Photo: PR Times
national

People in some parts of Japan now legally allowed to smile for their driver’s license photos

46 Comments
By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

Getting a driver’s license is no easy feat in Japan, so if you’ve finally passed all the tests by listening for phantom trains and answering questions about motorcycles and towing 2,000-kilogram loads, odds are you’re going to be overjoyed. So it’s nice that Japan now legally allows you to smile for your driver’s license photo, at least in some parts of the country.

In Japan, the issuing of driver’s licenses falls under the jurisdiction of the police department. Last fall, the National Police Agency asked local departments to review their driver’s license photo regulations and ease unnecessary restrictions. Osaka quickly decided to drop its prohibition against smiling for your photo, and Tokyo came to the same decision shortly thereafter.

Ostensibly, the no-smiling rule had been put in place so that the license photo would present the bearer’s facial expression in a natural, undistorted way. As a result, while Tokyo and Osaka drivers can now smile for the camera, they can’t smile too big. The corners of your mouth can curve up, but you have to keep your lips closed, and your eyes must remain wide open as well.

Still, a little levity is now allowed, and as a reminder, Japan’s Photo-Me brand of photo booths, which offer driver’s license-size photos that can be used in applications and renewals, are spreading the word with a tongue-in-cheek, smile-on-face awareness campaign starring two well-known but dour faces from Japanese history.

Screen-Shot-2022-06-20-at-8.12.54.png

First up is Sakamoto Ryoma, 19th century samurai and progressive political thinker. Ryoma’s famous portrait shows him with his gaze fixed far in the distance, perhaps imagining a Japan no longer ruled by the shogunate’s feudal form of government, and Photo-Me’s booths will feature a reimagining where the guy is cracking a smile.

Screen-Shot-2022-06-20-at-8.13.31.png

Also part of the campaign is Oda Nobunaga, one of Japan’s three great unifying samurai lords of the Sengoku period.

▼ Incidentally, Nobunaga and Ryoma have both had their samurai swords used as inspirations for luxury katana-style scissors.

Screen-Shot-2022-06-20-at-8.14.20.png

Tokyo is also now allowing the use of colored contact lenses in driver’s license photos, although only with colors “close to the bearer’s natural color,” meaning that most of the country’s population is limited to various shades of brown. Some areas are also allowing the use of colored backgrounds, in cheery hues such as pink or yellow, so long as your clothes are of a different color and don’t blend into it. Exact regulations vary by location, though, so make sure to double check with your local testing center, just in case they ask you to stick to smiling on the inside for your photo.

*Sources: PR Times, *Yomiuri Shimbun

Images: PR Times

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Japanese government proposes driver’s license change to make them easier for foreigners to read

-- Segways soon to be permitted on public roads and new rules in the works for electric scooters

-- Katana of four of Japan’s greatest samurai turned into gorgeous scissors

© SoraNews24

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

46 Comments
Login to comment

This story makes me smile. I hope in doing that I’m not breaking a law?

15 ( +21 / -6 )

Getting a driver’s license is no easy feat in Japan, so if you’ve finally passed all the tests

meaning if you’ve paid enough money……..regardless of actual driving skills.

 the no-smiling rule had been put in place so that the license photo would present the bearer’s facial expression in a natural, undistorted way.

yes, because no one can smile naturally?

As a result, while Tokyo and Osaka drivers can now smile for the camera, they can’t smile too big

are they going to have smile level charts? Is this going to be like color groups used to separate countries?

A blue smile is the least fun looking smile while a purple smile has too much curvature?

who is coming up with this crap?

1 ( +11 / -10 )

I’m sure they will release a set of licence smile rules.

Number of teeth exposed, must not emotionally reach the eyes. No cheek dimples, unless a Doctors can vouch for you inability to do that. And the completion of a one week smile course. It will be pretty simple process of implementation.

11 ( +20 / -9 )

I find it funny we make a big deal about Japan's rules.

Try getting a Canadian passport or worse a Canadian citizenship card for a new born ( this is necessary to get a passport when living outside Canada).

If you think the Japanese are strict you haven't done it.

I got my Japanese driver's licence never had an issue, my children's Japanese passports no issues.

Canadian citizenship card refused 3 times because the 2 month old child wasn't looking straight enough at the camera, my passport, to paper wasn't the "approved" type. And on and on.

Sorry folks far to many here forget our countries have plenty of strange rules and Japan isn't anywhere near worse.

None of my Japanese friends need travel " permission" to go to another country on vacation with their children without their spouse.

Try that in Canada, UK, etc ...

We seem to just go on and on about Japan our countries aren't much better.

15 ( +21 / -6 )

That's great, but I alway try to sneak in a smile in my Japanese legal photos. Nothing wrong with that.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I’m sure they will release a set of licence smile rules.

Number of teeth exposed, must not emotionally reach the eyes. No cheek dimples, unless a Doctors can vouch for you inability to do that. And the completion of a one week smile course. It will be pretty simple process of implementation.

Now that's something to laugh (and smile) at.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

Lol, I never knew it was Illegal, but I didn't either.

Ridiculous

2 ( +6 / -4 )

I'd be smiling too, if I were born in Showa 38 but still looked that young!

6 ( +10 / -4 )

I’ve always smiled on my driving licence and residence card photos. I don’t want to carry around and use ID cards of myself looking like a miserable wreck.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Of course you can smile!! Too many lame rules! Why deny someone to show Aloha and make the world a better place! Only in Japan!!

-14 ( +3 / -17 )

People in some parts of Japan now legally allowed to smile for their driver’s license photos

Anybody here ever see the move "A Million Ways to Die in the West?"

That's what this reminds me of.

-12 ( +0 / -12 )

Can’t believe it makes the headlines even!! The lack of expression in Japan isn’t healthy!! I feel sorry for my children!

-7 ( +4 / -11 )

I don't know why then no-smile thing is weird....in the UK you can't smile on official ID photos....driving licence, passport etc.

Not just a Japan thing

14 ( +16 / -2 )

One amazing progress is that most public test programmes I applied for accepted ID photo images taken by me with a mobile phone (not sure if they would also accept smiling ones :)) . It used to be "official" taken at automatic photo booths or by professional photographers. That was expensive.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Just checked my photo. I was very hungover and was smiling. My eyes were definitely not wide open, 8:40am on Monday morning…Also my hairstyle has dramatically changed.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Yes! Because according to old Japanese law, the way to spot a criminal is through a frowning face!

-10 ( +0 / -10 )

This isn't the only rule for drivers licenses, see here as an example for rules set for by Kanagawa:

https://www.police.pref.kanagawa.jp/mes/mes83068.htm

Tell me, are those other rules ridiculous as well?

People who call this "ridiculous" or "only in Japan" have no idea what they're talking about - but that's to be expected, looking at where the posts originate from. Bashing Japan is always easier than just appreciating something, isn't it? Let's all keep in mind that this is a photo for an official document which can and will be used for personal identification. If you want to contort your face beyond recognition, go to a purikura for god's sake.

In Germany and other places of the world, rules for government-issued documents are even stricter to ensure biometric recognition. Recognition technology seems to have advanced and the government is essentially going out of its way to enable people to diversify their driver's licenses, but yet all I see is whining of why it wasn't possible in the first place. It's this sense of entitlement that makes me understand why some Japanese citizens harbor anti-foreigner sentiments.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

We seem to just go on and on about Japan our countries aren't much better.

Anyone who's ever dealt with anything government-run in the US is traumatized for life.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

This is like a story from the Rising Wasabi. Unfortunately, most people in Japan have nothing to smile about these days. Everything is steadily getting worse by the day. But don't worry, the Living Dead Party will win the Upper House elections by a landslide!

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

They told me I couldn't smile, but I argued it was a smirk - hard to discern with me, so they accepted it.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

But are we allowed to tattoo a smile?

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Maybe this lady is smiling because she finally got thru all that rigmarole, and she can't wait to get the funk outta there.

Recently I had a reason to smile for my license renewal. Under a new law in my state, I was able to get mine renewed for eight years instead of the previous four. Of course I paid more but I don't have to go thru that crap again until this decade nears its end. And I'm happy about that!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

haha, this is good. I have always looked so bad on all of my driver license iterations so far.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Getting a driver’s license is no easy feat?? Walk to JAF, get a translation of your license, walk to driving license center and you get your japanese license with only an eyesight test. I would call that very easy. (Note: if you have American or Indian license, this does not apply to you)

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I've never understood why you couldn't smile for your passport photo, driver's licence, ID card etc. Like, do they think that smiling will drastically change your looks? All of my pictures on my official documents look like mug shots and it's not pretty.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I've never understood why you couldn't smile for your passport photo, driver's licence, ID card etc.

Because facial recognition software works (or used to work) most reliably with a neutral expression. As stated in my above posts, these documents are there for you to identify yourself to the government and other institutions if the need arises. Not to look pretty.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I look like a criminal in my photo so this is a relief

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This article makes me smile.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The lady in that licence photo looks remarkably young for someone born in Showa 38. Wonder what her secret is. The smile?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Most Japanese will wear a mask for their photo. May as well, at this dismal point. Time to unmask, Japan.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

This news is really strange..

When I renewed my Japanese driving license in 2019, my photo was take just after the eyesight test at the driving license center and I didn't use a photo boot. I was smiling on the photo because the guy controlling the machine didn't say when he take the photo...

Is the driving license rule decided by prefecture and not on a national level ? Strange for a very centralized country.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Of course you can smile!! Only in Japan!!"

You can NOT do that in the UK either.

Of course, typing any rubbish simply to denigrate Japan is far more profitable than learning how other "more advanced" countries conduct their affairs!

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Smile! You’re on ‘Candid Camera’

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Oh Mercy Me.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Great idea! Waratte!)))

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Reason why they don't prefer you to smile on any sort of identification is because your expression on the face can also change due to the smile. It's harder for AI systems to work properly back in the days when it comes to identifying a person. But as technology improve, there are now more options available.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Wow, now that makes me smile.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A welcome return for the yaeba

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Good move.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Allowed to smile for the photo…but only if you keep your mask on.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Not being able to smile in a photo due to wanting to look neutral and like in the picture is as silly as not able to change your hairstyle and length from that in your photo.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

So, getting back to the topic of smiling in biometric passport photos – it’s actually one of the most commonly made mistakes that cause rejections or delays in the passport application process. It is understandable, because it wasn’t such a long time ago that we were allowed to have a friendly facial expression in passport photos (as we’ve mentioned before, the U.S. still allows smiling in passport pics). But now there are strictly executed requirements for official documents.

While the United States is a bit more lenient on the smiling matter, other requirements are the same as those for most other countries: applicants cannot tighten their mouth, frown, or crinkle. Making silly faces is also forbidden for obvious reasons. In most countries’ passport pics, the photographed person is obliged to maintain a neutral expression, look straight at the camera with their facial muscles relaxed, their mouth closed, and keep their eyes open directed straight at the camera lens.

Another thing that must be avoided in passport photos are digital alterations that cause many passport applications to be rejected. The photo in the passport must be readable for the facial recognition software and let the computer recognize faces with neutral expressions faster and easier. That is why you should not smile while capturing your passport photo or during identity control.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

juminRheeToday  05:00 am JST Not being able to smile in a photo due to wanting to look neutral and like in the picture is as silly as not able to change your hairstyle and length from that in your photo.

The reason for wanting a neutral expression is that it makes it easier for facial recognition software to accurately identify you.

Not all smiles are created equal, and one country’s understanding of a ‘natural smile’ may differ from the next. While most of the world’s passports call for a neutral facial expression with some allowing a slight smile without showing teeth, some countries’ governments are even stricter than others. For example, France has actually officially ruled out any smiling in their passport photos, and this even includes having the corners of your mouth turned up in a neutral expression. The ruling was upheld in December 2014 and as of then, absolutely no smiling (or anything resembling a smile) is allowed in French passport or ID photos.

For countries like the U.K., Australia, and Canada, a neutral, or even serious expression is required as they use a different type of face recognition software in which the identification of one’s facial features may be difficult if a smile is involved.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Toolonggone:

So me smiling throws off facial recognition software, but me sporting a shoulder length hairstyle when previously I had a BTS-Jin hairstyle won't?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

juminRheeToday  05:55 pm JST

Toolonggone:

So me smiling throws off facial recognition software, but me sporting a shoulder length hairstyle when previously I had a BTS-Jin hairstyle won't?

I think the answer is in facial recognition software, not hair recognition software.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Silly.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites