I recently got my full Japanese driving licence. I already had a UK driving licence; so much of the information here will be specific for people who have UK driving licences. For example with a UK licence you don’t have to do a physical driving test, whereas I know that if you have an American driving licence you do.
Also I got my licence in Takamatsu – the procedure will vary in other parts of the country.
Translation of my British driving licence
To start with I needed a translation of my British driving licence. You can get one of these for ¥3000 from your local JAF (Japan automobile federation) office.
The procedure is pretty simple; you turn up – no appointment was necessary, fill in a simple form (name, address, telephone number), and give them your driving licence. They only needed my photocard, they didn’t need the paper counterpart. They then took about 30 minutes to copy the relevant information from the photocard to a standard form on one or two pieces of A4 paper.
After that you should just check the details on the translation form are correct. One thing I noticed is that the licence expiry date they put on the translation form is the photocard expiry date, which is usually very different from the expiry date of your driving licence.
There is more detailed information on the JAF website.
Japan driving licence interview
This is the stage which could vary a lot depending on where you are from. With my UK driving licence I was only required to be interviewed – I didn’t need to take a driving test.
I had to get the appointment booked in advance at the Kagawa driving licence centre which is a 25 minute walk North of Kozai station (one stop to the West of Takamatsu main station).
The interview was going to be in Japanese so I took a friend along to translate for me. Once at the driving licence centre I was seen by a lady who spent over an hour asking me many question about how I learnt to drive and my driving experience. Here is a selection of questions that my friend and I were asked at both of our interviews.
- How did you apply for your provisional licence?
- Where did you apply for your provisional licence?
- How much did it cost?
- When did you apply?
- Did you need to do a test to get the provisional licence?
- Did you need an eye test?
- Did you have to see a doctor to get the provisional licence? (They seemed very suspicious about the fact that we can just get a provisional licence with no kind of testing!)
- How did you learn to drive?
- Who taught you?
- Were they qualified instructors?
- How many lessons did you do? How long were the lessons?
- What cars did you drive?
- Did you learn on a manual or automatic?
- Have you driven an automatic? (in Japan they mainly seem to drive automatics)
- What side of the road did you drive on?
- What manouvers did you learn?
- How did you learn the rules of the road? (theory)
- Was there a test?
- How many questions?
- What was the pass mark? What did you score?
- When did you do your driving test?
- When / how did you apply for your driving test?
- Who tested you?
- What car did you drive for the test?
- What did you do on the test?
- How long was the test?
- Did you pass? (if not expect similar questioning on your other test attempts)
- Have you ever been caught speeding?
- Have you driven in Japan?
I’d left my paper counter part back in the UK, and she did ask about it, but she seemed to accept that the photocard was sufficient. To be safe it is probably best if you bring your paper counterpart along with you as well, in case they insist on it.
And even more questions which I don’t remember! But hopefully this gives you an idea of the style. Once it was finished I was told that they’d phone within a week to tell me if I’d passed. If so I’d have to go back to the driving licence centre for an eye test and to pay. There was no charge to be interviewed.
Getting my Japanese driving licence
A week later I was told that I passed the interview so I was asked to go back to the centre the next week before 2pm.
After I got there and checked in at reception a man collected me. I had to verify my details on another form. And I had to choose two 4 digit pin codes (both could be the same). I’m guessing you might need them one day to prove you are the licence holder so note them down. He also checked my foreigner registration card and UK driving licence. And he took my UK driving licence translation (I didn’t get to keep it).
Then I given two A4 forms and had to go to a counter to buy revenue stamps for them at a cost of ¥5000. The lady behind the counter put the correct stamps on the correct forms. I also had to put my name and address on both of these pieces of paper.
Next I had to get photos from a photo booth. It printed out a sheet with two large photos and two small photos.
The man found me and we went back into the office. He put one of the small photos on a form, and the other three photos were mine to keep.
Then he took me upstairs for the quickest eye test I’ve ever done. In a small room was an eye testing machine and an operator. There were two types of test. The first was a Landolt C test where you are shown circles with a bit missing. I had to look through a window in the machine at a grid of these circles which were different sizes. The operator would light up one of the circles and I had to say whether the missing bit is on the top, left, bottom, or right. He let me say the answers in English. There were about 5 or 6 of these circles that he lit up. Some are quite small.
The next test was a colour blindness test. Using the same machine he would light up two colours. I had to say what the colours were. E.g. red and green. Orange and red. Again he let me give the answers in English.
The whole sequence of boths test can only have taken about 30 seconds. I got what I believe is a very good score!
The the man who had been acomponying me took me to another counter where I had to hand in the form which my mini-photo on it. He then left me while they processed the form.
About 10 minutes later they gave me a print out which I had to check. The Katakana version of my name was spelt wrong so they had to make a correction (I think the man’s handwriting hadn’t been very clear).
With the corrected form I then had to go to another area where another man took a photo of me using a fixed digital camera.
After this it was back downstairs to the waiting area.
Another 5 minutes later the man who had been making sure I went to the right places came out with my licence. I just had to sign for it and then I could leave with my brand new laminated Japanese driving licence.
Total time taken – about 3 hours (45mins for translation, 1.25 hours for interview, 1 hour for photos, eye test and getting licence).
Total cost – ¥8000 (¥3000 for translation and ¥5000 for licence application).
Changing the address on your Japanese driving licence
If you move then you have to get the address on your driving licence changed. You have to do this within two weeks. In order to change your driving licence address you will first have to change the address on your alien registration card at your local government office.
Then you will need to go to the driving licence centre at a main police station to change the driving licence address. You may also be able to change the address at a standalone driving license centre (but I’m not certain about this).
You need to go to a proper police station – they can’t change the address at the police koban boxes that you see all over the country. At my local police station there was a separate entrance for the driving licence centre. It was open during office hours 9:30-12:00 and 13:00-16:00. You have to fill in a simple form and show your alien registration card.
Then they print your new address on the back of your driving licence in the box above (the photo was taken before I changed my address) and your licence is now up to date again.