Changing to a Japanese license
An International Driving Permit is fine for your first year in Japan. Beyond that, you must go to the Driving License Center in Akita City and transfer your license to a Japanese license. This can be done in two days (weekdays) but the process will depend upon your nationality. Depending on your BOE, you might need to use annual leave.
A translator is necessary for those who don’t speak any Japanese. If you think you can wing it with a dictionary and a little speaking ability, do it. If you need a translator, definitely bring one for the first day, because the entire questioning process is in Japanese.
Busses frequently run from Akita Station to the Licensing Center. Ride the 700, 701, or 702 (川尻割山線) bus from Bus Platform 6 in front of the West Exit of Akita Station. Get off at the stop named Licensing Center (運転免許センター前). It takes about 30 minutes from Akita Station. Busses operated by Akita Chuo Kotsu.
Translating your drivers license
A translation of your license is mandatory for the license exchange (Gaimen Kirikae外免切替). You will need this for day 2 so be sure to request this in advance as it will take some time to obtain. You can request your translation by mail from the JAF headquarters in Miyagi. The Akita office technically no longer does translations, but you can still submit a request for one (and pay for it) there - saving you the need for the Registered Postal Cash Envelope.
You will need to send the following to the Miyagi JAF headquarters in a Registered Postal Cash Envelope (Genkin Kakitome Fūtō; 現金書留封筒) OR bring to the Akita JAF office in person:
- Application Form
- Foreign Driver’s License
- (If mailing: large color photocopy / front & back)
- (If delivering: original)
- Residence Card
- (Residents from Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, or Russia only)
- (If mailing: large color photocopy / front & back)
- (If delivering: original)
- Issuance fee (3,000 yen) plus return postage (500 yen) *Return Postage Fee increased from ￥392 to ￥500 on 4/3/2017
The application must be mailed from within Japan and the return address must also be the applicant’s address within Japan. It will take about 2 weeks to receive your translation.
Application and Instructions can be found here.
JAF Office Addresses
JAF Miyagi Regional HQ (Mail your application to this address)
〒984-8539, 3-8-105 Oroshimachi Wakabayashi-ku, Sendai-shi, Miyagi. JAF Regional HQ - Miyagi
〒984-8539, 宮城県仙台市若林区卸町３-８-105. JAF 東北本部・宮城支部
JAF Akita Branch Office (Deliver your application to this address)
〒010-0942, 2-1 Okawamachi Kawashiri, Akita-shi, Akita. JAF Akita Office
〒010-0942 秋田市川尻大川町2-1. JAF 秋田支部
Day One: Application and Interview
Call the Akita Driver's Licence Centre (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 driver's permit expires would be best.
- Valid Driver's Licence
- Residence Card
- Certificate of Residence*
- International Driving Permit (not required, but recommended to bring to show if asked)
- Proof of three months' Presence in the State of Driver's License issue**
* A Certificate of Residence (住民票 - jūminhyō) is obtainable from your local city office for around ¥300)
** For JETs from the USA only. A university transcript suffices if it's in-state; if otherwise, paystubs or other proof of employment, etc. is also acceptable.
Arrive at the licence centre at your reserved time (between 13:00 – 15:00 weekdays) and show the clerk at window 50 your documents. 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 have resided in the country or region (state for US licence holders) 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. This proof is requested in the form of passport stamps showing departure and (most importantly) arrival, but documents like university transcripts, housing leases and employment records may also be accepted. 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 drivers 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 drivers 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 2: Where the paths diverge
After you get the call, you can choose any day to go back to the Center and finish the process. For almost all nationalities, this is an easy albeit time consuming task, and for Americans, this is probably the worst ordeal in the JET experience. There is at least one common process. You will be bouncing back and forth between windows. You cannot pay at Window 50, so they send you over to the cashiers window to buy a payment stamp which you affix to a paper with your name and address, after which you then take that paper back to Window 50. This will happen anywhere from 2 to 6 times.
For most nationalities
Arrive at the center at 8:30, stop by Window 50 to pick up your papers, and they’ll tell you to go to Window 6 or 7 to pay. Most of the day involves waiting around, but sometime in the morning you’ll take an eye exam, take a picture, and come out with a shiny, brand new license. Congratulations! Bring something to do because the waits are long.
Disclaimer: You have probably heard horror stories about Americans never passing the first time. This tends to happen to people who are somewhat unprepared. Retaking the test can get annoying and expensive (transit + ¥3,600). Read this page carefully, prepare appropriately, take the test early (like, June) and you can probably pass the first time.
Arrive at the center at 8:30, stop by Window 50 to pick up your papers, and they’ll tell you to go to Window 6 or 7 or possibly 4 to pay. From there they will tell you to go to the 3rd floor and wait to take a paper test.
The paper test is 10 questions long. 70% is passing. They are T/F questions where a circle (maru) means true and an x (batsu) means false. It is almost always the same test, so memorize the answers and you will be done quickly. 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 the questions. Here are some examples:
- 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. (TRUE)
- You must wear your seat belt and make sure your passengers are too. (TRUE)
- 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. (FALSE)
- 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. (TRUE)
- You cannot pass another car within 30 meters of a crosswalk or intersection. (TRUE)
- Japanese cars are well manufactured and don't need maintenance. (FALSE)
- There are yellow blinking lights showing on the traffic signal. You don't have to pay attention to other motorists. (FALSE)
- 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. (FALSE)
- There is a "no entrance" sign on a street. You can drive your car or moped on that street. (FALSE)
- There is a "pedestrians only" sign on a street. You can drive your car on that street. (FALSE)
- There is a "no parking" sign (the blue and red one with the red "X"). You can park here. (FALSE)
- There is a police officer in an intersection indicating for you to stop, but the light is green. You do not need to stop. (FALSE)
After the paper test you wait downstairs for them to tell you that you passed (God help us if you fail!), you pay a fee for the car rental and then you eat lunch. They tell you when to take your practical test. They also tell you to memorize the course before you drive it.
Before you take the driving test they make you take a vision test. When they tell you to, proceed to the eye exam room and wait for your name to be called. They put you up to a machine that shows a series of slides. In each slide, there is a circle. The circle may or may not have a gap in it. Tell the tester where the gap is. Top (ue), bottom (shita), right (migi), left (hidari), or no gap (nai).
The driving test
The course doesn't resemble a road in real life. It is full of turns and loops and stoplights and stop signs. You drive their cars, which are wider than most, on roads that are narrower than most, with someone in the passenger seat marking a paper (and, sometimes, talking constantly) while you drive.
Wear comfortable clothes. Don't wear torn jeans and a t-shirt. Wear sneakers. Don't wear sandals.
The day's course is posted in the waiting room (the one that says 外国免許; gaikoku menkyo). They'll give you a map just before noon, but you should print your own. Since the course doesn't change from the morning, it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that you copy down the course before you take the paper test (you will definitely have enough time) and memorize it while you are waiting for the paper test. You can see most of the course from the 3rd floor waiting area where you'll wait for the paper test. The test changes daily, so don't rely on your friend who took it the week before. The course is open for you to walk during lunchtime. Walk the course as many times as you like. This is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED as you must drive the course from memory. Walking around on the course might make you feel silly, but it's much better than failing the test a bunch of times.
When they call your name, your examiner will get in the car and wait for you. Examine the car, look underneath, check the tires, and make sure nothing is impeding your way. Nothing will be, but from here on out, everything is for show.
Before you go to open the driver's side door, look both ways to check for traffic, then cross in the front of the car. Before opening the door, look both ways again. Get in and check that nothing is going to jam the car door before you close it.
Right away put on your seat belt, check examiner's, and say yoroshiku onegaishimasu. He will tell you a lot of things, but all you need to know is that you'll do a practice circle, get back to where you started, and then start the exam. Turn on the car, check the mirrors, turn WAY around to the left and right to check your blind spots, put it into drive, release the e-brake, swivel around to check your blind spots again, and head out.
CAUTION is the key here. You want to look like the cautious driver that all the Japanese are known to be, so when you pull out, look both ways TWICE, keep your signal on at all times, and keep looking both ways. Stretch your neck way out to let them know that you mean business.
When you enter the course there are a few things to remember.
- At the stop lights and signs, make sure to stop well behind the line. If you pass the line you can back up a max of 4 times. Once the light turns green check both ways before proceeding.
- Exaggerate your motions when checking your mirrors and blind spots. It makes it look like you are trying to be very safe. Although, it's recommended that you keep your eyes on the road ahead of you around 80% of the time.
- Stay close to the left side of the lane unless you want to make a turn. When you turn left, hug the left hand side and stay in the left lane. When you turn right, signal, turn your head, look both ways twice, move to the right of the lane (about a foot over) and turn. When turning in general, indicate and check your blind spots before moving the steering wheel.
- When turning (left or right) onto a 4-lane road, always turn into the farthest left lane. Lane change after that, if needed.
- Watch out for the blind intersection. This is the intersection with concrete barriers on each corner. Slow to a crawl and continue at that pace all the way through, looking both ways the whole time.
- Keep your speed at about 30 km/h. Driving slower has failed some people before. On the straightaway section that comes at the end, pick up the speed to 40 km/h to show confidence. This can vary depending on your examiner, so listen to what they say. **In the area by the blind intersection, when crossing to the other side, the max speed is 10 km/h. People have been pegged for going 12 km/h.**
- On the straightaway section there will be a parked car. Do not pass this car as you would pass a car in traffic. Pass it as you would pass someone who pulled over to make a phone call. Imagine there is opposing traffic in the opposite lane. Slow down as you approach and put on your right turn signal. Move HALF WAY into the other lane, keeping the center of your car aligned with the dividing line. Put on your left turn signal as you pass the car. Slowly pass the car while diligently looking around. Also make sure not to spend too much time in the middle of the road.
- There are two ridiculous looking turns that you must go through. One of them is the S curve, the other is the L curve (but its more like a zigzag). If you nick the poles, you fail automatically. Slow to a crawl here. It is not as impossible as it looks!
- There are not very many signs on the course (other than the number signs). There are many places you may feel there should be a stop sign, and there's not. At these places, slow way down, make sure you look both ways, but you don't have to come to a complete stop.
- Drivers here have "left of way". If you arrive at an intersection at the same time as another tester on the course with you, and the other person is on your left, let him go first.
- Some testers require you to engage the handbrake if you stop at an intersection that is also on an incline, such as a hill. Consider it mandatory to perform handbrake starts when stopped on an incline if taking the test with a manual transmission.
- When passing any building or crosswalk look around for potential pedestrians.
- When you exit the course, signal and look both ways.
- Pull the hand brake when you finish, then turn off the car.
At the end of your test, your examiner will point out what you did wrong. Usually that is a bad thing, but you never know. If not, he will tell you to wait inside for your results. Thank him and look both ways before you open the door.
You will wait for a while and they will either announce your number (which should be on the form they give you) over the PA system or it will flash on the board. If you didn't catch whether or not you passed, go to Window 50 and they'll tell you.
If you pass, you wait a little, they take your picture, and you can go home with a license. They will tell you that you are not allowed to smile in your license picture, but give it a shot. If you don’t pass, they will say "please ganbatte" and tell you to bring your papers with you again. The next time you come, you take your test in the morning (you don’t need to retake the paper test), finish, and get your results before lunch. Eat lunch, get your license, and leave a happy person.
Maps & Images
- CourseMap Blank(PDF)
- CourseMap Detailed (Elements&Locations)(PDF)
- Driving Course Maps - There are 8 courses which are selected at random for the day.
- Car Course Elements
- Motorcycle Course Elements.
- English Tips from the Akita License Center for the driving test:
- 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 • Buying a car • Winter driving • Speeding tickets • Drinking and driving • Roadside Station|
|Licenses||International Driving Permit • Changing to a Japanese license (Car Course Elements) • Renewing your Japanese license|
|Other Transport||Trains • Akita Nairiku Line • Shinkansen • Buses • Ferries|
|Airports||Narita International Airport • Haneda Airport • Akita Airport • Odate-Noshiro Airport • Sendai Airport • Kansai Airport|
|Leaving the Country||Residence Card • Travel insurance • Buying flights & travel agents|