Japanese Licence Transition
An International Driving Permit is valid for one year. Beyond that, you will need to obtain a Japanese license at the license center in Akita City. 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
Busses frequently run from Akita Station to the license center. Take the 700, 701, or 702 (川尻割山線 - Kawajiri-Wariyama Sen) bus from Platform 6 in front of the West Exit of Akita Station. Get off at the stop named Driver (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 Kotsu.
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 (外免切替 - gaimen kirikae) is obtaining a translation of your foreign license. It will be required on the second 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 JAF Miyagi Regional HQ in a Registered Postal Cash Envelope (現金書留封筒 - genkin kakitome fūtō).
- Application Form
- Foreign Driver’s License*
- ¥3,000 (plus return postage of ¥500 if by mail)
- Residence Card* **
* Color photocopy by mail and original in person.
** 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
〒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
〒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 License*
- Residence Card
- Certificate of Residence**
- Proof of residence of at least three months in issuing country or region (state for US)***
* International Driving Permits are not required but you may be asked to show it if you do have one.
** A Certificate of Residence (住民票 - jūminhyō) is obtainable from your local city office for around ¥300)
*** You must be able to prove you were present in the appropriate jurisdiction for at least three months after your license issue date.
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 were present 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. For US licence holders, passport stamps by themselves are not sufficient (they show only that you were present in the US; not which state) and must be supported with documents like university transcripts, housing leases or employment records which show an in-state address. 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 Two: Test and License Collection
Once you receive the call to notify you that your application has been processed you will need to visit the window 50 of the license centre again on a weekday between 08:30 – 09:30. This second visit does not require a reservation.
Text-Exempt Countries and Regions
Depending on where you license was issued, you may be exempt from written and practical driving tests. Licenses issued by the following jurisdictions do not require a test.*
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Holland, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Luxembourg, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Kingdom of Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United State of America (States of Hawaii, Maryland and Washington only), and Taiwan.
* Current as of 9 January 2019.
- Valid Driver's License
- License Translation
- Residence Card
- Certificate of Residence
- 30 x 24mm photograph x3*
* One photograph is required for the application, another for the tests, and another (optional) for the actual license.
Process for Text-Exempt Licenses
You will be told to go to various windows to pay and get forms stamped. You will need to write the date along with your name and address on the payment form and fill in 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. Finally you will be told a time at which to be waiting in the hall to be called to have your photograph taken. You 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.
Process for Non-Exempt Licenses
In addition to the above requirements, 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. At this point, you would want to walk to the practical test waiting room down the hall to the right at the far end of the building to note down the daily test route to study it while waiting. To make it easier on yourself, it would be a good idea to print out all eight of the course routes in advance. Make sure to keep them out of sight though as photography of the maps is not permitted. 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 O (true) or X (false). 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. (O)
- You must wear your seat belt and make sure your passengers are too. (O)
- 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. (X)
- 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. (O)
- You cannot pass another car within 30 meters of a crosswalk or intersection. (O)
- Japanese cars are well manufactured and don't need maintenance. (X)
- There are yellow blinking lights showing on the traffic signal. You don't have to pay attention to other motorists. (X)
- 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. (X)
- There is a "no entrance" sign on a street. You can drive your car or moped on that street. (X)
- There is a "pedestrians only" sign on a street. You can drive your car on that street. (X)
- There is a "no parking" sign (the blue and red one with the red "X"). You can park here. (X)
- There is a police officer in an intersection indicating for you to stop, but the light is green. You do not need to stop. (X)
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. You will be given a time to the a vision test. It requires you to indicate which side of the circle has a gap. Point to the direction (up, down, left, right) if you are unsure of how to answer in Japanese.
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 memorise it. This is why you will want to check the route in the morning and walk the course during lunch.
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.
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 centre 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 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.
If you were unsuccessful, you will need to come back on another weekday between 08:30–09:30. You will be exempt from the written test for a few months. 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. If the center is busy your test may be pushed back to the afternoon.
- 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 (Car Course Elements) • Renewing your Japanese license|
|Acquisition/Disposal||Buying a Car • Disposing of a Car|
|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|
|Other Topics||Getting to Tokyo • Traveling in and out of Japan • Akita JET travel guide|