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In your experience, how hard or easy is it to get a driver's license in Japan? What were the written and driving tests like?

36 Comments

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I was lucky.

When I came to Japan over many years ago, I just need to show my drivers license from my homecountry and they changed it to the japanese one.

I didnt have to do any tests.

I do not clearly know the rules now, but currently, every 3 years I have to watch a safety drive video and to do an eye sight test.

And of course pay, I guess 3000 yen or something.

That's all.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I was terribly unlucky. The written test was fine, but the guys at the center kept failing me so I called the British Embassy to file a formal complaint and the lady on the other end told me to go one last time before filing a complaint. Went back and passed the driving test in spite of actually making a few mistakes.

The tests here are like 3rd world countries tests. Complete BS and it is evident by the crappy way people drive here.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

No tests for me, apart from an eye/vision test. Just showed my Canadian license and old passport proving I was residing in Canada while holding the licence, and they gave me a Japanese license. Score!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I'm from the UK, so it was easy. Just an eye test, translation of UK license and proof that I had driven in the UK for at least three months. Oh, and some money, maybe 7000 yen or so.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

My old license had expired so I had to start from the beginning, including a “temporary license” needed, with a 50 question test, then driving test, before the 100 question test and another over the road driving test.

It wasn’t that hard, except the English translations made no sense on quite a few questions.

There are plenty of books out there to study.

I passed the first test first time and passed the driving test in the afternoon.

If I remember right, I could come for the real test in 3 months?

I failed the big test by one question because of the indecipherable English. Came back in 30 days and passes both the same day.

You have to remember the unwritten rules. Check under the car for children before you get in. Don’t wear a jacket. Point to each side mirror to show you checked them, then touch the rear view mirror to show you checked it. Ask if the tester is wearing a seatbelt.

Forget one and you fail before you even drive.

I remember 3 or 4 foreigners taking the driving test the same afternoon and they all said they had failed at least 5 times.

It isn’t that hard.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

The big bike test is very difficult. I failed it five times and other people at the test centre had failed it as many as twenty times.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I had a motorcycle license from my country, and when changed to a Japanese one, a had to take the test. And it was quite difficult, I failed it once (I touched a cone with my knee), but then passed it on the second time. Then I attended a driving school and took the car driving license; it was expensive and it took a long time, but the properly taught me how to drive.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

David Brent...

proof that I had driven in the UK for at least three months.

This is not correct. You need to "prove" that you were resident in the country you got the license for at least three months after getting it.

This was introduced to stop a growing number of Japanese taking trips to Hawaii and Guam to get a license in a week or two while also enjoying a vacation. The losers were of course the Japanese driving schools headed by ex high ranking traffic police and ministry of transport officials. Who lobbied to get the law changed on "safety grounds". You could still get a license in Hawaii but would need to lived there for three months after. How this would make it safer is anyone's guess.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

I converted from a US license in Okayama. The most annoying part was all the paperwork. I remember having to get a copy of my driving record from the US - including the date I took my initial driving test at 16 - and then having to get it translated at a local JAF branch. The funniest part was when they asked what kind of car I took the driving test in. I answered, "My mother's." But they actually wanted to make and model, so I made one up on the spot (did make it a Japanese car, though. 1990 Nissan Sentra, I think).

The English translation of the written test was so bad that I actually asked for the Japanese version. Since it was a conversion, the test was only 10 Ture-False questions and very easy to pass (You must stop at a red light. T or F). After this, I had to wait two weeks to take the driving test.

I passed the driving test on the first go and am honestly surprised that most people don't. At the time I took it, I could buy a map of the driving course at the license center to study and test takers were allowed to walk the course the morning of the test. For some reason, I was the only one doing it and I knew all the little traps before even getting in the car. Also, you can practice driving in a private car on regular roads after you pass the written test. You just have to have a licensed Japanese driver in the car with you and you have to put a sign on the front and back of the car (handwritten is OK). If forgot the exact wording and size of the sign, but if you ask I am sure they will tell you. I asked at the 岡山西警察署 and they were quite helpful.

And as Peter Neil pointed out above, the unwritten rules. A few others - I wore a suit and tie, shaved, and made a big show of turning off my phone and putting it in my bag before I started the engine. Of the three people that passed the day I did, all of us were wearing business attire. The people in shorts, t-shirts, ball caps...all failed (not saying it is right or wrong, just saying "an ounce of appearance is worth a pound of performance"). If you look like a safe diver, they will assume you are. Also, if you can't do everything yourself in Japanese, you probably won't pass. People that came with a "helper," usually a foreign dude with his Japanese girlfriend, failed. The cops there are most likely thinking, "Is this person going to be a problem for me if I have to pull them over or respond to an accident?" I remember one lady was dressed like a hostess and said it was her sixth time taking the test. When she failed, she slammed her hands on the counter and stormed off, probably ensuring she will fail the next time as well.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Just an eye test,though I thought the little circles were hiragana at first,so I was saying 'ko','tsu',and so on!Afterwards,saw some Brazilian applicant do a handbrake turn to finish his test! Awesome.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I learned from scratch here. I took the tests through my driving school and passed both the theory and practical first time. I did the theory test in Japanese because I figured the phrasing in the test would match the textbook used in the lessons. I recommend doing practice tests first, as they help you notice patterns in the questions and to avoid trick questions. The practical test was straight forward. I've heard stories about people failing for reasons like not checking under the car for babies and not going ridiculously slow around corners, but I didn't experience any of that. I guess it depends where you take your test.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I had to take 4 written tests in Osaka but only two driving tests, seems like they have the priorities backwards

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Pay the money for Japanese driving school and its very easy. The driving test will be onsite and you only go to the government center for a written test.

If you don't go to a school, and have the practical driving test at a government center, they'll probably fail you several times. The center may be miles away, and you may need to wait weeks before you can get another reservation. Unlike a driving school, the police at the testing center may have no interest in passing anyone.

As mentioned above, the written test has some weird questions, in both English and Japanese. In Japanese, it mixes up "shite ha ikenai", "shinakereba naranai" etc. conditional and imperative tenses seemingly in an attempt to catch out people. Now I have kids, I have seen school tests do this too, in subjects like science where reading comprehension of convoluted questions should come a very distant second to understanding science. When I did it, the driving test in English had a great example of Japanese logic, "is voluntary insurance compulsory?" to which the correct answer is "yes". The voluntary insurance here is nin'i hoken, and as its name suggests, it is not actually necessary when driving a car (the jibaiseki insurance at shaken time is enough to legally drive). However, the police think its best for you to have nin'i hoken, so by that logic it is down as "compulsory" in the driving test. Or it was in the 1990s when I took the test.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The test was super easy but they did fail me on the driving test the first time despite making no mistakes. I went a second time and did the exact same thing and they finally gave it to me. I was one of 3 foreigners who passed out of 37 people that day. Don't go to Konosu, Saitama.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I took mine in 1997.it was not so difficult as main issue for many seemed to drive old Nissan Cedric with some 400000kms plus on clock with MT and bold clutch...unsure about rules at this very moment.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Easy. Just took my licence from my home country, a translation of it, did an eye test and a bit of paperwork and paid a fee.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It's all a money grab.

At least for the people trying for the first time.

They fail you for the littlest infractions, literally over a matter of 1-2 centimeters. It doesn't matter how many years you've been driving in another country.

They do that to get you to come back and pay more money to take the tests. Which also means you probably have to miss a half day to a day of work as well. As if it's protocol to make each driver who didn't go through their "training" has to take the test at least 3 times.

As long as you realize the road test is not to check if you know how to actually drive in real life situations, but it's to check if you can drive their school's course, perfectly, you'll probably do better.

If they would just charge double and let you pass on the first try, I'd rather take that option. Less of a waste of time.

The written test was pretty easy though.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

It doesn't matter how many times you have done the test, the examiner doesn't know. It doesn't matter what you wear. All you have to do is perform the test correctly. (And much of it is a performance, winding your window down to listen for trains at crossing?) Its not a money grab, the test centers don't make a profit, they are not a business. Unlike the driving schools where you pay your money and you will get the license unless you are really dangerous.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

I passed the first time, but I prepared, studied on-line what I could expect, and took it very seriously. If you come in with any sort of cavalier attitude (e.g. "I have been driving in a dozen countries for 20 years...") you may as well go home before paying the fee because you will fail. I was nervous, checked under the car before getting in, adjusted the mirrors... all the stuff I learned to do online. My nervousness helped, because the tester (a crusty ex-cop) got the impression I was taking it seriously. I was the only foreigner that morning to pass.

Search online for Japanese driving test experiences and advice - there is not shortage of it. Make sure you learn what they are looking for and all the quirky little rules that can fail you even if you drive like a pro. Dress properly (nice clothes - sandals are an automatic fail) .Then go through the whole routine. It's worth the effort to prepare upfront, unless you want to waste several days being frustrated wasting time and money.

Much less effort, and more effective than complaining to your embassy! (Though I am sure they will have a laugh about it.)

2 ( +4 / -2 )

As CitizenSmith says, the big bike test is quite difficult but the car test was easy. I did not go to school, just took the test and got my license in two weeks (I had to wait after the first test as you are supposed to practice on the road before taking your second one).

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Anybody with experience in taking the test for a moped (原付)? I'm considering it as I'm neither a car nor a bike person.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Blue, I did and it was quite easy, just dome questions, no driving. But that was over 20 years ago…

4 ( +4 / -0 )

In my corner of Kanto the power tripping oyajis weren't going to give me a licence because my passport only had Japanese entry stamps on it. I explained to no avail that European countries typically don't stamp European passports. Luckily I had brought my previous one with me, which had lots of non-EU stamps.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The driving test sites are a scam, or at least the one where I got mine.

Reasons to believe they're running a racket:

Documents screening took me three attempts. First, the officer taking my case says that since my Japanese is so good, why don't I take a Japanese class? I said I don't have ¥300,000 for a class and he mentions "oh but you're American, of course 300,000 yen is nothing for you. You're okane mochi..."

Then after reviewing all the necessary documents (official letters from the DMV, translations, etc.) the officer accuses me of l having lived in Mexico or Canada, two countries I've never been to. And that there's no proof I lived in USA or drove a car there. All because there was no stamp of my American passport of exiting USA before entering Japan.

Took me three separate days to prove I'm American and lived in USA.

During one of my tests there was this Japanese guy who came with two instructors from his driving school. While he was driving he made at least two fatal mistakes that would massively fail you, like switching lanes without a signal light. We all saw it and thought there's no way this guy would pass the test. Well. Only person to pass the test that day was him. And it's weird coz why was a Japanese guy taking the test with all the foreigners? They ALWAYS take the tests separate.

My buddy took the motorcycle test and they failed him... at first. The proctor told him he did this and that my buddy said he didn't. My buddy then mentioned that his girlfriend filmed the test from the second floor. And when they showed the filmed evidence that the proctor was lying, he (proctor) went ahead to say that he was just taking about this other guy, and not about my buddy. They passed him.

They are a scam. I'm sure there are brown bags running everywhere under their desks.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

@timeon

Thanks for the feedback. Appreciate.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Garthgoyle I can sympathize.

Firstly as an Australian I could relatively smoothly change over licenses due to a reciprocal arrangement between govts. No tests - paper or physical.

Of course needed all the paper work and more.

But it was the smug officiousness of the officer at the license center that really irked me.

Because Oz licenses don't have an issuing date he tried to play the game that I could have got it last week and was truly a beginner.

I showed him my international license and said a beginner driver can't be issued one of these. I showed him on my license the code that says I can ride a large capacity cc motorbike which a beginner driver cannot get. He had all the relevant Australian driving / license regulations in translated form so he knew all that was correct( they have copies from all reciprocating countries on file).I said Australia is much stricter than here and he scanned over the documents for ages trying to find something that would prove that wrong. But still - not enough. He then photocopied every page of my passport to somehow prove in his infantile mind that I may have gone back to Australia recently and got the license. - duh??? I mean this was straight out of Monty Python. And to add salt to the wounds he proceeded to smoke (back in the late 90s) the whole time blowing his pox over my wife and I. And he openly slurred to us a Chinese woman who was also seeking to change her license. Almost fell off the chair.

After the 2 hours it took, we, teeth grittingly thanked him and left. My wife immediately complained to a senior in the main office about the officers requests / procedures and the center telephoned later that day to say sorry that the passport etc details were not necessary and my application was approved.

And come the day to get the license I and the Chinese woman were processed the same as a beginner driver and had to go through all the rigmarole of that - one day lectures, videos, lectures, speeches, videos, etc . Finally the time of the granting of the license was conducted like a graduation ceremony for about 200 people. We 2 foreigners were 2nd and 3rd. The first person was called up handed her license and bowed, returned to her seat. The Chinese woman followed suit. I went up and when I got mine in my sweaty little palm turned stage right and exited pronto. No way I was sitting through that hours long pantomine. No one said a thing.

But I was lucky compared to some friends esp a US guy.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I even brought my car's plate of my car in Florida, with official documents stating from when I owned the vehicle but the officer said "nope, this is not proof you lived and drove in Florida." He even mentioned I could have forged my Florida driver's license. Crazy!

The third time I went, someone else took my case and they agreed my documents were in order... Until that officer saw me from across the hallway, almost ran into the the office to ask what was I doing there. Then took over to blahhhhh. Awful experience. 10 months later I got the Japanese license.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I didn't have the hassles that other commenters had, but can agree that it's scam. I failed 4 times for whatever made up reason. On the 4th attempt, the "instructor" said 'You were close today. I think you'll pass next time.' Easy money.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Did it in Kanagawa. They gave me a license based on my UK one after a quick and simple test and eye check.

Was done and dusted after an hour and I was only a tourist!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

And I drove a car to the testing place!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I went to Yokohama. Failed at first. Second time I passed. Was in the car with an angry Brazilian. He failed. Speak politely to the cop and watch out with left turns. I practiced with a school next to the site on Sundays for a month. The hard part is the window opens at 8:30 and get there before it closes. Otherwise wait until 1:00 p.m. They give people a hard time. One Estonian said she had driven illegally before. Apparently if the US gives Japan information from each state the test will just be on paper but that will not happen.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A foreign doctor friend of mine says he passed the medical license test on the first trial, but failed the driving license test 3 times. I think this can explain a lot.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

With international driving permit where you can get at cheap 800 yen or £5, you can drive for about a year.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

A lot of mixed stories. It might be useful to add a date to the experience. I think rules have changed a number of times. In my case (maybe 1982), I just had to show my UK license, take an eyesight test, and fill out some forms. Unfortunately, my Japanese license has now lapsed. But as BackpackingNepal says, when visiting, I just need an international permit.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Unlucky me..

failed at nara, just start from first step of filling form which is they filled it..

I dont know it’s common or not filling by them, in my image will filled by myself

or just where I come from..really tired with this

they ask many questions including how much I paid to get license in my country, of course I didn’t remember how much because it’s had been long time ago which is 5 years ago, I’m using the word of “daitai and gurai” because I couldn’t remember exactly, but they thought it’s fix price..and they confuse my word about the price, they said too expensive

they ask additional document which out of requirement, due to my license old type from my country, I couldn’t renew it because need back to my country (still on covid and lockdown)..

with that all condition, maybe i already failed from beginning start from the form

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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