Japanese Licence Transition
An International Driving Permit is valid for one year. Beyond that, you will need to transition to a Japanese license at the license center in Akita City; a process called 外免切替 (gaimen kirikae). Fortunately, there is an agreement between Japan and a number of other countries allowing the transfer of foreign licenses which makes the process significantly easier. The steps required will vary depending on the issuing country of the license you are transferring from.
- 1 License Center
- 2 Driving License Translation
- 3 Day One: Application and Interview
- 4 Day Two: Test and License Collection
- 5 Downloadable Content
- 6 External links
- 7 See also
The Akita Driver License Center (秋田県警察運転免許センター; Akita-ken Keisatsu Unten Menkyo Sentā) is located on Highway 13 in Akita City.
- 〒010-1607 秋田県秋田市新屋南浜町12-1 (map)
- 12-1 Araya Minamihama-machi, Akita-shi, Akita 〒010-1607
- ☎ 018-824-3738 (front desk)
- ☎ 018-862-7570 (Testing Section; the number to call to schedule an interview for a licence transition)
Busses frequently run from Akita Station to the license center. Take the 700, 701, or 702 (川尻割山線; Kawashiri-Wariyama Sen) bus from Platform 6 in front of the West Exit of Akita Station. Get off at the stop named Driver License Center (運転免許センター前; Unten Menkyo Sentā-mae). It takes about 30 minutes from Akita Station. Busses operated by Akita Chuo Kōtsū.
Depending on your contracting organisation's stance on driving, you may or may not be required to take paid leave to transfer your license.
Driving License Translation
One of the requirements for the Japanese license transition is obtaining a translation of your foreign license. It will be required on the second visit (and is helpful to have for your first visit) so be sure to apply for one in advance as it can take around two weeks to arrive. The application form and detailed instructions are available on the JAF website.
The closest JAF location that processes license translations is in Miyagi. You can either apply directly by mail or in person at the Akita office to save on postage. If mailing your application, you will need to send the following to the JAF Miyagi Regional HQ in a Registered Postal Cash Envelope (現金書留封筒; genkin kakitome fūtō). If applying in person, bring the following with you to the JAF Akita Branch Office.
- Application Form*1
- Foreign Driver License*2 *3
- ¥3,500 (¥3,000 application fee + ¥500 return postage)
- Residence Card*2 *4
*1 Available at the Akita Branch Office if applying in person.
*2 High-resolution, color photocopy if by mail; original if in person.
*3 If your current foreign driver licence was issued less than three months prior to your arrival in Japan, you may also be asked to show a previous driver licence (or equivalent driving record).
*4 Only required for licenses written in Arabic or Russian and licenses issued in certain countries, including the Republic of Korea, the Kingdom of Thailand, and the Union of Myanmar.
Applications are only accepted from Japanese addresses, and the return address must be within Japan and match the address submitted on the application.
JAF Office Addresses
JAF Miyagi Regional HQ
- JAF Regional HQ - Miyagi
3-8-105 Oroshimachi Wakabayashi-ku, Sendai-shi, Miyagi
JAF Akita Branch Office
- JAF Akita Office
2-1 Kawashiri Okawamachi, Akita-shi, Akita
Day One: Application and Interview
Call the Akita Driver Licence Centre Testing Section (☎ 018-862-7570) to make an appointment. During the months leading up to summer, there can be around two weeks wait time so starting the process at least two months before your international driving permit expires would be best.
- Valid Driver License*1 *2
- Residence Card
- Certificate of Residence (with Nationality listed)*3
- Proof of presence of at least three months in issuing country*4
Note: if you happen to have your JAF-issued licence translation already, you may be asked to show it, too.
*1 International Driving Permits are not required but you may be asked to show it if you do have one.
*2 If your current driver license and/or passport were issued too recently to ascertain 3-month driving history in home country, you will be asked to show previous versions of these documents as well. A Driving Record issued by your licencing authority is acceptable as a substitute for previous license(s).
*3 A Certificate of Residence (住民票; jūminhyō) with listed nationality (国籍; kokuseki) is obtainable from your local city office for around ¥300)
*4 You must be able to prove you were present in the appropriate jurisdiction for at least three months after your license issue date. Ostensibly passport stamps prove this, but you may be asked to provide additional proof.
Arrive at the Licence Centre at your reserved time (between 13:00 – 15:00 weekdays) and show the clerk at window 50 your documents (they will be copied and the originals given back to you). You will be asked to wait before they are ready to conduct the interview.
During the interview, you will be required to provide proof that you were present in the country where your licence was issued for a cumulative period of at least three months from the issue date, and at least twelve months to be exempt from displaying learner plates (初心者マーク; shoshinsha-māku). This proof is requested in the form of passport stamps showing departure and (most importantly) arrival. However in some cases, passport stamps alone may not be considered sufficient (on the grounds that, for example, immigration authorities may not mark a passport of their own country upon entry, etc.); it is recommended to bring supporting documents like university transcripts, housing leases or employment records which show an in-country address if possible. It would be wise to bring old passports and licences, along with any other relevant documents you can find. If your licence does not show an issue date or was renewed within three months of coming to Japan, you may need to request a driving record from your licensing authority.
After proving that you are eligible to transfer to a Japanese licence, you will be asked a series of questions about your licence and driving history. Refer to the following examples and make sure you can answer them all in Japanese before showing up.
- When did you get your driver license? Did you get it more than three months before coming to Japan? Did you live in that country for those three months?
- For all the stamps in your passport, where did you go, and how long were you there?
- When did you first get your driver license? Did you take a class? How many hours was it? How much did it cost? To get your license, did you take a written test? How many questions? A road test? How long was it?
- Do you drive often in Japan? Have you driven in the winter in Akita? Where do you live? On what kinds of roads do you often drive? Do you have confidence driving in Japan?
- What car do you own? What cars did you own? From when to when? What cars have you driven regularly?
- Can you drive a manual transmission car?
- Have you gotten any speeding tickets or traffic tickets in Japan?
After the interview, you will be asked to wait again while they process your application. Expect the whole process to take about an hour and a half. Once your application is finished processing, they will let you know when to expect a call with the results. After you receive the call, you can go back a second time in the morning to either collect your licence, or take the written and practical tests, then collect your licence.
Day Two: Test and License Collection
Once you receive the call to notify you that your application has been processed you will need to visit window 50 of the license center again on a weekday between 08:30 – 09:30. This second visit does not require a reservation.
- Valid Driver License
- License Translation
- Residence Card
- Certificate of Residence
- 30 x 24mm photograph x2 or x3*
* One photograph is required for the application, another for the tests, and another (optional) for the actual license. If your license is from a country that is not exempt from license testing, you only need two photographs.
Process for Test-Exempt Licenses
Depending on where you license was issued, you may be exempt from written and practical driving tests.
You will be told to go to various windows to pay fees and submit forms. One of which will require you to date, name and address a waiver confirming that you haven't done anything in the past that would make you ineligible to obtain a license. Eventually you will take a vision test which involves indicating which side of the circle has a gap in it. Afterwards you will told a time at which to be waiting in the hall to be called to have your photograph taken, and are able to submit a photograph in advance instead at this point. Once everything is complete you should receive your Japanese license sometime after 11:00.
Test-Exempt Countries and Regions
Licenses issued by the following jurisdictions do not require a test.*
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom and United States of America (states of Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia and Washington only).
* Current as of February 2020.
Process for Non-Exempt Licenses
In addition to submitting the required documents above, you will also need to take a written test in the morning and a practical test in the afternoon. Applications are processed in order of submission on the day so it is advisable to arrive before 08:30 if you are on a tight schedule.
Once your paperwork is completed, you will be told to wait in the written test lobby on the third floor at a certain time. Before going upstairs, now would be a good time to visit the practical test waiting room (down the hall to the right at the far end of the building on the first floor) to note down the daily test route so you can study it while waiting. There is also a video of route four available on the course elements page below.
The test is available in English so make sure to request it if necessary. It comprises of ten true or false questions with a 70% pass line. You will need to mark your answers with either 〇 (true) or ✕ (false); be careful because any other marks (such as a checkmark ✓, etc.) will not be counted. There will likely be a selection of the questions below so it is advisable to memorize the answers in advance and learn the road signs from the JET Diary. Sometimes the questions are strangely worded but the answer is usually the most obvious one, so try not to over-think it.
|If you're on a road with two lanes heading in the same direction, you must drive in the left lane unless you want to pass someone||〇|
|You must wear your seat belt and make sure your passengers are too.||〇|
|There are no lights or sounds at the train tracks, and the bars aren't lowering. You don't have to stop before the tracks.||✕|
|You're turning right at an intersection, and another car is approaching from the other direction. You must wait for them even if you got there first.||〇|
|You cannot pass another car within 30 meters of a crosswalk or intersection.||〇|
|Japanese cars are well manufactured and don't need maintenance.||✕|
|There are yellow blinking lights showing on the traffic signal. You don't have to pay attention to other motorists.||✕|
|There is a sign that means "no right turn" along with a red arrow underneath. You can turn into the store on the right facing the street.||✕|
|There is a "no entrance" sign on a street. You can drive your car or moped on that street.||✕|
|There is a "pedestrians only" sign on a street. You can drive your car on that street.||✕|
|There is a "no parking" sign (the blue and red one with the red "X"). You can park here.||✕|
|There is a police officer in an intersection indicating for you to stop, but the light is green. You do not need to stop.||✕|
After the written test, wait downstairs in the hall for the results. There will be some more paperwork before the vision test so follow the announcement and check back at the appropriate window. If you aren't sure where to go, try asking at window 50.
The test course is open for walking from 12:00–13:00 so head to the waiting room for 12:00 if you want to practise the route. You are permitted to ask for directions during the test if you forget but the expectation is to memorize it.
The course is technical, not resembling a real road, and you will be driving a full-sized sedan. Make sure to wear closed toe shoes and avoid clothing that could get caught in the pedals.
When your number is called, follow your examiner outside to the car. First, examine around the car and check the tires to make sure nothing is in the way or abnormal. Look both ways to check for traffic before opening the driver's door, then make sure it is properly closed when seated. Once seated, you may want to adjust your seat and mirror positions. The driver seat of the test vehicle should also be adjustable in height.
Fasten your seatbelt and confirm that the examiner's is also fastened. Before starting the test, you will be asked to drive a practice loop that is not assessed. When ready, start the car and put down the parking brake. Ideally, you would want to conduct the following steps in order before pulling out: check rear-view mirror, indicate right, put car into gear, check left mirror, check rear-view mirror, check right mirror, check blind spot. When checking blind spots, the examiner will be assessing whether you physically move your head to the side.
Perform a U-turn towards the right-hand side of the course for the practice loop, then another to return to the starting bay to begin the test.
The following is a list of general advice. It is based on past experience and does not include every requirement so if you lack confidence it would be advisable to practice with a driving school beforehand or read through a driving textbook.
- The speed limit on the course is 40km/h, and 50km/h on the rear straight. Aiming for 30–35km/hr and increasing to 40–45km/h is probably safe.
- Position the vehicle slightly to the left of center in the lane while driving.
- Even when passing through green lights, look both ways before proceeding.
- At mandatory stops, you want to position the vehicle just as the line goes out of sight. If you cross the line you are able to reverse and correct your position a maximum of four times during the test.
- There are a number of pedestrian crossings but if there is no stop sign, you are not required to stop. Make sure you look both ways before proceeding through.
- In the event that you arrive at an intersection at the same time as another vehicle, you must give way to the left.
- If you stop on an incline, you should engage the handbrake.
- Before making a turn, go through the following steps: Check rear view mirror, indicate for three seconds, check side mirror and blind spot, position vehicle to edge of lane, continue for 30m while indicating then check both mirrors and blind spot again. You are required to indicate for at least 30m after positioning your vehicle to the edge of the lane.
- A general guide on how far to position your car to the left or right before a turn is to make sure that a motorcycle would be unable to pass through the gap on the inside.
- When turning into a four-lane road, always turn into the leftmost lane.
- Lane changes must be completed at least 30m before indicating to turn so if you need to change lanes then turn straight away on the four-lane road, you will need at least 60m to do so.
- You want to keep your turns very tight and make sure not to swing out before turning.
- Approach the blind intersection under 10km/h and crawl through while checking both ways before edging out into the road.
- There is a parked car obstacle on the rear straight which you will need to pass. Check the rear view mirror, slow down, and indicate right roughly 30m before the parked car. Check your side right side mirror and blind spot before pulling out and aim to align the center of your vehicle with the center line of the road. As you reach the parked car, indicate left. After roughly 30m, check your left mirrors and blind spot then move back into the left lane and return to a normal speed.
- There will be one S-curve and one crank included in the route. For the S-curve, you will want to point the car towards the outside edge of the curve. For the crank, you will want to take it wide and start turning the wheel when you can see the corner of the kerb out of the side window. You are required to indicate when entering and exiting these technical sections, but not inside them. Making contact with the poles inside the crank will result in disqualification. If your tyre touches the kerb or comes off the course, the correct procedure is to reverse and attempt the turn again, however, coming off the course will likely result in failure.
Returning to the starting bay and engaging the parking brake will end the test. The examiner will then point out any mistakes and give you some advice for improvement. If you have an interpreter with you, they will now be allowed to enter the vehicle for assistance. Check for traffic before opening the door to exit the vehicle.
You will then need to wait in the hall for your results and if it went well your number will appear on the electronic board. Follow the announcement and head to the appropriate window to finalise your paperwork and find out when to get your photo taken. If you brought an extra photograph with you, write your name and the date it was taken on the back and submit it to window 50. Licenses will be distributed at about 15:00.
Written test results remain valid for a few months so if you were unsuccessful, you will need to come back on another weekday between 08:30–09:30 to reattempt the practical. Applications are processed in order of submission on the day so it is advisable to arrive before 08:30 if you are on a tight schedule as your test may be pushed back to the afternoon if the center is busy. The test course will be open for walking until 9:30.
- Course Map - Blank (PDF)
- Course Map - Detailed (PDF)
- Test Course Maps - There are eight routes in total which are selected at random each day.
- Test Course Elements - Images and video of the course
- Licence Center Test Instructions:
- U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Japan - Driving in Japan
- Akita Prefectural Website - Driving Information
- Japan Biker FAQ
- Japan Auto Federation website
- Driving in Japan and Passing the Japanese Driver's Test
|Traveling in Japan|
|Cars||Driving||Driving • Winter Driving • Speeding Tickets • Drinking and Driving • Roadside Station|
|Licenses||International Driving Permit • Japanese Licence Transition (Test Course Elements) • Renewing your Japanese License|
|Acquisition/Disposal||Buying a Car • Transferring Ownership of a Car • Disposing of a Car|
|Other Transport||Trains • Akita Nairiku Line • Shinkansen • Buses • Ferries|
|Airports||Akita Airport • Odate-Noshiro Airport • Narita International Airport • Haneda Airport • Sendai Airport • Kansai Airport|
|Leaving the Country||Residence Card • Visa Extension • Travel Insurance • Buying Flights & Travel Agents|
|Other Topics||Getting to Tokyo • Traveling in and out of Japan • Akita JET travel guide • Where in the World is Sugichi? • Quirky Japan|