Obtaining a Japanese Driving Licence Edit

If you do not already have a driving licence from your home country, or if licences from your country are not accepted in Japan, you will have to take extensive driving lessons and tests to obtain a Japanese licence. It involves a huge amount of time and money so be prepared to do these:

(1) kari menkyo gakka shiken 仮免学科試験 Learners Permit written test. 50 true/false questions on traffic law, meaning of various road signs, safe driving practices etc in 30minutes. 45+ = pass.

(2) kari menkyo ginou shiken 仮免許技能試験 Learners Permit practical driving test, where you drive one of the licence centre's vehicles around the test course.

After passing (1) and (2), you are issued with your learners permit (kari menkyo )仮免許, which allows you to practice on the road, under certain conditions, including: - be accompanied by a driver who has held the applicable class of licence for three years. - Display a black on white "Learners Permit - Practicing" 仮免許 練習中" sign on your car.

After passing (1) and (2), you need to log at least 10hours' practice, over at least 5 days, then you can do (3) and (4):

(3) hon menkyo gakka shiken 本免許学科試験 Real licence written test. 95 questions, in 50 minutes, the final 5 questions being illustration questions worth two points. Each illustration question has 3 true/false questions, all 3 must be answered correctly to get the 2 points. 90 points+ = pass.

(4) hon menkyo ginou shiken 本免許技能試験 Real licence practical test, conducted on the open road, and I think it also includes reverse parking on the licence centre course.

(5) short, 7hrs training at a driving school (basic automobile functioning - 4hrs, emergency aid - 3hrs).

Converting Foreign Driving Licence to Japanese Driving LicenceEdit

If you have a licence from an authorized country, you will be able to convert your foreign licence to a Japanese license at the Ibaraki Prefecture Drivers License Center in Mito. You must apply between 9am and 10am on any weekday (closed on public holidays and new years holidays). Be sure to arrive during that time. If you are late, you will have to come back another day.


You can apply for a Japanese driver's license if you meet the following conditions:

  • Your foreign driver's license is valid.
  • After obtaining your foreign driver's license, you stayed in the country where the license was issued for a minimum of three months. You will need to prove this buy showing your passport and your license. If you renewed your passport shortly before coming to Japan, you will also need to submit your previous passport and/or some other proof that you lived in the country for at least three months, such as a letter from an employer. If you renewed your license shortly before coming to Japan, you will also need to submit an official copy of your driving record that includes the date that you first obtained your license, or some other official document that can prove that you had your license at least three months before coming to Japan.

US licenses: Depending on the state, your license may have on it "Date of Issue" to indicate both the "Original date of issuance" as well as "Most recent date of renewal." When I went through the "conversion" process, I actually had my older edition of my driver's license sent over to me from back home (License designs do change even in just a few years).I didn't translate this but the info on it was the same as the most recent design and the Mito Licensing Center accepted it.

  • You reside in Ibaraki.
  • You have a valid visa (as a resident).

Necessary DocumentsEdit

To apply for a Japanese driver's license, you need to submit the following documents.

  • Your current foreign driver's license. If you have any expired licenses that have since been renewed, you must submit them too. If your license does not include the date of issue, you will have to submit a certificate that shows the original date of issue (US, Australia, Philippines, etc.). If your license has a date of issue but that date does not prove that you had the license at least three months before coming to Japan, you will have to submit a certificate that shows the original date of issue.
  • A translation of your foreign license into Japanese. This translation must be done by JAF (029-244-7211) or the embassy of the country from which you obtained your license.
  • kokusekino kisaisareteiru Jyuuminhyou (Residence certificate which include your nationality.)
  • Your alien registration card or certificate of alien registration. (Japanese nationals who are applying to get a Japanese license after obtaining a license in a foreign country must present a certificate of residence along with a domicile of origin.)
  • Your passport. If you have any cancelled passports, submit them too. If you have lost your passport, submit an immigration certificate.
  • Two (2) photos (3cm x 2.4cm)
  • International driving permits (if you have any).
    This part is dicey if you currently drive
    and need your car for your job or other
    reasons. If you fail the driver's test, 
    that permit "might" be confiscated.  I 
    stress might.   
    (Please add your input if you've heard 
    either way.) I knew someone who experienced 
    this so I pretended not to have one when I 
    was asked to produce it during my
    application.  Just in case...make sure you 
    have a back up story if they press(ask) you 
    about commuting to work and what not.
  • Fees. You must pay the test fee (2400 yen for regular cars, 3300 yen for motorcycles, 3300 yen for large motorcycles, and 1650 for mopeds) and the licensing fee (1650 yen).
  • Applicants taking the motorcycle licensing test should bring a helmet and gloves.
  • If you have any valid or invalid Japanese driver's licenses, submit them too.


1. After you submit all of your documents, the staff at the licensing center will check your documents and decide if you have submitted enough proof of your driving and residence status to qualify for applying for a Japanese license. You may be asked questions about how and when you obtained your license, how long your licenses is valid for, whether you took lessons at a driving school, etc. It is essential to be able to understand and answer these questions in Japanese. If you do not understand the questions, they will ask you to come back with an interpreter.

2. If your documents are accepted, you will take a short written test to assess your understanding of Japanese traffic laws. The test is available in Japanese, English, Chinese (??), and Portuguese (??).

3. If you pass the written test, you will take a practical driving test.

4. If you pass the driving test, you will have your eyes examined (left, right, up, down, and color recognition).

    • People who hold licenses from certain countries are exempt from the written and practical tests. These countries include Australia, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, France, and the United Kingdom. People from these countries will still have to undergo the eye examination.

However, it is a good idea to ask your embassy to contact the license office before going in order clarify this rule. Sometimes the workers are unaware that people with valid licenses from the above listed countries are exempt from taking the written and driving test. The first time I went to get my license in Mito, with a valid Canadian drivers license, they made me take the written test, driving test, and pay the fee for the test (about 5000yen). After which I was failed on the driving test for "...going 39kmh instead of 40kmh". After this I contacted my embassy and they kindly reminded the Mito drivers license office of my exemption and I got the license a week later.

What Happens If You Pass?Edit

Once you pass these tests, you will have your picture taken and your licence will be issued shortly thereafter.

What Happens If You Fail?Edit

If your documents are not deemed to be sufficient proof of your eligibility to apply for a Japanese license, you will be asked to provide more documentation.

If you fail the written test, you will have to return to take it again.

If you fail the driving test, you will have to make an appointment to take it again. The follow-up appointment can be made as early as a month later.

Practicing For the TestEdit

Depending on your confidence level and the amount of time it has been since you were last behind the wheel, you will probably want to do some "on the road and behind the wheel" practicing.

See also Advice on passing the driving test.

Unless you have a valid international driver's permit and a valid foreign driver's license, you can't legally drive in Japan. You also need a car to practice with. Unless you plan to borrow a friend's car and do some "road practice" at the wee hours of the morning (on narrow streets of residential neighborhoods, big parking lots of home centers, and on isolated country roads) and hope that no one's looking, then here's a safer option.

If you have taken the test once and failed, you will be given an appointment slip. Take this slip to a privately run driver's licensing school and ask for the road practice option. There are many here in the Tsukuba area and beyond that offer this. Call around for prices. Expect to spend 30,000 yen or so for 3-5 1 hour blocks of driving time. Painful yeah, but still cheaper than the regular licensing course price which is almost 10x this.

I don't know what the Japanese name for this option but ask around. You might get different answers if the places you call misunderstand your question.

Renewing Your Japanese Driving LicenceEdit

In Japan you need to renew your driving licence at regular intervals. You have to go to the main police station on Tsuchiura Gakuen Sen near the ACCS offices and renew it. This involves getting a photo taken etc.


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