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
- 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!)
- 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!