Get ready for a ride! Getting your Japanese driver’s license

By Vivien Tsuong

Life sucks without a car, especially if you live in the inaka. If you plan on living in Japan for at least a year and know you must get a Japanese driver’s license, don’t do what I did and wait till the last minute. Getting my Japanese driver’s license was one of the most stressful things for me as a JET. It was July, a busy time for the licensing center. My International Driver’s Permit was expiring in a matter of weeks, and I only had three days of nenkyuu left, which wouldn’t be enough if I failed more than three times (which I did). I had a bike just in case, but July and August were rainy, and last year’s unpleasant memory of riding under pouring rain and loud thunder was not something I wanted to relive again. So take my advice and save yourself the trouble by planning early! Here are the steps that I took to get my license. Hopefully they will be of some help to you. Good luck!

1. License Translation

You must have your current valid driver’s license translated into Japanese by the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF). The most convenient way to do this is by mail. Believe me; for those who don’t live in the city or anywhere near it, this is the best way to save yourself a lot of time!

— By Mail —

Items you will need:

  • Application form for the translation
  • A photocopy of your driver’s license (front and back, preferably in color)
  • ¥3,000 (issuance fee)
  • ¥380 (return postage)
  • A photocopy of your passport (not necessary, but just in case)
  • A photocopy of your gaijin card (front and back, preferably in color) **

** You don’t really need a photocopy of your passport or gaijin card (unless you are from certain countries such as Korea, Russia, Myanmar, or Thailand). However, I sent them in anyway just in case they needed it. I didn’t have much time since my IDP was expiring soon. Trust me; when it comes to getting your driver’s license in Japan, time is of the essence!**

 

Because you’re going to be sending cash by mail, you’ll need to tell the post office that you want to do “kakitome” (registered mail). The fee for this service should be less than ¥500. You’ll also need a “genkin-kakitome futo” (cash registration envelope), which will cost you ¥20. With that said, gather everything up and send them to:

Japan Automobile Federation (JAF)
〒733-8610
2-9-3 Kogokita Nishi-ku
Hiroshima-shi Hiroshima

This is probably obvious, but your return address should be a Japanese address. The JAF website says it takes about one week to get your translation, but it took three days to get mine.

— Office Visit —

Items you will need:

  • Application form
  • Original driver’s license
  • ¥3,000 (issuance fee)
  • Passport (optional)
  • Gaijin card (optional)

 

 

Take everything with you to the JAF branch office in Hiroshima (map).

Address:

Japan Automobile Federation (JAF)
〒733-8610
2-9-3 Kogokita Nishi-ku
Hiroshima-shi Hiroshima

Telephone: 082-272-9967

Registration Hours: Monday – Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (holidays excluded)

2. Get your photo taken.

You will need two 2.4cm x 3cm photos. You can get this done at a photo center. I got mine done at Saeda (サエダ).

Go in and ask for “Unden Menkyo no Shoumei Shashin Onegaishimasu / 運転免許の証明写真おねがいします.” They will automatically know what this is and develop your photo to the desired size (if they don’t, be sure to let them know it’s 2.4cm x 3cm!). Don’t try to measure and cut your own photos because the license center won’t accept it! And don’t worry if your photo turns out horrible because it won’t go on your Japanese Driver’s License. They just need these photos for documentation purposes.

3. Driver’s License Center (運転免許センタ)

Once you have your license translated by the JAF, take everything with you to the Hiroshima Prefectural Driver’s License Center. If you live far from the city, chances are you will have to take a full day of nenkyuu for this (but talk with your school to see if they can make an exception). You won’t need to make an appointment if you are going there for the first time.

Address:

Hiroshima Driver’s License Center 広島運転免許センタ
Hiroshima-Shi, Saeki-ku
Ishi-uchi, Minami 3-1-1

Telephone: 082-228-0110

Registration Hours: Monday – Friday 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.; 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. (holidays excluded)

Items you will need:

  • Passport
  • Gaijin card (actual card AND a photocopy)
  • Driver’s license
  • Translation of driver’s license
  • International Driver’s Permit
  • 2 photos (2.4cm x 3cm)
  • Money (at least ¥10,000)

How to get to the Driver’s License Center:

The best way to get to the Driver’s License Center would be to go from the SOGO Bus Center in Hiroshima City. Platform 3 will take you directly to the Driver’s License Center. Here is a bus schedule. It costs ¥500 one way. The first bus at the SOGO Bus Center (広島BC) leaves at 7:10 a.m. and the last bus at the Driver’s License Center (免許センタ) leaves at 6:25 p.m. The buses operate on Sundays, but the License Center is closed on the weekends. The time it takes to get to the Driver’s License Center varies (from 30 to 50 minutes) so be sure to plan ahead!

At the Driver’s License Center:

When you arrive, go to the registration counters that deal with foreign licenses (there are two) on the second floor. Most of the people at the licensing center don’t speak English so if you know some Japanese, not only will it help speed up the documentation process, but it might score you some brownie points with the instructors. Not all the employees are friendly, and some will just be plain cold. For my first time there, I was lucky and got a nice guy who spoke decent English. But during my other visits, I encountered employees who I thought were the meanest people in Japan. It does help if you try to make small talk with them. Seeing them crack a smile might actually make you feel less nervous. Sometimes they will ask you questions about your work or background out of curiosity. Just remember to be as polite as possible. It helps if you make a good impression of yourself because these guys will talk to each other about you. So start kissing ass and say lots of “Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu!”

4. The Written Test

After you hand in your documents (they will return it to you after you finish your driving test), you’ll be asked to take a written test. The written test is in English and has 10 true/false common sense questions with pictures. You won’t need to study for it because it’s really easy. The test was so easy that I started to doubt myself after marking down my answers. Some of the questions may get a little confusing, but the pictures should help you.

5. Actual Driving Test

Taking the test costs ¥2,400 each time. You will most likely get to take your driving test as soon as you finish and pass your written test. I got to take my driving test within an hour after passing my written test. I failed. So if you want to pass on the first try, make sure you prepare yourself really well. I have included a map of the most recent course. They are the same each time you take the test.

There are a few helpful websites that I’ve used to help me with the driving test. However, this one in particular has been very helpful and seems to fit the expectations of the Hiroshima Driver’s License Center. You should be able to get a better idea of what to expect if you read through the driving section.

Each proctor may have slightly different expectations of how they want you to drive. The test is ridiculously hard, but there are some people who have been able to pass the test on their first or second try. I failed four times for making careless mistakes and for other reasons I thought were absolutely trivial. Though you can find most of the advice in the link I just provided, here are a few tips I would like to really stress on based on my own experience.

  • Walk the course. Aside from memorizing the course, try to walk the course (8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.). It really helps take away some of the ambiguity when you do the actual driving on the course.
  • Befriend the workers. There is a man who hangs out in the room where you wait to take your driving test. I believe he works as an instructor for the center because he’s always there everyday. Befriend this man, ask him questions, and he will give you some helpful advice. He may play a role in your passing or failing (he observes the driving test from the second floor). You can ignore him if you want, but he does take notice of you.
  • Make tight left turns. When making a left turn, try to stay as close to the left side as possible. They’ll most likely fail you if you don’t do this. This can be kind of difficult because it feels like you’ll hit the curb when you do it.
  • Know your lanes. The course at the center doesn’t look anything like the roads in Japan (which is why you should memorize and walk the course). All the lines separating the roads are white, which makes it difficult to distinguish which lanes are which. There’s a big four-lane road that surrounds the course. The outer three lanes go in one direction while the most inner lane goes in the opposite direction. I failed for driving on this inner lane because I carelessly assumed all four lanes were going in the same direction.
  • Make it obvious. When driving on the course, make sure the proctor can see what you’re doing. Exaggerate your movements and make it extremely obvious that you’re watching out for pedestrians and other cars.
  • Observe other drivers. If you are picked second or third to take the test, you will be asked to sit in the back seat of the car while the first student takes the test. Take advantage of this time and try to observe his/her mistakes so you don’t make the same ones.
  • Pay close attention to the S-Curb/Crank. To some people it may be the hardest part of the course. But it really isn’t that bad if you take it slowly. Just keep in mind not to drive over the curb! If you feel like you hit the curb, even if it’s just a bump, back up and try again. You will fail even if you slightly brush past the curb.

Other Advice:

  • Wear appropriate clothing. No open-toe shoes.
  • Try taking the test if you happen to have a weekday off of work. You’ll hate it when you have to use a nenkyuu for this.
  • Fall and winter are good times to take the test since it isn’t unbearably hot and there’ll be fewer people. Summer’s a busy month and there’ll probably be more foreigners trying to pass the test before their IDP expires.

Failing the Test:

When you fail the test, the proctor will tell you some of the mistakes you made. You might be feeling frustrated at this point after all that ass-kissing, but try to listen carefully and patiently because your attitude makes a difference. You’ll then be asked to go back to the counters on the second floor and make an appointment for your next test. There are only three slots available each morning and afternoon.

Passing the Test:

The proctor might not let you know that you passed right away. He/she may make a few comments about your mistakes, but it’s possible they’ll let you slide. When you pass, they will have you take a vision test. The vision test is very easy because you just need to tell them the color of the lights shown to you and the direction the image is facing (left, right, up, down).

After the vision test, you will take your photo and then pay for your license, which will be ¥2,100. You’ll then be asked to wait again for an hour or so to get your actual driving license. After that, you will kiss your IDP goodbye and will probably be jumping with joy to finally get out of that horrible place. Good riddance!

LINKS

JAF License Translation Information

JAF License Translation Application

Map of JAF branch office in Hiroshima

Hiroshima SOGO Bus Center Schedule

Guide for taking the driving test

2 comments

  • Jean

    Wow! Really detailed, clear, and helpful! I’m less stressed about getting my license now because of this article. Thanks Ms. Tsuong!

  • Matt Jungblut

    This is great advice, but after five years, there are a few changes:
    You must bring your passport so that they can determine that you’ve been a driver in your home country for 3+ months. If you can’t prove it or you renewed your license during a vist home, well….
    You are also now required to bring your Certificate of Residence (jyumin-hyo) – your gaijin card isn’t enough, but bring that.
    Also some of the prices seem to have gone up – the JAF translation is ¥500 more.
    And you currently can only check-in between 8:30 and 9:00 or 1:00 and 1:30. I saw them give a guy who showed up at 1:32 a hard time, but accepted, and a ticked off looking guy who arrived around 10:00 and had to wait until 1:00.
    There’s a decent (not amazing) cafeteria in the fifth floor.