Recently I went to a driving school in Japan to aid me in acquiring my driver’s license here. For most foreigners getting a driver’s license in Japan involves going to a licensing centre doing an interview then coming back for a driving test, written test and sometimes enduring a 2-hour lecture and video. The internet is littered with stories of foreigners having to go back multiple times in order to gain the right to drive on Japan’s roads.
For me, I had a drivers license but I literally got it a week before coming to Japan. To do the process I described earlier you had to have your license for 3 months prior to moving Japan so it turns out I was no different from a regular new driver in Japan. Finding a driving school that offered lessons in English was hard enough in my rural prefecture. When many could have easily done lessons after work or on weekends that was not an option for me.
Luckily I found a school and endured 15 days of a boot-camp-like experience to get the coveted piece of plastic. In hindsight I “kinda” understand why Japan is so mental when it comes to road safety – road users are generally courteous and law-abiding – a big difference from the wild west that is Jamaica’s roads.
The 3 paths to a drivers licence in Japan are:
- 1. If you are from Iceland, Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy, Austria, Australia, Holland, Canada, Korea, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, France, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg or Taiwan you just need to translate your license with the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF), pay a small fee, endure some paperwork and the licence is yours.
- Not from a country listed above? Then if you have had your license for 3 or more months you can translate your licence, endure an interview mainly asking about how you got your license, when you got it, driving rules in your country etc, then pass a written then driving test before the license can be yours. I personally know people who have had to do the driving test more than five times to pass.
- If you are like me and had your less than 3 months or no license whatsoever then your options are driving school then learners license, more driving school then written test, a lecture then license! This process depending on the school you attend can be anywhere from a 2 and half week intensive boot-camp (that is what I did) to a 6 months process of checking off lectures and classes while doing the practical driving necessary.