Saturday, February 9, 2008

Applying for a Drivers License in Tochigi

You can drive on an International Driver's License in Japan. However, if you want to live in Japan, the right to drive on an International License only lasts for one year (even if you renew your International Driver's License). After that, you must get a Japanese Driver's License. Depending on where you are from this is a difficult thing to do.

The first thing you need to do is get a translation of your driver's license. You must do this at the Japan Automobile Federation office in Utsunomiya. More details at the bottom of this post but basically you just need a copy of your license (front and back) and a copy of your alien registration card (and I think the original). These guys are very helpful. You can do it by post. We went in and it took an hour for 2 translations over lunch.

If you are Australian or Canadian (help me grow this list please) it's now a fairly simple matter of going in to the Driving License Center with the translation, your license, your passport, your Alien Registration Card and a passport photo and you can get a Japanese License. You have to do a written test (which is very easy) and an eye test. If you are from Hong Kong, Brasil, China, Vietnam, USA or Philippines (please help me grow this list) then you have to do a practical test. The practical test is not easy. The two times I have been present when the results have come out the pass rate was respectively about 5% and 3%. I am Australian, but unfortunately, my only current license is from USA so I have to join the second process. It took me two full days to submit my application due to the large number of stamps in my passport. And I had to go home and get an old passport because they wanted to see more travel info than was in my 1 year old passport.

Please don't assume that because you are a good driver you will pass easily. I studied quite heavily and thought I nailed it during the test and my result: 0%. If you want to get your license quickly and smoothly then I suggest spend a few hundred thousand yen (yup 2 or 3 thousand dollars) and go to driving school.

Let me digress here for a second and say that I think the driving in Japan is excellent. I know many will strongly disagree with me here but I think its probably the best in the world (at least that I have seen). Not the best in terms of "how quickly can you enter traffic", "how assertive are you on the road" or "how much like a New York cabbie you drive" but the best in terms of "how calm, relaxed and defensive their driving is". Its a pleasure to drive in Japan. I can understand that Japan would like longer term visitors to their country to drive like this too.

Here is what happens on the day of the test. You have to come in by 9:50 AM to you submit your paperwork (even if its not your first time). You must first pay a 2400 yen at a counter that closes at 10:00AM. Then you all line up and at about 10:30 they inspect your paperwork with you. Then if its your first time they give you an eye test and a written test. You don't need to prepare for the written test. Its very easy. Sample question: "If you come to an intersection and the traffic light is green but there is a policemen there indicating you should stop, is it OK to observe the green light and continue?" The eye test is easy too. At this point on your first attempt you will be given a totally inadequate 4 page pamphlet with some hints for doing the test. You must go to the web for information on how to pass (please post additional resources as comments here and I'll add them to the article). I haven't found a really authoritative reference yet.

At 12:00 you can walk the driving test course. I suggest you print out a map and walk it at least once the first time. Its quite useful to know it. I'll link to resources for passing the test below but on your walk note the location of any lane changes, stop signs, the blind intersection and the pedestrian crossing.

At 1:00 you all assemble in the test center, your name will be called and you have to write your name on a piece of paper and then turn it over. I got off to a bad start when I didn't understand what to do and my tester got visibly angry with me. Note who fills in the name before you. You have to follow them in the test. The guy who supervised you flipping the paper over will be your assessor.

Now just line up and get ready to be tested. You will be a passenger for the person in front of you while they are tested. At the end of the test your tester _might_ give you a hint about why you failed. My hint was that I wasn't far enough to the left or right of the lane before turning left of right (I was aware of this rule and thought I had done it). My wife got no hints and also got 0%. There is no additional feedback on your performance.

At about 3:30 the results are announced and you are free to sign up for the next round of tests if you fail. The calmness and tranquility of the failing attendees is quite shocking. People are clearly learning something from their time in Japan, but its not how to pass the driving test.

I know at least half of my anger about this is just because I am judged to be too poor a driver. I'm also a little bit upset that I can't communicate with the people running the foreign driver license conversion process (and there are enough applicants for them to have dedicated staff). I'm not being fair by being angry about those points. I'm a visitor in this country and I must follow their rules and learn to adapt to their system or get out. But I don't think its right that there is no authoritative reference on how to pass the test, that it takes 6 hours at the center to do the 15 minute test or that information about why I failed is haphazard and incomplete.

My next blog article? "Buying a bicycle in Tochigi" :-(


Hints for passing the driving test

My Beloved Sushi
Looks like the site is being redone. The layout is still a bit screwy, but I think this site has the best information. Get your map here.

Global Compassion
This site is not as good, but does contain good info. The map is different in Utsunomiya and I think the fail rate is higher than he says here too.

Japan Automobile Federation - get your license translated here.
English Website
Detailed info
Application Form

Update: On my fifth try I passed the test. More about it here.


owenandbenjamin said...

I wonder why the rules are tougher for those from the US compared to Australia?

davidfromoz said...

At first I thought it was because we drove on the left hand side in Australia too. But then Canada has it easy too and they drive on the right just like in USA.

I'm hoping to expand my list a little and see if any pattern emerges. I didn't see any Europeans at the driving test. The UK embassy website says UK citizens may or may not have to take a test.

Equinoxchfi said...

David, we are coming to be volunteers at the Asian Rural Institute in Nasushiobara this July and are very interested in your website.

One of the things we might be looking into is renting a place near the Asian Rural Institute. Is it difficult to find information about inexpensive accommodation for long term? We will be there till the middle of December.



davidfromoz said...

Hi Maria,

I'm glad to see your comment. We started this blog especially because when we were in your boat we couldn't find much about the place.

Low cost is relative. We pay about $900 per month for a good sized 2 bedroom house with a small garden. There are much alternatives. We had many choices.

There was a real estate guy who took us around, but he didn't speak any English, so we needed Japanese speaking help.

I think there are much cheaper shared accommodations options too. I will ask somebody at work about that on Monday.

I have been thinking about making a little map of Nasushiobara with places of interest (like real estate office, haircut etc.). Maybe your coming might motivate me to actually do it.

If you have any specific questions, please don't hesitate to ask.


അന്‍‌വര്‍ സാദത്ത് | anwer sadath said...

Hi david-san,

I was supposed to apply for a Japanese driving license. When I googled for some information about the JAF and Tochigi driving test centers, I directed to your blog. It was very surprising and I am very happy to have a person in my office itslef, who experienced the same thing what I was looking for. Anyway hope to see you some times in our pantry area during our tea break .

Best regards,
- anwer

davidfromoz said...

Hi Anwer,

It was a big shock for me to see somebody from work posting to my blog.

The whole driving test thing was horrible. But after 4 failures I passed. Perhaps my experience might help you to get past it. (I linked my passing the test post within this post.)

I'm in Brazil this week so you won't see me in the coffee room. But I'll be back late next week. See you then.

I like your photo blog.


Unknown said...

The rules are tougher for the US because they have 50 different licenses and not a national license. I recommend taking a few hours of driving lessons (not the whole course). The only people who passed at Tochigi the day I was there (4 out of 33) took the lessons.

davidfromoz said...

Thanks for the insight. Yes, I ended up doing 4 lessons. My company couldn't find English lessons locally, so I did them in Tokyo which being a different prefecture had totally different test procedures. But they were still worthwhile.

Jimbo said...

I'm all too familiar with horrors of the Kanuma Driving Center. I failed 5 times (I had heard the average was around 4) and I had to take a day off from work every time and take the train from Sakura City and the Bus from Utsunomiya. Pretty much a whole day wasted every time. It was horrible. The first failure was because I "didn't look long enough when changing lanes." The second failure? I "looked too long when changing lanes." It also doesn't help to have a different tester each time. I'm pretty sure it's all a money thing anyway. (you pass if you pay thousands of dollars?!) One poor Brazilian fellow I talked to told me he was there for his 26th try. OUCH!

Sandip said...

It's really a nice blog for those wanting to get their Japanese driving licence. i am on my mid-way of getting DL, soon will appear for practical test.

Rakesh said...

I came across your blog yesterday and I found it to be really useful.

I have a doubt regarding the validity of the IDP. I know that the IDP is usually valid for an year (I know that my original license should be valid still). But in Japan, it seems to be very different. From the US Embassy
website, I found out that if you get a Resident Card after landing in Japan, then the IDP becomes invalid even though its expiry date is still an year away. But, in another blog, I found that the above rule holds good
only for the US citizens. Does anyone have any information regarding this?

I have an Indian Driving License and an IDP (which conforms to the Geneva Convention 1949) and a resident card valid for one year. My Indian License
lets me ride any motorcycle irrespective of its Cubic Capacity (cc). So, will I be able to ride any motorcycle in Japan for another 10 months (I landed in Japan about 2 months back)? Will greatly appreciate your help.

Greetings from Sakura-shi!

davidfromoz said...

Thanks for visiting Rakesh. I'm sorry I don't think I can be much help. My info is probably out of date and I am no longer a Japan resident.

However, in 2008, I know that I could drive my car for one year on my International Drivers Permit. ( I know people who drove for 1 year after arrival in 2011).

I also know that there is a different test for motorcycles and I'm betting thats harder because it will be harder to get good info. I do know one guy who passed it, but that was a long time ago (decades).

Good luck. Also if you find additional information, I'd be happy to add it to the blog if it can help somebody. The driving test info is one of the popular part of the blog and I like to think it helped people.

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