Getting a Japanese Driver’s License: Part 1

March 10th, 2010 in Daily

I’m not going to beat a dead horse here. This is not a new issue, and is widely discussed on many blogs and forums of other foreigners who have undergone the same process. Instead, I am simply going to document my process of obtaining a license here in Kagoshima Prefecture. Maybe the resulting anecdotes and information will be useful to others in the future… or maybe it will be good for a laugh. Time will tell.

As an American who living in Japan beyond the one year validity of my International Driver’s Permit, I must go through the process of obtaining a Japanese Driver’s License. Being from the US, our license conveniently does not transfer, meaning we have to take the practical driving test. This test is significantly more challenging than the US one, in which parallel parking is the major hurdle. “The Crank” and “The S-Curve” are two examples of the ridiculous ways they make you “drive” a decommissioned taxi through their playground. To complicate things further, I drive a manual transmission here, which has its own set of observational quirks to be aware of (clutch usage, “correct” gear, downshifting, etc.). The automatic (AT) license does not qualify you to drive a MT car, but the MT license is valid for both.

So, my permit expires on July 26th. My goal is to have my license, or at least have failed trying in April, and wash my hands of this process by May. Currently all of the newly graduated 3rd year high school students are swarming the test and practice centers and I was advised to wait until next month. So I conducted a short reconnaissance mission at the Kagoshima Prefecture test facility in Aira-gun, nearly a two hour drive from my house. My first trip there yielded the following two course maps, which were indicated to me as being specifically for those converting their foreign license (click for a larger view):

Course 1:

Course 2:

Both courses have the same start and finish point, with the game of snake happening in between changing only slightly. The red section appears to be about steady, daily driving, and the blue section covers the technical driving challenges.

Since I arrived at the test center late no one was on the practice course, so I walked the routes on the map above. The “crank” and s-curve both have well worn tire paths from everyone practicing and taking the test, so I was able to get a sense of how they tackled them. All in all it really does not look that difficult in person, but I’m sure my perspective will change a bit once I’m actually able to practice this thing in the actual car used for the test.

According to their signage, practice is permitted on Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M., with an hour for lunch between 12 and 1. Registration to practice the course starts at 8 and ends at 3. You have to be accompanied by a licensed driver of 3 years or more to drive on the course.

Costs were ¥2510 for 30 minutes on the course, sans instructor. With an instructor from the driving school up the road, 30 minutes cost ¥4500 all-inclusive (car, instruction, practice fees). Steep, but likely worth it.

The driving school just down the street from the test facility can be found here at Here is their pamphlet for good measure:

I also need to include the following resource created by an ALT in Hiroshima which goes into great detail about the entire licensing process: “Driving in Japan and Passing the Driver’s Test”. The site also has plenty of anecdotes from ALTs across the country and a .doc version you can download and print.

Below is the information for the testing facility in Kagoshima:

〒899−5421 鹿児島県姶良郡姶良町東餅田3937番地
TEL  0995-65-2295
FAX  0995-65-0310

Kagoshima Driver’s License Examination Center
3937 Aira-gun, Aira-cho Higashi-Mochida

For those driving up from the Osumi side, just follow RT 10 through Kokubu, then Kajiki on the way to Kagoshima City. Take the expressway for a bit to avoid the horrendous traffic between Kokubu and Kajiki, it was around ¥150 yen and well worth it. You will end up on a strip of road with a ton of retail stores, and you’ll be on the look out for Aoyama suit store. Turn left here and you’ll find the test center buried behind a maze of residential streets.

That’s all for now. I expect Part 2 to detail practice on the course, and hopefully Part 3 will be nothing more than a scan of my new license and a hot linked photo of a novelty foam hand with a middle finger. I say good luck and Godspeed to my fellow foreigners taking the test, even though we know that here, Godspeed translates to about 40km/h.

Tags: , , , ,