There are many stories and articles flying around about Japan being the most difficult country to acquire a driving license as well as it is an expensive process. Keep in mind that Japan is different from our home countries. It follows a strict procedures, ensure safety, and especially it has no shortcuts in acquiring a license.
We are hoping this article helps you understand the processes and procedures before deciding to enroll in a driving school.
The simplified way:
Please note whether you are an experienced or no experience at all with driving, everyone needs to follow the standard procedures. This process normally takes 3-6 months to acquire a license depending how well you can progress with examinations, therefore do not expect to get your license in 2 weeks or a month. If you wish to get a license as quickly as possible (not guaranteed though) then you can inquire and attend a Japanese designated school which is costly and lessons are conducted in Japanese. For a 2-week stay-in program, you can Google search for “gasshuku(合宿)” for more information.
Once you completed their curriculum, and passed all the examinations it has, such as learner's permit written eam and practical examinations (indoor and on-road), you then visit the driver's license center of your residency to take the 100-items written exam. If you passed the exam, on that same day you'll acquire your Japan driver's license. However, don't be over confident on this, unless you are really ready to take this written exam after reviewing and understanding the Japan Rules of the Road, you may proceed so. Otherwise, you may get stuck here, as passing this examnation is not so easy. This written exam can be taken in "English".
The one-shot (ippatshu shiken:一発試験) or multi-try examination at the Driver's License Center:
First, what to prepare -
Requirements Upon Applying at the License Center
Residence Card (validity should be more than 3 months. If less than, you need to renew first to accept your application).
Residence Certificate (Jyuminhyou) – from city hall, record of legal domicile without the “My Number” record (as this is confidential).
Photo size of 3 cm x 2.4 cm: 2 pieces (can be taken at the license center)
Eyeglasses or contact lens, if applicable.
Driver’s license, if applicable i.e. old, expired
Payment at the driver's license center (refer below for the approximate amount).
Cost and Payment of enrolling at a "Non-Designated School" such as our school, EDS International Driving School. Please refer to the link below to see the Plans and Pricing.
What are the differences between Designated and Non-Designated School (Training school)?
Now the processes, steps and procedures:
STAGE 1: LEARNERS PERMIT
The first step is taking the written examination. The 50 questions will be answered by true or false. 45/50 is the passing score. The written tests are available in English at every license center. Be prepared for this examination as the English translation may be confusing due to the arrangement of the sentences, as well as it may be a tricky question. Passing rate for this examination is 90% or above, as long as you properly understood the rules of the road and safety driving , you will be fine. Ensure to read each question carefully.
Second step will be practical examination. After passing the first written exam, you will need to make a reservation to book your driving test. This varies depending on the prefectural license center and its location. Some center offer both written and practical examinations on the same day, however like in Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa, reservations are needed due to number of people getting their licenses. Practical examination will be taken inside the license center at their driving course which known as "indoor course".
We highly recommend to practice drive with the driving school for this examination as the test will not be fully based on skills, but also knowledge of the safety precautions and traffic rules in Japan. Doing safety checks, timing of blinkers, dealing with tight roads and tight turns are intensely evaluated by the police officer sitting inside the car with you.
You can use the waiting time for your practical test to train and prepare for the examination. This keeps the information fresh and helps you consume your lessons efficiently. We suggest that you keep practicing until everything is leveled to the standards of the license center, otherwise if you fail this test, you will need to make another reservation for another practical test. Thus mean, another waiting period of a month or 2, or worse even more.
After passing the practical examination, then you have acquired your learners permit or karimenkyo.
Congratulations! You are now halfway there.
Before proceeding to the next stage, there are some requirements needed for you to move on and allow you to take the 2nd stage of examinations.
10 Hours on road practice (can be done before or after the 2nd stage written exam)
This is a mandatory requirement for you to take the 2nd stage practical examination. You will need to drive of minimum of 2 hours a day on general roads in Japan. The license center will provide you an on-road practice driving log sheet to keep track of your driving activities. Of course, you can’t just drive by yourself, you will need an instructor who has a valid Japanese driver's license for more than 3 years as they require information such as name of the driver with you, his/her license number, vehicle's plate no, place of practice, etc. A friend or relative can also help you to practice drive, and fill in the log sheet as long as they have a valid Japanese license for 3 years or more.
Safety driving seminar/Specified Course
This is a mandatory requirement for your license card to be released that can be taken anytime after passing all Stage 1 or after Stage 2 examinations.
The seminar will be held in Japanese. There are no examinations.
However, you will get to drive during the seminar. The lesson covers First aid, Danger anticipation, and Expressway driving which will be done within 7 hours, almost a whole day. Once you completed the seminar, you will receive a certificate of completion from the seminar provider. Keep the certificate with you and ensure to bring with you once you passed the last examination, which is the 2ns stage practical exam (on-road).
Stage 2: DRIVERS LICENSE
Now the final stage of the process. The flow is similar from the first stage.
A written exam of 100 questions with a passing score of 90/100 or higher. This exam can be taken in English.
After passing the written exam, the license center will give you another reservation for the final practical examination.
LAST step will be a practical examination.
You will need to complete your 10 hours (5 days) of minimum on road training , to take this practical examination. Refer to the 10 hours on road practice section above.
This time, the exam will be on the general road within the license center. Whoever passes the outdoor examination will do either the back parking or parallel parking test, back at the license center's indoor course. The examinee needs to clear both the on- road and parking test to pass the exam. Failure to clear the parking, means failed even one's cleared the on-road.
Those who did not pass will need to get another reservation from the license center. Again, possibly another waiting period of a month or 2, or even more.
Note: Log sheet signatures are valid only for 3 months (i.e. from the day of practice + 90 days). Ensure to take the written examination right after finishing the 10 hours on road practice if you completed this step prior to 2nd stage written exam.
After clearing this practical examination, you will receive your Japanese driver’s license card on that same day, (If you have completed the mandatory seminar and have the certificate of conpletion. So, don't forget to bring it with you).
Summarised flow when you are enrolled in a non designated driving school