A driver's license is called a jidousha menkyo (自動車免許) in Japanese.
If you have to retake the exam (as most of us do), be prepared to shell out about 3500 - 4000 yen per retake.
Many driving schools will offer a special course that will only teach you how to take the driving test. In Saiki, the class was an hour a day on four separate days for 9000 yen. That's cheaper than going to the Oita test course on Saturday and renting a car and instructor for an hour. My recommendation would be to go to a driving school if possible so you can learn how to pass the test. That, and take the test before your international license expires. In July and August is when all the JETs go to get their license and getting an appointment can be tricky.
When you go to take time off to take the test, ask your supervisor if there's a special leave (tokkyu 特休) you can take instead of nenkyu. At my school, we can get special leave for official business that we have to take care of during the week (such as sorting out paperwork at city hall or taking your driving test). If possible, ask if you can take that. They may or may not let you, but it’s a worth a try either way!
A personal account written in 2014 for JETs who already have a Canadian license
Taking the practical driving test
OITA ORC Disclaimer (10 April 2017) This account has been confirmed as accurate as of January 2017 by a current Oita JET. A very similar guide can be found here.
Welcome to one of the most wonderful, magical and sublime experiences you’ll ever encounter in Japan: the DRIVING TEST!
Kidding. All the horror stories, frustrations, disappointments, collapsing of one’s sanity, etc. you’ve heard about? It’s all true. Really. But you shouldn’t lose hope! It’s a stodgy, insipid and tedious process, but you CAN pass on your first try. You CAN beat the system. (Apologies for the tedious writing – but it’s just the first tedious step towards your license…)
Everyone who has passed on his/her first try knows that one MUST, MUST practice the driving course before taking the driving test. This is the cheapest and only viable method to pass the test the first time (without paying ridiculous amounts to attend “driving school.”) There’s no other way, unless you’d like to keep paying about ¥4,000 per try (fees, etc) and keep failing until you pass.
First, make an appointment at the driving center for a Saturday, one-hour ¥2,000 “practice” run. The driving center is only open for practice. You’ll come in, pay and drive your car/their car. You’ll also need to bring someone who has had his/her Japanese license for at least 3 years.
If possible, take someone who’s already taken (and passed) the foreigner’s driving course. He/she can teach you exactly what to do during the driving test. During your practice run, make sure you get as familiar as you can with the route of the course and practice it as if you’re taking the test.
Ready to take the actual driving test? Reservation is required – call to make an appointment first.
Here’s what you’ll need to bring:
Home country driver's license, received at least 3 months before you arrived in Japan. (If not, you should bring your old license too).
Translation of your license by the JAF (Japan Automobile Federation)
Residency card (外国人登録証書, Gaikokujin touroku shomeisho OR 在留カード, zairyu kaado)
Confirmation certificate, confirming the information in your Alien Registration Card/Residency Card. Obtainable from any city hall.
Photograph that is 3 x 2.4 cm. This can be taken easily at the photo booths you see around stores.
Money - you should bring at least ￥8,000 to cover registration and application fee etc.
Interpreter - if you think you'll need help with understanding Japanese. There is a short "interview" before you take the written test regarding your prior driving experience.
Location: Oita Department of Motor Vehicles (Oita Keisatsu Honbu Kotsubu Unten Menkyoka) 6687 Matsuoka, Oita City Tel: 097-536-2131 (ext: 702-245) Open: Monday – Friday 1:30 – 2:00 pm excluding holidays)**
**The driving test will usually be a 1:00 pm appointment. If you’re re-taking the driving test, however, just show up at 1:00 pm Monday to Friday – no appointment necessary. **The foreigner’s driving course map is located at the driving center. [PA Note: There is also an unverified map attached below.]
This is exactly what you’ll need to do during the test, so read carefully.
The following route is accurate as of July, 2009.
First, remember that “yoshing” at the appropriate times during the test is mandatory. The point of saying “yoshi” (pronounced without the “i”) is so that the proctor can confirm that you’ve done your checks, e.g. checking your blind spot, right mirror, etc.
Before you get into the car, check under the front of the car, then under the driver’s side, then the back of the car. Yoshi at each of these 3 checks. Before you open the door, check behind you and yoshi a 4th time. *This pre-check before you get into the car isn’t required all the time; I know people who’ve passed without doing it. It will depend on your proctor, but do it anyway just to be safe!
Step into the car by placing your left hand on the steering wheel and putting in your left leg first. Once you’re seated, close and lock the door and put on your seatbelt. Introduce yourself to the proctor. A simple “(Name) desu – yoroshiku onegaishimasu” will suffice.
Next, check and/or adjust your mirrors – left, right, and rearview mirrors. When you’re ready to proceed, put your foot on the brake and start the car. Move the car into drive and release the parking brake (hint: it’s underneath the wheel, near your left knee.)
Turn on your right signal. Now, check your mirrors and blindspots (starting from the left blindspot, left mirror, rearview mirror, right mirror, right blindspot – you get the picture.) Remember to always yoshi at each “check.” Finally, before you start moving, do a final right check (yoshi) and left check (yoshi.) You’re now ready to roll.
Drive into the starting/merging lane, which is a short strip of lane right in front of you. Once you’re in the merging lane, you’ll need to make a right lane change. Right signal and check your right mirror and blindspot, yoshing both times. Once you’ve changed lanes (do so before the merging lane ends), you’ll find yourself on the left side of a 2-lanes.
Ahead of you is a right curve. Do NOT brake during this curve! Doing so will cost you a 20-point deduction. Go slower before the curve, and you won’t have to worry about braking during the curve. (The proctor explained to me afterwards that braking during a curve is very dangerous. You shouldn’t be going fast enough to need to brake during a curve anyway…).
After you’ve cleared the curve, you’ll come upon a long, straight stretch of road. Accelerate to 50 km/h at this point. Don’t worry about being “exact” – the proctor’s not going to fail you if you only go up to 49 km/h. Just make sure you accelerate enough to about or slightly over 50 km/h. This part of the driving test allows you to show the proctor that you’re capable of driving well in a faster speed.
Please note: AT ALL TIMES, at ALL times during the test, STAY CLOSE TO THE LEFT OF THE LANE/ROAD you’re in. This means that you need to be about 50 cm from the left curb, or about 1.5 feet. You will be deducted at least 5 points every time you don’t! (The proctor has failed people for driving too much in the center of the lane. It’s the rule, regardless of whether it makes sense. During this long stretch of road, make sure you stay close to the left
At the end of this long, straight road, you’ll see in the distance a right curve. BEFORE you approach this right curve, make a right-lane change. Don't forget: make a right-lane change BEFORE you approach this curve! Reason? You’ll need to make a right turn just after this curve, but at the same time, if you wait to lane change after the curve, you won’t be allowing for 30-meter distance between signaling and turning. Thus, you need to already be in the right lane before you clear the curve, so that you’re ready to turn at the next right turn. Turn on your right signal, yoshi right mirror and yoshi right blind spot, then make the lane change. Again, this lane change should happen BEFORE you approach this right curve. You’ll now be in the right lane.
Right before this right curve (you’re still on the right lane), gently BRAKE 3 TIMES. Reason? It’s a “safety” signal to people behind you that you’re going to slow down and/or stop; thus, a mandatory part of the driving test. Pump your break gently 3 times BEFORE you enter this curve, then ease into the curve WITHOUT braking. Remember: NO BRAKING during a curve!
Right after you clear the curve, signal right. Once you reach where you need to turn right, do your yoshi’s – right mirror, right blindspot, then make the right turn. Turn INTO THE FAR LEFT LANE while avoiding the white diamond-ish marker on the road. The marker is there to “guide” you into the turn – do NOT drive over the white marker or after the white marker, but drive BEFORE it during your right turn. Driving over or going around the white marker will cost you 5 points, and turning into the right lane instead of the left will also cost you points. Be aware.
Once you’ve turned into the left lane (while keeping close the left curb at all times), you’ll need to make a right turn at the traffic light intersection. Drive straight for a couple seconds, then do the routine: signal right, yoshi right mirror and right blindspot, then make a right-lane change. You’ll arrive upon the intersection with the traffic light. Since you’re preparing to make a right turn, it’s now time to STAY CLOSE TO THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE LANE instead of the left! No joke: stay within 50 cm to your right.
At the traffic light (and by now you should be in the right lane), if the light is red, gently brake 3 times (same routine as before) and come to a complete stop before the first white line. If the light is green, slow down a bit before the intersection and yoshi right and left BEFORE making the right turn. Reason? You’ve always got to check right and left before you cross ANY intersection, just in case there are stray cars rushing through, etc.
Once the light turns green, turn into the RIGHT LANE along the center line. Yes – this time, you actually don’t need to turn into the left lane like before; according to the proctor, it’s because there isn’t enough distance to make your next right turn. Just this once, it’s OK to turn into the right lane. Stay close to the right.
Once you’ve cleared this turn, turn on your right signal again. Slow down by braking 3 times, and turn right (with routine yoshi’s) into a road without lines. There will be a curb island on your left; stay close to it. Your next turn will be a right turn at the next intersection, so turn on your right signal 30 meters before.
Once you’ve made that right turn (stay close to the left!), you’ll be making another right turn. Do all your routine turn yoshi’s. After making this turn, you’ll need to turn left into a S-shaped road (with the #2 sign post, I believe.) Do your routine left-turn signaling and your yoshing (don’t forget your left blind spot) before you left-turn into this snake road.
Inside the S-shaped snake road, TAKE YOUR TIME. There are NO point deductions for going slow; it’s an automatic fail, however, if you hit any curb at any time. Therefore, don’t take chances and GO SLOW! When you’re halfway through the snake road and before you get to the exit of the snake road, turn on your left signal. (If it clicks off, turn it on again). Yoshi left and right and make your left turn exit from the snake road. Be careful not to be too close to the left during the turn – your left back tire may graze/hit the curb. Hitting the curb is an auto fail!
Once you’ve made your left turn out of the snake road, you’ll need to make a left turn at the next intersection. Turn on your left signal far enough ahead and do your left mirror and left blindspot yoshing before the turn.
After this left turn, you’ll go straight through an intersection. Before you enter this intersection, yoshi right and left (always do this check at every intersection, remember?) and proceed through it. Make the first left turn after the intersection, and do all your signaling/yoshi’s.
Once you’ve cleared that, turn on your left blinker and prepare to left turn into a zig-zag road (#2 sign post, I believe.) This zig-zag tests your ability to make 90-degree turns in a tight road. Again, GO SLOW and don’t hit a curb or fence – both are automatic fails. About halfway through this zig-zag road, turn on your left blinker.
Before turning left, check right and left, then do your routine left checks and yoshing. Once you’ve cleared this turn, you’ll be going straight through an intersection (check left and right before going through it!) Turn on your right signal – you’ll be turning right after the stop sign. After braking 3 times, come to a complete stop at the white line before the stop sign. You’ll see two concrete walls to your left and right.
In order to make a safe right turn, you’ll need to slowly ease out into the main road until the concrete walls aren’t blocking your vision anymore and do a couple yoshi left and rights while creeping or easing out past the concrete walls. These concrete walls stimulate the scenario in which you’re forced to exit from in between two buildings where there are no convenient view mirrors to reveal oncoming traffic. Just keep yoshing left and right until after you finish this right turn!
At this point, the worst is over and you’re almost done. Turn on your right signal again, and make the same right turn as you’ve done before: pass by the white marker (use it to guide you) and enter the left lane. Go straight (keep left!) until you reach the traffic light intersection.
If the light is red, you know what to do. If it’s green, make sure you yoshi left/right for your intersection check, and do your routine left mirror, left blindspot yoshi too before you make the turn. Note: during this left turn, make sure you’re not TOO close to the left curb; supposedly, you’re supposed to be 1 meter (not 50 cm) during left turns so as not to hit the anything on your left. However, make sure you’re not making TOO wide of a left turn, either. Just stay about a good 1 m from the curb during the turn. Depending on the proctor, you may be deducted 5 points for making too wide or too close of a left turn. Be careful!
Right after this left turn, turn on your right signal, do your routine right lange change yoshi’s, and change into the right lane. Keep your right signal on, as you’ll need to make your final right turn.
Before your final right turn, do your routine right/left check, then turn into the far left lane. Go straight for a little bit. 30 meters before the curve, turn on your left blinker, do your routine left yoshi’s (left mirror, left blindspot) and turn off the course. Proceed slowly to the numbered parking spot that the proctor says.
Keep yourself parallel to the curb and make sure you’re parking no more than 30 cm (8 inches or less) from the curb. Put your car in park, pull your parking brake, and switch off the car engine (but leave the keys). Say “arigato gozaimashita” to the proctor.
*This next part doesn’t always have to happen, similar to the initial check before you get into the car. Every situation is different. Generally speaking, however, you should do it just to be safe.
After you’ve turned off the engine and said thank you, unless the proctor starts talking, take off your seat belt, look out the driver’s door and yoshi. Open the door about 10 cm, look right and yoshi again. You’re done! If the proctor starts talking after you’ve turned off the engine, listen carefully to his explanation of your mistakes, etc. You may receive an explanation either in the car or inside the waiting area. Either way, if there’s explaining to be done, you most likely have failed.
If you’ve done everything right, you should be getting your brand new, shiny (and not quite cheap) Japanese driver’s license, which will last you 3 years. You’ll wait an extra half-hour to an hour, during which you’ll fill out a simple form with your name and address, pay a license fee, then have your picture taken. When you receive your license, return that form and you’re done.