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The Japanese Drivers License for the Rest of Us

Jessie Zanutig 10 February 2011 4 Comments

For Americans, getting a Japanese drivers license can be an absolute nightmare with often an entire spring-break devoted to mastering the driving course. For the rest of us, one simple afternoon at the driving office is all it takes to hit the roads again!

If you are currently driving in Japan with your International Drivers License and are from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, or anywhere else that does not require a driving test, this guide is for you.  Your International Drivers Permit will expire one year after the issue date, and if you intend to continue driving, you will need to attain a Japanese Drivers License. Thankfully for you it is a piece of cake! This is a wonderful opportunity to be very very thankful you are not from America.

First on the agenda is getting your drivers license translated by JAF (Japan Automobile Federation). Go to their website and print the appropriate papers. You will need to include a colour photocopy of your current drivers license (front and back). Note that your current license must have been issued three months prior to when you entered Japan. If it is dated less than three months, you must provide a copy of your previous license. The translation will cost 3000円 plus 380円 postage fee. Make a trip to your local post office and send the documents and fee with a special envelope. Ask for “genkin kakitome”(現金書留). They say your translated license will arrive in a few weeks time, but I received mine back in two or three days.

Once you have your translated license you can make a trip to the Maebashi Traffic Center (群馬県総合交通センター ). Spring break is an easy time to take a day of nenkyu (or special leave if your BoE is friendly!).  Often if you are required to have a car for transportation to and from work, your BoE will grant you the time to change your license.

Before you leave for Maebashi be sure you have all your paperwork in order. You will need to bring:

  • International Drivers Permit
  • Valid Drivers License
  • Passport
  • Alien Registration Card
  • JAF License translation
  • 3 x 2.4cm passport photos (these are not for your license so don’t bother with your hair!)
  • 2,400円

Photocopies of:

  • 1 A4 of your drivers license (front & back on the same page)
  • 1 A4 of your international drivers permit
  • 1 A4 copy of your Alien Registration Card (front & back on the same page)
  • 1 A5 copy of your Alien Registration Card (front & back on the same page)
  • 1 A4 of your passport photo page & visa page (copy all the pages with stamps as well as you may be asked for them)

The testing center is right off R17 north of the Maebashi IC with signs in English and Japanese. The reception desk is on the second floor. The licensing procedure beings at 1:00pm sharp and if you are not there before 1:00pm you will not be getting a license — so be early! There will be a lot of other people waiting on the far right hand desk, under the foreigners sign. Get in line, and be prepared to wait. Expect to spend the rest of the afternoon in that dismal grey room.

Be prepared to fill out numerous forms. Practice writing your address and information in Kanji. I was told, “No Kanji — No License!” The officers also speak very little English, but a basic knowledge of Japanese and gestures should do you just fine.

I was also asked for the address and contact information of my company, written in Kanji, on a piece of scrap paper that was handed to me. Clearly the officer was trying anything to send me home without a license, and did not need this information at all. Luckily I had a business card that was made for me by my BoE in my wallet, and presenting that seemed satisfactory. Be prepared for anything…

Once all the paperwork is processed you will be led into a small room for a physical check. It is a simple eye exam and a test of your reflexes. Brushing up on basic Japanese words is wise:

  • red – あか
  • blue – あお
  • green – みどり
  • yellow – きいろ
  • up -うえ
  • down – した
  • left – ひだり
  • right – みぎ

They will ask you to do some basic reflex tests that will make you feel silly, and then you are all done! Sit back, relax (for a while) and wait to be called out for your license while your poor American friends anxiously wait for their test results. Damn it feels good to be Canadian!

For Americans, more information is available on the GunmaJET website. Happy Driving!


  • Gavin said:

    I just went through this process yesterday (in Maebashi), so I wanted to give it an update for people reading this in 2018.

    For the most part, the process remains the same as described (excellent guide!).

    – I reserved the appointment a month in advance by calling the traffic center (well, my JTE did), you cannot decide the date of the appointment.

    – If your home country doesn’t issue return stamps on your passport whenever you come back from abroad (i.e Canada), you will need to prove you were living in your home country for at least three months prior to your arrival in Japan. The people at the traffic center accepted bank statements, so I just printed out statements from March through June, 2017 (I arrive in Japan July 2017).

    – I paid two fees – the first being 2,200 yen and the second being 2,050 yen.

    – I also needed to bring a JyuuMinHyou (住民票) which is a certificate of residency. I live in Isesaki, and got mine at the city hall for 300 yen (it took like 30 minutes). The traffic center will need this, and a photocopy it. Be sure to get that before going to the traffic center.

    – Photocopy rules seem to be less strict than as described in the article. I had my photocopied driver’s license on two separate pages and they accepted it (but I would still suggest you photocopy the two sides on the same page). And if you were wondering, black and white photocopies were accepted.

    – A second/separate A5 copy for the Alien Registration Card (or Residential Card) was not required.

    – I did not need a photocopy of my International Permit.

    – As suggested in the article, definitely photocopy all passport pages with stamps.

    – You can take passport photos in a photo booth on the second floor behind the cafeteria, it will cost you 800 yen. You will get three copies of the required size (3 x 2.4 cm) and two larger ones (however, you will only need one picture).

    – As mentioned in the article, the passport photo is NOT for your license. You will, however, take the picture for your Japanese license at the traffic center (so… look good when you go, I guess?)

    – There’s also a photocopy machine (10 yen per page) if you lose or forget to photocopy something.

    – You will need to give up your International Permit in order to receive your Japanese driver’s license.

    – I was there at 1pm and left at 4:15 with my new Japanese driver’s license!

    – My Japanese is very poor, so luckily I had someone with me who spoke Japanese!

  • ben said:

    I live in Sapporo Japan and the people at the driving license center were very helpful. I didn’t even have to write Kanji. They accepted Romanji.

    When you come to renew your license, make sure to go within a week of your licenses expiry date.


    I was two weeks late, but I called them up and they said it wasn’t a problem. I think I might of had to pay a penalty though. The whole process to get my license renewed cost about 6,000 yen. It takes about half a day, so make sure to go first thing in the morning.

  • Rohan said:

    Great guide. I tackled this today and came away with a licence. My thoughts:

    – Know how to write your address in Kanji, your name in Katakana and your Birthdate in Japanese years (especially if you were born before “Heisei” and so can’t just count backwards). These are used on the form you fill out.

    – Check the size of your passport photos. I assumed the photos that I bought from home would be correct, but they were too big. Luckily there is a photo booth on the second floor behind the cafe. 700 yen will get you 4 photos of the right size.

    – Know the history of your foreign licence. For example when it was renewed and how many times etc. I was asked a question about this and forgot at the time.

    – If your licence does not have an ‘issue date’, they may ask for some documentation showing that. I was asked and a couple of other people there were getting quizzed on it too.

    – I paid two fees (for what I have no idea). One for 2400 yen and one for 2100 yen. Have enough cash on you.

    – I was first in line at 1:00pm and got my licence at around 3:50pm.

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