Courtney’s scooter. (Photo by Courtney Coppernoll)
By Courtney Coppernoll
Note: This article refers only to the 50cc scooter licensing process! Larger classes of 2-wheeled vehicles (anything more than 50cc) require a practical driving test and may involve different steps.
Before I explain the process for getting a 50cc scooter license, let me clarify one thing: Your international driving permit is NOT applicable to scooters! Driving a scooter without a Japanese license (or a foreign license valid in Japan) is illegal. So, please keep this in mind if you’re thinking about getting a scooter in Japan.
Part I: Driving Class
Before you’re allowed to take the actual driving test you must complete a two to three hour driving class at a private driving school (Jidousha Gakko). Many schools only offer the 50cc class once a month and you’ll have to make a reservation to attend so make sure you plan ahead! I went to Chuugoku Jidousha Gakko (082-251-8221) in Hiroshima City and took the class from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on a Thursday night. They also offer a free shuttle service to the school from different places around Hiroshima city (such as the main train station), so getting there is pretty easy. No matter where you go, the class will most likely only be offered in Japanese.
What to bring:
- Gaijin Card
- Class fee: ¥4,050 (This may vary between schools, though, so make sure you double check before you go)
- Appropriate clothing for the driving part of the class: pants, long-sleeved shirt and tennis shoes (no heels or sandals). This is very important because if you don’t dress appropriately you won’t be allowed to complete the class!
The class is divided into three basics parts: an introductory lecture about scooters, driving practice and a safety lesson.
1.) The introductory lecture lasts about an hour and includes basic information about driving scooters in Japan, such as the licensing point system, different colored license plates (for different classes of bikes), insurance and making two-step turns. You’ll also probably receive a booklet and CD-ROM with this information to take home.
2.) Once that’s out of the way you’ll have a chance to get some hands-on experience on the school’s driving course. First, the instructor will check that you’re dressed appropriately and then you’ll be fitted with shin and arm guards, a full chest protector, and a helmet. It might seem a little extreme for a 50cc scooter, but they take it pretty seriously, so just have fun pretending you’re a gladiator (on a very small, motorized bicycle…) for the next hour or so. Once you get on the course you’ll practice getting the scooter on and off its kick-stand, turning the engine on and off, braking and accelerating, two-step and regular turns, making figure 8s, starting on an uphill slope, and signaling. Don’t worry if you make mistakes in this section because it’s not a test. As long as you don’t hit anything or crash the scooter you should be fine.
3.) After you finish the driving section you’ll head back to the classroom for a 30-minute safety video and a final “test.” The test is a T/F personality test (in Japanese) to see if you’re “scooter compatible.” Here are a few sample questions:
a. You always want to do things your own way and won’t listen to other people’s advice. T/F?
b. If someone drives past you very quickly, you will become angry. T/F?
c. You like to break rules. T/F?
Basically, don’t worry about this part. As long as you look like you’re giving it your best try the instructor will most likely take pity on you (mine certainly did) and just let you skip it. Then, at the end of the class you’ll receive a Course Completion Certificate. Hold onto this because you’ll need it when you take the actual driving test at the driving center.
Part II: The Written Exam
See Vivien Tsuong’s awesome article about getting your car driver’s license for directions to the Hiroshima Driving Center.
Unlike getting your car license, you only need to take a written exam to get a 50cc scooter license (there’s no practical driving exam). The test is 48 T/F questions and is offered in English. In order to pass you need to answer at least 45 questions correctly. For those of you doing the math, that means you need at least a 93.75 percent. Anything less than that is considered a failing grade and you’ll have to retake the test on another day.
What to bring:
- Course Completion Certificate from your driving school
- Proof of Residence Form (Gaikokujin Touroku Kisaishajikou Shoumeisho) from your city hall or branch office
- Gaijin Card
- One photo (2.4 cm x 3 cm) – This won’t go on your license (you’ll take a separate photo for that if you pass the written exam), so don’t worry about what it looks like.
- Exam fee: ¥1650
- Licensing fee: ¥2100
** Note: You do not need a translation of your home country license. Foreigners taking the 50cc scooter test are viewed the same as a Japanese person with no license. So, you don’t need anything relating to your license from your home country.
Registration for the exam is from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and the test will start at 9:30 a.m. Make sure you plan your arrival time accordingly.
1.) When you arrive at the driving center, go to the second floor and fill out an application form. The forms are at a round table directly to your left when you get to the top of the stairs. There are three different forms on the table; you want the orange one. Fill out your basic information on the front (name, address, etc.) and the short health questionnaire on the back (you can ask an employee for an English translation of the health part).
2.) Pay your exam fee at window 12. Tell them you’re taking the 50cc scooter test (Gojyuu shishi no baiku no shiken wo torimasu). They’ll give you payment stamps that you then stick in the boxes on the back of your orange application form. For hygiene reasons, don’t lick the stamps. Use the “moisture pads” provided on the tables where everyone fills out their applications. Simply wet the back of each stamp and adhere them to the application form.
3.) Take all your application materials to the appropriate registration window. I believe the windows you’ll need are numbers 23 and 24, but double check with an employee. Make sure you tell the person at the window that you want to take the English version of the exam (Eigo no shiken wo toritaindesuga.).
4.) After you turn in all your forms, go to the exam room to wait for the test to start. The person who takes your forms at the window will tell which exam room to go to (1, 2, or 3). All exam rooms are on the second floor, directly across from the registration windows. The exam is assigned seating, so wait until the proctor tells you where to sit. He’ll call out your name and place your application form on the desk where you’ll be sitting, so listen closely because he may have a hard time pronouncing your name.
5.) The proctor will explain the exam procedures in Japanese and everyone will fill in his/her personal information on the Scantron (fill-in-the-bubble) answer sheets. The proctor will have a couple of assistants, so one of them should help you fill in the correct test number, etc. The important things you need to know here are:
a. You’ll have 30 minutes to take the exam. A digital clock on the wall in front of you will count down the minutes you have left.
b. When you get the test you must leave it face down until the proctor tells you to start.
c. If you finish the test before time is up you still need to wait the full 30 minutes before you can leave. Once time is up your group’s exams will be collected and you’ll all leave together.
d. Everyone is assigned a three-digit “test taker” number. Remember this number because it’s how you’ll get your results!
6.) After the test, everyone will go to the waiting area in front of the exam room to wait for results, which should only take about 10 minutes. Results will go up on the large TV screens at the front of the waiting room. If you passed, your three-digit number will pop up on the screen when they display the results.
7.) Those who passed the exam will be shuffled into another room for colorblindness and vision tests. For the colorblindness test you’ll be shown a stick with blue, red, and yellow (ao, aka, kiiro) sections on it and you just need to tell the proctor which colors you see. For the vision test you’ll be shown rows of a character that looks like the letter “C” and you need to tell the proctor which direction each “C” is facing. I forgot the Japanese words for up, down, left, and right (ue, shita, hidari, migi) at this point so if you just make a “C” with your hand to show the correct directions you’ll be fine.
8.) Once you pass these quick tests you’ll go back to window 12 to pay the licensing fee and then head to the photo room (to the left of the windows where you first turned in your application) to have your license picture taken.
9.) Finally, you have another short lecture on safety while everyone’s license is being made. Once they’re ready the proctor will bring them to the lecture room, pass them out, and then you’re free to go. Congratulations!
- Know your birth year based on the Japanese dating system (i.e. 1986 = Showa 61). They’ll want it in this format for any forms you fill out at the driving center. You can choose your birth year from a drop down menu at this site and it will give you the Japanese year: http://www.allcalendars.net/JapaneseYearConverter.php
- Get a copy of the “Rules of the Road” to study for the written exam and know it well! There are only about five pages on motorcycles, but you’ll be asked about the same laws, street signs/pavement markings, and safety procedures that apply to cars. You can purchase copies in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, or Korean for ¥1,000 from the Japan Automobile Federation: http://www.jaf.or.jp/e/road.htm
- The English translations for some of the questions on the written exam might be less than perfect. For the most part it should be fine, but sometimes the ways things are worded can be confusing, like these questions from my exam (keep in mind that they’re all T/F questions):
1. When you were approaching a streetcar at a tram stop with no safety zone you proceeded slowly because there were no passengers getting on and off the streetcar and there was at least 1.5 meters between your vehicle and the streetcar.
2. When you see this sign [picture of “sound your horn” sign] you must sound your horn day and night.
3. Don’t be self-centered. Use give-and-take with other drivers and be considerate.
When you come across a question that confuses you, I’d recommend skipping it and coming back to it at the end so you can take your time thinking about what the people at the driving center want to hear. For example, even though the third question isn’t actually a question, the driving center obviously doesn’t want you to be self-centered when you drive so the answer is “True.”
The Japan Biker FAQ
Sample Questions (forum posts)
As long as you study for the test you shouldn’t have any problems passing the first time around. So, relax and good luck!
Interested in getting your Japanese driver’s license while you’re living in Japan? See Vivien Tsuong’s super helpful guide!