Question Does anyone have any tips or guidance for getting a Japanese driver's license?

Mr. James

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The next step in my move to Japan is getting my Japanese driver's license. I currently have an international driver's license/California driver's license. I read online that I will need to take the written and driving portion of the test. Any guidance for doing those successfully? I would like to hear any feedback about the process, difficulty of questions, attitude of the test instructors and anything else that may help. I've read online that I am supposed to memorize the course (no instructions given from the instructor). If that is true, how am I supposed to do that?
 
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David

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Okinawa.Org Staff
Fortunately for me, I was able to stick it out in the grey zone where you are now driving under an international license until my home state—Washington—was able to convert without taking the written exam or drive. This approach, however, is highly ill advised if you are under a visa other than a tourist visa (i.e. marriage, etc.). They can charge you with driving without a license. However, the U.S. Consulate's website states it has only happened a few times; I am sure that the police only tack this on to egregious offenders to add time to sentencing, etc., such as in a DUI, etc.

I attempted to get my license in the way you are about to in around 2012. The written test is easy and requires almost no studying if you have a basic understanding of international signs, which you would if you've driven anywhere outside of the U.S. for a prolonged period of time. There was one tricky question that I can't exactly recollect on the test but it wasn't because the question itself was hard, it was because it seemed as if there was a translation error. I narrowed it down to two and got a hint on it, passing the test.

The drive is a whole different story. If you have been driving for over a year, you more likely than not have developed bad habits and each one is a point deducted from your drive which will ultimately fail you. An example of this: I was an automatic fail because, unlike others that bumped into curbs, etc., and executed the proper maneuvering, i.e. looking, backing up, etc. that did pass, I drove one-handed the entire time whilst checking mirrors; the thought of 10-2 (or however it's taught) never occurred to me.

They do have books in English that you can get at the testing center which will help with the written and drive. Though, instead of wasting a long trip if you're far from Tomigusuku, it's best to give the Okinawa Prefectural Police Driver's License Center a call prior to seeing what you need. You will most likely need more than what they tell you, so be prepared to keep your nerves cool—it's a long bureaucratic process.

One thing that I heard while I was down there is that even though they state they are closed on Sundays, they still provide practice drives for around 500 yen. If this is still a service they provide, it would be greatly beneficial to reduce the number of times you fail the drive (as one person that I tested with failed his 7th time, with each test progressively costing more).
 

hmorris48

New member
I got my Japanese license about 12 years ago and at that time everything that David said applied.

The written test wasn't a problem - I don't remember the questions but anything tricky.

The driving test is VERY tricky. I passed on my second try while my wife required 3 passes to get her license.
One thing that really helped, was taking a driving school course - about 1 hour at a cost of 5000 Yen.
They had a course setup that mirrors the actual test course and went over the tricky parts of the driving test as you drive the course. I would have never got the tricky parts right without some instruction.
 

David

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Okinawa.Org Staff
I passed on my second try
You're the first I've heard of passing the drive portion with less than 3 attempts.

Though, I'll call in tomorrow to confirm whether they still do the Sunday drives for 500 yen—as well as how long in the driver's seat—because it seems more economical than 5000 yen at a diving school.
 
OP
Mr. James

Mr. James

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So...what is the "course"? In Ohio, it is a short drive on actual streets with some stop lights, left and right turns (and a parallel parking, which everyone feared as the hardest part). No memorization required, just turn left or right or change lanes when the traffic officer tells you.

Is it some track in a closed off area where you need to drive between cones and other things? Why does the internet say I have to "memorize" the course? For example, will I come to a mock four way intersection and somehow have to know to turn left instead of right?

Doing a practice drive for 500 for 5000 yen is sounding like a very good idea.
 
OP
Mr. James

Mr. James

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This Kadena Driving School is about 100 meters from my house.
Is this the "course" I have to memorize?!?!?

1603200382465.png
 

David

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Okinawa.Org Staff
So...what is the "course"?
It's an actual "track" set up in various ways such as a two-lane road going straight that you must accelerate from 0 to 35-40kmph on before coming to a complete stop and making a right hand turn into a tight 1.5 car double L road that you can't bump the curbs on or you need to readjust.

As it's a track and there are many different roads and ways on it, I've heard the course can vary to what the instructor tells you to do, such as go straight to the stoplight, stop, make a left, go around the back end, parallel park, etc. and there's not 1 way that it's executed each test. I'm fairly certain it's the same per group of students, though (i.e., one car will have up to four people in it plus the instructor and you switch out to do the same drive); that's probably on purpose so that they can have 2+ cars concurrently testing students without them ever getting close to each other.

you need to drive between cones and other things
As I recall, there were only cones to parallel park between. Otherwise, it's as described above and as "real world" as it gets without traffic.

Now, this was back in 2012.

I've heard it's since changed to two drives: the course as a pre-test and the actual test similar to what we also did in Washington as you described:
In Ohio, it is a short drive on actual streets with some stop lights, left and right turns (and a parallel parking, which everyone feared as the hardest part). No memorization required, just turn left or right or change lanes when the traffic officer tells you.
Doing a practice drive for 500 for 5000 yen is sounding like a very good idea.
Indeed, especially if you find it difficult to understand Japanese. This is because you'll be able to hear them instruct you to turn left and do so without processing it too long or them repeating it in English later, giving you enough time to do the maneuver correctly instead of, for instance, slamming on the brakes and turning left.
This looks very similar to the drive. I live nearby the testing zone and if I have a couple of minutes, I could get you a balcony view of it. However, if you go to the Okinawa Prefectural Police Driver's License Center listing and flick on the satellite view of the map shown, you can see the actual test from above like this.

(Or satellite view the below map)
 

island cyclist

Well-known member
Founding Member
I got my Japanese license about 12 years ago and at that time everything that David said applied.

The written test wasn't a problem - I don't remember the questions but anything tricky.

The driving test is VERY tricky. I passed on my second try while my wife required 3 passes to get her license.
One thing that really helped, was taking a driving school course - about 1 hour at a cost of 5000 Yen.
They had a course setup that mirrors the actual test course and went over the tricky parts of the driving test as you drive the course. I would have never got the tricky parts right without some instruction.

How much is the license fee, do you recall ?
 
OP
Mr. James

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I can provide a few updates on this saga to transfer my US driver's license to a Japanese drivers license.
I had to wait between when I completed actual process and this post, because I was so frustrated by the process, that my comments would not be useful...they would only be curse words and raging.

The process I just went through is frustrating, arbitrary, and at times even felt capricious. I do not exaggerate lightly. Now, however, I feel calm enough to actually post about the process.
 
OP
Mr. James

Mr. James

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Step 1 - Application to transfer from US license to Japanese license.

I cannot adequately describe the frustration with this step. Apparently, this step is made difficult because of different nationalities lying on applications. Therefore, the staff that processed my application required details which seemed random and unnecessary, but without a doubt were very difficult to provide.

The criteria to exchange licenses involves establishing that I lived in USA for at least 90 days prior to me moving to Japan. For others, this may be easy to show. For me, however, I lived in Singapore for 7 years, so I technically did not live in USA for 90 days. My license was valid and issued by California, but I needed to prove the residency requirement. I ended up meeting the 90 day requirement by including the time back into the US for business trips over the past 7 years staying in hotels. The biggest problem is the US does not stamp our passports as we re-enter the US. So, I had to provide other documentation showing I was actually in USA for 90 days. Hopefully others would have an easier time proving actual time living in the US.

Without going into excruciating details, I had to produce the following documents:
- tax form from the year when I moved back from Singapore to US. The date I moved back to US was actually listed in that form (glad the accountant that did my taxes listed this).
- gas and electric bills to show that I was actually living in the house (i.e. I did not fly in to US and then fly somewhere else). These bills had to show the amounts of gas and electricity usage increasing for the periods that I claimed to be in the US. I spent only a few weeks in the house before moving to Okinawa.
- Hotel invoices showing the dates that I stayed at the hotel. (luckily I saved electronic copies of my expense reports). I needed to go back to 2015 to get enough time for my 90 days.
- Airplane tickets showing my dates of travel (luckily I included the ticket stubs on my expense reports).
- My United frequent flyer account statement showing my dates of travel into and out of the US.
- My current US drivers license, as well as the previous 2 expired licenses!! (I only had the previous expired license, not the one before that).
- Current passport showing dates of travel.
- Expired passports showing dates of travel because I needed to go back some time to get my total of 90 days.
- My International drivers permit.
- Residence card

Overall, it seemed like the requirements for documentation was not official, and the staff seemed to be making up requirements as they went along. I would come into the office with the requested documents, only for them to say something entirely stupid like "We can't take a scanned copy, but a photo would be acceptable". Guess what I did for the next time I came? I took a photo of the scanned document and showed them that (it was accepted).

The process was crazy and nuts, and this was even before I went for the actual driving test.
All I can say to anyone that tries is: good luck, there is no advice I can give you to help with the application; you are at the mercy of the system !!!
 

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