The time has come, my driving friends, to get your Japanese driver’s license. As with so many things about life in Japan, it’s always better to be prepared in advance and begin the process as early as possible.
You may currently be driving on an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). However, an IDP is ONLY valid for one year from the time you apply. Be aware that once you obtain your Japanese driver’s license, your IDP will become void in the country.
If you are to remain in Japan and still wish to drive, you must get a Japanese driver’s license. Even if everything runs smoothly, be prepared for the entire process to take at least a month to complete. A former Matsue JET, Chelsea Brunner, documented her experiences here – it is recommended reading to know what to expect from start to finish.
Where can I get my Japanese license?
In Shimane, you can undertake the license conversion at two places:
1. Shimane Prefecture Driver’s License Center・島根県運転免許センター (Matsue)
Address: 250-1 Uchide-cho, Matsue-shi, 〒690-0131（島根県松江市打出町250-1）
- Take the Unten Menkyo Sentā (kenmin kaikan keiyu) Ichibata bus from JR Matsue Station (JR松江駅）. In Japanese, the bus is called 運転免許センター（県民会館経由）.
- Take the Ichibata Railways （一畑電気鉄道） train from Matsue Shinji-ko Onsen Station (松江しんじ湖温泉駅). Disembark at Asahigaoka Station （旭ヶ丘駅） and walk ten minutes.
- Drive along Route 431 from Matsue toward Hirata for 15 minutes. The Center is on the right, opposite Lake Shinji.
2. Shimane Prefecture Western Region Driver’s License Center・島根県西部運転免許センター (Hamada)
Address: 2385-3 Takezako-cho, Hamada-shi, 〒697-0015（島根県浜田市竹迫町2385-3）
- Take the Seibu unten menkyo sentā keiyu kenritsu daigaku （西部運転免許センター経由県立大学） Iwami Kōtsu bus from Hamada Station.
- Drive along Route 208 toward the University of Shimane from Hamada Station. You’ll see it on your left.
You may go to either branch, depending on what is most convenient for you. You, or someone on your behalf, must make a booking prior to attending the center via phone.
In order to convert your license, you MUST meet the following requirements:
- You have a valid driver’s license from your home country.
- You have held a valid driver’s license for at least 3 months in your home country before coming to Japan.
- License from your home country (original and a copy).
- Your IDP (if you have one).
- Your passport (original).
- Your residence card (在留カード zairyu caado) (original and one copy)
- A Certificate of Residence (住民票 juuminhyou) issued from City Hall (or from any combini if you have a My Number card)
- An official Japanese translation (日本語による翻訳文 nihongo ni yoru honyakubun) of your foreign license from JAF, your consulate in Japan, or the issuing organization of your license.
- A passport-style photograph taken within the last 6 months (hat-less, facing front, approx. 3×2.4 cm). You can have the photo taken at the license center for a fee.
- Money for the license.
- License application form (available at the License Centers)
- Proof that you stayed in your home country three months after obtaining the license. Your passport is usually sufficient.
- Any previous Japanese driver’s license you held, where relevant.
What if my license doesn’t note the date of issue?
Some countries or states don’t print the date of issue on driver’s licenses. In that case, you will also need to provide written proof, in the form of a notarized letter or official driving record, of the date your license was issued. Contact the appropriate authorities in your country, province or state to request the necessary documents.
To obtain a Japanese Driver’s License you must complete the following steps:
- Translate your foreign driver’s license.
- Register an appointment at your nearest Driver’s License Center.
- Take the aptitude test / interview.
- Take the written test.
- Take the driving test.
If you are from any of the following exempt countries, the requirement for the written test and the driving test (steps 4 and 5 above) is waived:
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Additionally, those possessing licenses from the states of Maryland and Washington in the United States of America are also exempt.
Translating Your Current License
In order to get a Japanese license, you must get an official translation of your home country’s license from either the Japanese embassy of your country or from the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF).
Japan Automobile Federation – Shimane Branch
Japanese: 日本自動車連盟島根支部 (Nihon jidōsha renmei Shimane shibu)
Address: 1092-1 Higashitsuda-chō, Matsue-shi 島根県松江市東津田町1092-1
Hours: Monday to Friday (9am – 5:30pm)
The JAF Shimane Office is located about 2km southeast of the JR Matsue station, along Route 9. You can drop in and request your translation (same price, it will be mailed to you), or you can send your translation request by mail.
To get your translation by mail:
- Download and print out the PDF form from JAF’s website (or from the link below).
- Make photocopies of your foreign license, both front and back.
- If your license is from a country that doesn’t use a Roman alphabet (Arabic speaking countries, Korea, Russia, etc.), also make photocopies of your Alien Registration Card, front and back.
- Prepare exactly ¥3,500 in cash
- ¥3,000 translation fee and
- ¥500 shipping fee, (as of March 2018)
- Take the form, the copies, and the cash to the post office and send them all by registered cash mail (現金書留 genkin kakitome) to:
English: JAF Shimane 1092-1 Higashitsuda-chō, Matsue-shi, Shimane-ken 690-0011
The translation will take about one week and will be sent to the address you write on the form.
You can download the form here: License English Translation Application 2018
Your Appointment(s) at the Driver’s License Center
Before your foreign license can be converted into a Japanese one, the Driver’s License Center must confirm that you really have a license and that the license you are showing them is not a fake. Working under the assumption that it is, you will need to convince the Center that it is a legitimate license. So, on your first visit to the License Center you, will be interviewed anywhere from 1-2 hours, or possibly more. The interviewers will go back and forth in their questioning, sometimes asking questions you have already answered. Don’t get angry; it is a common interrogation method designed to trip people who are not telling the truth. Everyone must do the interview.
Some Interview Tips:
- Print out the rules for getting a license in your home country or province/state. That way, when you’re asked about getting a license back home, you’ll have the answers.
- If you have any paper saying you passed a driving course/school, bring it to the interview. Have your family send it to you if it is in your home country.
- Don’t make up answers. If you get caught not telling the truth, then getting your license will turn into a massive headache that will last for several months. If you don’t know or have forgotten, say so.
- The husband of one of the Japanese PAs, who is Colombian, was asked what colour his first car was, so be prepared for questions you don’t believe are relevant or feel unnecessary.
- If the laws have changed for your district since you got your license you may have to do some extra explaining as the office may only have a copy of/be familiar with the new laws.
- It is recommended that you take an interpreter with you to the interview unless you can talk about driving and how you obtained your license in Japanese. The Shimane International Center (SIC) has community volunteer interpreters that you can request! For more information click here. To download an application form, click here.
The Eye Test
Following your interview, there will be an eye test. The Japanese-style eye test has a circle with a section missing. You are supposed to say from which direction of the circle there is a missing part (up, down, left, right – but in Japanese). This test lasts a couple of minutes. Note that for historical reasons, when talking about the colour green for driving, it is 青い (aoi) and not 緑 (midori). Everyone must take the eye test.
The Written Test
In Shimane, the written test is fairly simple and can also be provided to you in English. One part of the test requires you to answer some simple questions, while another part asks you to examine some illustrations and answer questions about it. Exempt countries do not need to take the written test.
The test in Hamada is 10 questions, 7 of which must be answered correctly to pass.
The Driving Test
You may be required to wait up to one week before you can take the driving test following a successful interview. Exempt countries need not take the driving test.
Here are some general tips:
- The rules say that you may walk around the course prior to driving it. Do so.
- Drive slowly. In general, you can drive as slowly as you want.
- In the sections that are narrow with turns, go as slowly as you need to navigate them successfully. Also, if you can’t make the turn without falling off the edge, you may stop, back up, and try again. If you fall off the edge, it is an automatic failure.
- Be sure to stop BEFORE the white line so you can see it from the driver’s seat.
- When making turns or changing lanes, exaggerate your movements or talk to yourself – anything to make it obvious to the proctor that you are checking your lanes. You have to show that you are looking out for imaginary children on bikes and so on.
- Signal for six seconds before turning.
- When making a turn, move to the side of the lane that you will be turning toward (i.e. move to the right side of the lane before turning right, and to the left side of the lane before turning left).
- Your course may have a spot with a wall that blocks your view at a T-intersection. You must honk your horn as a warning to those you can’t see prior to making your turn.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the test. In fact, it may help since it will show you are serious about passing.
- Dress professionally and speak as much Japanese as possible, even if it’s only yoroshiku onegaishimasu. Be very respectful.
- The test will be in Japanese, so know your directional vocabulary: left, right, stop, turn here, etc.
- Your test begins as soon as you get into the car. Make sure you fasten your seat belt, and when heading onto the course, put your blinker on and look before pulling out.
- Constantly check your side and rear-view mirrors.
- Once you are on the course, make sure you drive in the left-hand lane and while you are driving, stay close to the right side of the left-hand lane.
- Usually, there will be a blind corner on the course with a blue sign that has two white ‘lightening bolts’ on it. This means you must stop at the stop sign, honk your horn TWICE, then slowly inch forward checking both ways to make sure there are no oncoming cars.
- There are two parts of the course that many JETs have a hard time with: the s-turn (a small part of the course with tight you have to complete) and the crank turn (also a small part of the course where you have to turn twice at two 90° angle turns; it seems you can reverse up to 3 times before failing).
- There are poles that line the course. If you hit any of them, you will automatically fail the test, so be careful!
- If you fail the first time, don’t panic. You will be able to retake the test up to two more times before a period of forced waiting.
Please note that even if your contract requires you to drive to/from work or your car is provided by your contracting organization, you may be requested by your supervisor to take 年休 (nenkyu = annual leave) or 代休 (daikyu = time off in-lieu) for all the time required to get your license, including travel time.
Also, if you have any sort of probationary license in your home country, you may be required to use the Japanese equivalent (若葉マーク wakaba-maaku) for one year, even if you have held your home country’s probationary license for longer than one year.
If you have any questions, comments, corrections, or personal experiences you’d like to share, please contact the PAs. We welcome any suggestions or knowledge.
(We express thanks to the 2011 Shimane PAs, who developed the document on which this post is based)