 yen, which is actually more expensive than conventional Japanese ones by 70,000 to 80,000 yen. This is because it costs more to produce English textbooks, for example. Some foreign applicants complain about the cost, but they finally say it is worth it.

What about lessons in other languages?

We of course have considered lessons in Chinese and Korean. But the majority of local public safety councils don’t conduct official driving license exams in these languages. So we have to wait and see what they do in the future.

What are your future plans?

I think we can export our knowledge and experience in the driving lesson business abroad. This is because Japan is practically the only country in the world that has systematic transport education for the public. That would be good for developing countries. Officials from the Zambian government, for example, visited us to learn how to develop safe transport system in their country.

The private sector wants us to contribute to traffic safety, but the government, which conducts the official written exams, has controlled the quality of drivers to some extent in Japan. Traffic accident prevention is a social issue. Before accidents happen, I think we should invest in driving lessons.

What's a typical day for you?

I get up at 8 a.m. and walk to our head office in Shibuya by 9. I leave the office around 5 p.m. Since I run a bar in Minami-Aoyama, I often spend time there until 10 p.m. The bar, of course, doesn't serve alcohol to those who come by car.

What's your management style?

I always work in the head office. Since we have several meetings within the company, I try to attend them because I like to hear the voices of our employees which improve our services.

How do you spend weekends?

I might go shopping with my wife or see a movie.

For further information on Koyama, visit: http://www.koyama.co.jp/english.htm

© Japan Today

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How about some driving lessons for the numerous locals that I've seen that will do crazy stuff like go from the far right lane, all the way to the left, just to slam their brakes on right in front of you to go to wherever it is they are going? In the rain, in Okinawa. Then, when you honk the horn, they give you that crazy what just happened look which turns to the death eye like you did something wrong? How about private lessons for them?

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Isn't Alberto Fujimori Japanese? He thinks he is....

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Love it - runs a driving school by day, barman at night...he certainly looks the part.

He acts like their system is so great - I wonder if they have less accidents per mile driven than other countries? I took the driving test here in Tokyo to convert my US license. Passed it without any darn lessons but there were other gaijin taking it for the 3rd time or even failing after 4 tries, nerve-wracking since I went after them. Just play their game and keep your head on a swivel and save yourself the dosh.

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"In Japan, you usually obtain a driver's license by taking lessons at a private driving school, which exempts you from a practical driving test at a police facility. After finishing the course, you take an official government written test at a police station."

What?! So, most people get a license without ever taking a driving test to prove they can actually drive?!

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Australian and French people don't need to take a test, just goto the motor office and 2 hours later you have a new Japanese license, no driving or written tests just an automatic license. I think this is the case for all right hand driving countries, but don't quote me on that.

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Even Americans can simply go through the "gaimen kirikae" process and get a full-fledged Japanese license. They have to take a very easy test on a computer, followed by a moderately easy driving test. I don't see much reason to go to an exorbitantly-priced driving school, unless of course you actually need to learn how to drive.

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moderately easy???Dont think so.

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But still not paying for schools like this-highway robbery

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Decades ago I converted my US license to a Japanese license without too much effort. I had to sit in a 90 minute lecture on something. I don't know what it was about. The translator fell asleep. As did 99% of the other people in the room. Except the speaker.

This school must make some serious dough but I don't think your average bear needs their services.

On the other hand, JENKINS has a DRIVER'S LICENSE!? Heaven help us.

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Yeah what they dont say is they take away any of your added licenses like CDL, or bike when you get a japanese one. I been driving on a intertrashinal for 15 years. You can get it renued in the mail from triple A, and keep your others.

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I graduated from Koyama. It was a great experience and though expensive, well worth it.

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Australia and France drive on the same side of the road?

It doesn't matter which side of the road you drive on as long as your country has an agreement with Japan to recognize each others licenses. You also need to have a valid license from your 'home' country that you obtained 3 months prior to coming to Japan (or a drivers abstract stating how long you've had your license). All Canadians need to do is go to JAF and have their license translated and then make an appointment at the local Menkyo centre. After answering a few questions and watching a short film they have the card printed and ready to go!

I wasn't even ever told what the road signs ment. Just a little 'drive safe' and off I went.

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Be careful, the laws changed in 2004. Legally you can no longer drive on an international license after one year of residence in Japan. They've even made it an offence over which you can be deported.

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people drive like lunatics no matter what country you are in. My biggest problem is reading the signs at 100kph! It's not like the train where you can stand still for a minute while you figure out the kanji...

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Na the new rule is as long as you have a exit and entry stamp in your visa that corresponds to the date on your international then your still good. Basically take a trip to Guam and get it renewed for 10 bucks and come back.

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DXXP, Other than having a nice time in Guam, why? I got my car driver's license with no problem, then asked for a motorcycle license (up to 400 cc) and got it without going to a driving school. But if you want the Guam trip, enjoy.

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I was able to convert my UK car licence with no drama, just doing the local paperwork & didn't need to go to school. However I convert get an automatic conversion for my large motorbike licence, so I choose Koyama to take my Japanese oogata licence. They aren't cheap but they do a good job, to teach you how to pass the test, mainly form over substance. However not the reality of driving on the Japanese roads, you only do that on your own if you pass with a bike. You have to learn how to drive over a horizontal ladder one rung at a time, but where are the taxi drivers changing lanes without indicating and doing an emergency stop to pick up a fare, or drifting through red lights 3 seconds after they have turned red trying to broadside you. Time to change the syllabus & hire a few taxi drivers to add some reality to the test I think...

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DXXJP - hope you don't get caught beacuse that is not legal any more. They closed that loophole a few years back.

France drives on the left. India on the right (apparently - seeing is believing!!!!). As thundercat says it is about reciprical agreement. I heard that the US does not because it issues licenses by state and not all states will do a reciprical agreement. As a lot of things in Japan it is 100% or 0%. I also heard that it was only two states that would not comply...

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Borscht: As you said. Also for German and Austria licenses, just have a japanese translation and you get your Japanese one. And 5 years later on, you may get a golden one. Recently, mine had been automatically upgraded also to allow light trucks up to 8tons. But motorbikes ... in Germany unlimited, in Japan limited to 400cc. If one wants motorbikes >400cc, a driving test is needed additionally.

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This guy's doing a great job! More foreigner freindly services in Japan please!! This man deserves an honour!

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dxxjp, watch yrself you a definitely driving illegalj as others have rightly pointed out!

As for this school, it wud be useful for someone who DOESNT already have a license from their home country or wanted to expand on the car only, like for motorcyle or larger truck

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Sounds like a cool guy! And yes, should totally be commended for making things easier for foreigners.

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Australian and French people don't need to take a test, just goto the motor office and 2 hours later you have a new Japanese license, no driving or written tests just an automatic license. I think this is the case for all right hand driving countries, but don't quote me on that.

Sorry to quote you but, as my missus would say.......... eh?????

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You all might want to check again because I was stopped and given the law in print. You all seem to be confusing the Japanese procedure for it. They cant just go to some US territory and get a license than come back and have that transferred with out spending at least a year in said territory. This was last year as well when they were letting me go they told me I could do this. I have a 750cc motorcycle I'm not going to training wheel school for a license I have had most of my life.

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if the coppers decide to find out if you`ve lived in Jpn over a year(leaving for brief periods & rtning doesnt re-start the clock) & yr using an international license it is illegal, depsite whatever encounters you had with the cops. Remember J-cops arent big on enforcing the law, its hassle

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DXXJP please check out this link: http://www.keishicho.metro.tokyo.jp/foreign/kokusai_m/pdf/koku1eng.pdf

or this one: http://www1.pref.tokushima.jp/kankyou/seikatsubunka/seikatsujouhouHP/e/06.html (1)International Driving Licence  An International Driving Licence, as defined by the Geneva Convention, can be used only for one year from the date of its issue or for one year from the date of original entry into Japan - whichever period is shorter.

"original entry"...

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ya... ok but this school is not offering any courses to foreigners wishing to upgrade their licence to #2.

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I'm a permanent resident and an above knee amputee. Paid an arm and a leg for English course but got mostly bad English speaking instructors like a guy called Yamamoto. Not only that, Koyama Pre-test's prewar Ingurish is disgusting. Plus I finally got my LEARNER'S DRIVING PERMIT but KDS Futagotamagawa stapled it to the file and won't let me have it. Like a criminal on probation, I need to tell the staff at the counter the day before why I need it and bring it back next day and so on. IT'S MY PERMIT, I PAID AND SWEATED FOR IT!! Besides I want to practice driving with my wife beside me like the law stipulates . KOYAMA's CEO interview is misleading crap. And Fujimori is Japanese and remarried Kataoka a full fledged Yakuza. Besides, on the 3rd floor of KDS Nikotama the whole floor reeks of tobacco smoke. Disgraceful .

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