Driving in Japan: From obtaining your license to navigating the roads

By Julia Mascetti

Most Tokyoites don’t need a car for day-to-day life. However, whether you want to take the kids camping, fit your Nitori purchases in the back of a four-seater, or need to drive for work, learning to drive in Japan can really come in handy. For expats with disabilities or who are carers, a car might be a necessity not a luxury. It can also be fun to whip out your Japanese driving license instead of your residence card as ID to win maximum integration points. If you want to get on the road, this is what you need to do.

International Driving Permits

If you only need to drive in Japan for a short while, getting an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your own country can be a good option. IDPs will allow you to drive in Japan for up to 12 months. However, if you want to drive in Japan long term, purchase a vehicle or have more flexibility in the cars you can rent, you should probably get an actual Japanese license.

Obtaining a Japanese Driving License


The good news: many foreign nationals can drive in Japan without taking the practical driving test. I was thrilled to discover that I could convert my British driving license to a Japanese one with minimal time and money. After doing this, I have a standard Japanese driving license that is identical to what a Japanese person would have after taking the test in their own country. 

There are some nationalities who don’t even have to do the conversion process. If you are from Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Monaco, Switzerland or Taiwan, you can drive in Japan indefinitely with a valid driving license from your country and an official translation of said license. The translation can be obtained from the Japan Automobile Federation. However, you will have to carry the translation around with you every time you drive so you may prefer to convert your license in the end. 

If you have a driving license issued in the above countries as well as Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, State of Maryland (USA) or State of Washington (USA) you may convert your license to a Japanese one without taking the practical test, thanks to bilateral agreements with Japan.

Those who cannot convert their licenses should skip the next section and head to “Taking the Test.”

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

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After driving in Japan for many years, my advice is to drive defensively. Keep your peripheral vision at maximum watching for pedestrians, cyclists, scooters and ratbag drivers. Always wait 3 seconds when a signal changes to green look both ways before you enter onto intersection. And, expect to be abused by Japanese drivers for travelling at speed limits.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

In 10 years in Japan, I made it without driving once, and I will continue as long as I can.

I already have to be very careful while crossing the street as a pedestrian, I don't need more stress than that.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

One of the best things about living in Japan is how easy it is to find a place where owning a car is completely unnecessary.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Disillusioned, solid advice. Always expect the K-trucks to just suddenly pull out, turn in, stop, change lane etc.

Also it seems to be legal or acceptable to drive through a red light several seconds after it has become so.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Japan is a country of contradictions. Children are taught the most rigorous traffic rules, but as adults ... Oh dear!

Zebra crossings here are a BIG DANGER ZONE. Drivers seem to think pedestrians are invisible. DO NOT assume that if you are on a zebra, you can safely cross.

Cyclists often use the pavement ('sidewalk' for Muricans). Very frightening.

Drivers here are so damn slow when the lights change!

Drivers here leave WAY TOO MUCH space in front of them when waiting in a traffic queue.

BEWARE old drivers. Very unsure and dangerous.

Old people on bicycles are a real danger. They wobble about and don't know where they're going!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I've been driving in Japan over 30 years, seen about all of it. To me, compared to USA, its less stressful in Japan, except for holiday traffic, which I avoid if at all possible. In USA, DO NOT expect people to let you in by lifting your hand! Knuckleheads will speed up! In Japan, I just drive speed limits, like mentioned above, extra careful at intersections, etc., but you have to do the same in USA. Let's be careful boys, being in a car is the most dangerous thing we do.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It can also be fun to whip out your Japanese driving license instead of your residence card as ID to win maximum integration points


Always wait 3 seconds when a signal changes to green look both ways before you enter onto intersection. 

I bet you get beeped at a lot, Disillusioned. Doesn't take more than one or two seconds to look both ways.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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