Japanese License 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.
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 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
- ¥4,000 (you are not responsible for 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
Information on the process and requirements for changing your licence can be found on the Akita License Center website here.
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. As a measure against corona, the license center has decreased the amount of people per day who can do the gaimen kirikae tests to 2, so your test day may also be a few weeks after the interview. Make sure to plan ahead appropriately, as it may take quite some time to get your license because of this, especially if you don't pass the tests on the first go.
- Valid Driver License from your home country*1 *2 *6
- Residence Card
- JAF-issued license translation*3
- Certificate of Residence (with Nationality listed)*4
- Proof of presence of at least three months in issuing country*5 *6
- International Driving Permit (if applicable)*7
- Any official document or card displaying your name in katakana (bank book, health insurance card, bank card, etc.)
- Proof of presence of at least 12 months in the issuing country*6
- Any previous licenses and passports you may have*6
*1 If your license 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.
*2 If your current drivers 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 licensing authority is acceptable as a substitute for previous license(s). If your license doesn't show the issue date, you will also be required to show a document with this date listed, like a driving record or issuing letter.
*3 While technically required on day one, you can clear the interview stage without it. This is noteworthy for those who wish to stop by the JAF branch in Akita City and apply for the license translation in person on the same day that they go in for the interview (both the License Center's document screening and JAF's issuing of the translation can take up to 2 weeks, so these waiting periods line up). Note that if you do not bring your license translation on day one, you must bring it with you day two - you will not be allowed to test without it.
*4 A Certificate of Residence (住民票; jūminhyō) with listed nationality (国籍; kokuseki) is obtainable from your local city office for around ¥300)
*5 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. This can include university transcripts (with your address), tax forms, housing records, pay stubs, driving records, etc.
*6 Note that if you wish to be exempt from displaying learner stickers (初心者マーク; shoshinsha-māku), you will need to show over 12 months continuous of both residence and driving legality in your home country. For residence, be careful with bringing in housing records, pay stubs, etc. that don't show a full 12 months - you may need to bring in enough versions to establish continuous residence (i.e., 12 consecutive pay stubs). For driving legality, if you need multiple licenses to prove a 12-month period, be careful that there are no gaps between licenses - if there is a gap in your driving history, anything before the gap will not be counted.
*7 International Driving Permits are not required but you will be asked to show it if you do have one, especially if you are driving regularly (and drove to the center).
Arrive at the License 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. Be aware that you may be asked to wait up to an hour, even if you are on time and the license center is relatively empty.
During the interview, you will be asked to confirm the details on all documents that you submitted. For this reason, be very careful that (1) you understand ALL of the details on your documents and (2) you do not have any (seemingly) contradictory documents.
During the interview,
- You will be asked to go through the details of your drivers license. You should assume that you will be asked about every detail and mark on your license, including the various ID numbers and bar codes.
- You will be asked about the process of receiving your drivers license, beginning with how you learned to drive. Be prepared to explain the entire process: where and when you learned how to drive, how many hours your class was, what kind of test(s) you took to receive your license, whether you received a permit before your license, how you updated your permit to a license, how many times you've updated your license, whether you had to test in between renewals, whether you visited the center in person each time, etc.
- You will likely be asked about the stamps in your passport, particularly if the interviewer could not tell where the stamp was from. Make sure that you can recognize where the stamps are from, and know how long you were there.
You will be asked to fill out a form explaining some of the details of your driving experience. The form will include things like:
- Did you take a written exam? How many questions was it? How long did it take you? What kind of questions?
- Did you take a driving test? Was it on a course or the road? Whose car did you use? What kind of car was it? How long was the test?
- Did you take any other aptitude tests? (i.e., eye exam, hazard awareness, etc.)
- Do you know Japanese driving rules? Do you know what to do in a traffic accident? Do you know what the numbers 110 and 119 are for? Do you have any Japanese friends who can help you drive?
You may be asked additional questions, based on the documents you bring in and your individual interviewer. Questions that have been asked in the past are as follows. (Refer to these examples and make sure you can answer them all in Japanese before showing up.)
- 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 (only briefly this time) while they process your application. Expect the whole process to take about an hour and a half or two hours. 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 license, or take the written and practical tests, then collect your license.
Day Two: Test and License Collection
Once you receive the call to notify you that your application has been processed you will need to make another appointment for the second visit. You will be instructed to visit window 50 of the licence center again on a specified weekday between 08:30 – 09:30. As a measure against corona, the license center has decreased the amount of people per day who can do the gaimen kirikae tests to 2, so your test day may be a few weeks after the interview. Make sure to plan ahead appropriately.
- Valid Driver License
- License Translation
- Residence Card
- Certificate of Residence*1
- 30 x 24mm photograph x2 or x3*2
*1 Note that because the licensing center only takes a copy, you can use the same certificate you used for the interview. *2 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 written or practical 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, Ohio, Virginia and Washington only).
Licenses issued by the following jurisdictions do not require a practical test.*
United States of America (state of Indiana only).
* Current as of September 2021. An up-to-date list can be found on this page of Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (Japanese).
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. Do note that you are technically not meant to view the driving course until after passing the written exam, and there are signs on the door saying to not enter unless you are taking the exam. Also note that there is 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 accompanied by diagrams. You will have 10 minutes to take the exam, and there is 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 Japanese road signs (refer to this guide). 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|
|When making a right turn, you have to stay in the center before moving to the right side of the lane. (An illustration of the arrows indicating where your car should be is shown here.)||〇|
|You cannot pass another car within 30 meters of a crosswalk or intersection.||〇|
|When children are present, you have to reduce speed or stop so they can cross safely.||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 "stop" sign on a street. This means you don't have to stop before turning right or left.||✕|
|There is no need to call the police when there's an accident even if the other person seems responsible.||✕|
|There is a police officer in an intersection indicating for you to stop, but the light is green. You do not need to stop.||✕|
You can take several practice written exams on this page.
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 12:30–13:00 so head to the waiting room for 12:30 if you want to practice the route. This is highly recommended. You are permitted to ask for directions during the test if you forget but the expectation is for you to memorize it.
As of 2022, the lower left portion of the course is under construction, so you will not be asked to drive in that part. You can see the old, expanded lower left portion on the "Pre-2022 layout" map.
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, physically leaning over, to make sure nothing is in the way or abnormal. If you have a bag with you, place it into the back seat before getting in. 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 will 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. Check that the parking brake is engaged and that the car is in park. 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. You will be asked to stop, park, and engage the parking brake again before beginning the exam.
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. You should aim for 30–35km/hr and increase to 40–45km/h in the final stretch, although slow back down to ~30km/hr when approaching the curve at the end. In general, going slower is better than going too fast.
- Position the vehicle slightly to the left of center in the lane while driving. You should feel like your own body is about in the center of the lane.
- Even when passing through green lights or any intersection look both ways before proceeding.
- At mandatory stops, you want to position the vehicle just as the line goes out of sight, or fully before the line. If you cross the line you are able to reverse and correct your position a maximum of four times during the test. If the instructor has to engage their own brake, this will likely greatly hinder you from passing (though it is not an automatic fail).
- 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.
- You only need to and should only fully stop (fully behind the line and waiting 3 seconds) at proper stop signs or red lights, or coming out of the S-curve or L-crank. Even when crossing the 4-lane road or at the top of the hill, etc., you only need to carefully check before proceeding through, checking both ways. If you stop where there is no stop, this is an automatic fail.
- 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. (Note that this has been tested in other prefectures, but no recent JETs have been asked to do this in Akita)
- 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. Note that on the test course, 3 of the dotted white lines in the center of the road is approximately 30m in length. You should aim to be fully moved to the left or right edge of the lane with at least 3 "dots" before the turn. You are required to indicate for at least 30m after positioning your vehicle to the edge of the lane, as well.
- 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.
- There may be sections of the course, particularly near the S-curve and L-crank sections, where you are required to make several consecutive left or right turns. Particularly when completing consecutive right turns, you are not required to (and it is recommended that you do not) position your car to the left of the lane first. Simply stay to the right edge of the lane when you complete your turn. Immediately indicate that you will turn again, remain at the edge of the lane, and make your checks before turning once more.
- 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. If you think you are going to come off the course or make contact with the poles, you may reverse up to three times to correct your driving line in each section. The following videos (in Japanese) give tips on how to successfully do the S-curve and L-crank.
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 boards. Follow the announcement and head to the appropriate window (typically window 50) 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. After 9:30, the practical tests will be conducted in order of registration, as usual. After completing the practical, you will be asked to wait until approximately 11:00 until the results will be displayed on the electronic boards. You will likely be asked to wait again until close to 11:45 to have your photo taken and license printed. You should be done right around 12:00.
- 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
- AJET Driving Book
- Driving in Japan and Passing the Japanese Driver's Test
- Foreign Driver's Licenses and International Driving Permits (Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department; English)
- Converting from a Foreign Driver's License to a Japanese Driver's License (Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department; Japanese)
|Traveling in Japan|
|Cars||Driving||Driving • Winter Driving • Speeding Tickets • Drinking and Driving • Roadside Station|
|Licenses||International Driving Permit • Japanese License Transition (Test Course Elements • Test Course Maps) • 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||Traveling in and out of Japan • Residence Card • Visa Extension • Travel Insurance • Buying Flights & Travel Agents|
|Other Topics||Exploring Akita • Getting to Tokyo • Akita JET travel guide • Where in the World is Sugichi? • Quirky Japan|