It’s taken me 3 years, but I have finally got my Japanese drivers licence! Look out, Japan!! One of my favourite things back in Australia was going for drives. Whether just a trip to the other side of the city or a road trip with a few friends to the countryside, I loved getting behind the wheel and being able to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted!
Unlike Australia, driving in Japan is not so easy. The roads are extremely narrow; sometimes what you think is a one-way street is actually a two-way one, and drivers have to get on the footpath to pass each other! Side street parking is almost non-existent so delivery guys often leave their cars or scooters in the middle of the road while they run into the building. If another car comes up behind them, all they can do is beep their horn to say they’re there, and wait until the driver has returned! Especially in the cities, the streets are really congested. You have to be on the lookout not only for other cars but for pedestrians, bicyclists, buses, trucks, stray cats, the curb which is 5-10cm away from the outside line, the odd electricity pole that is on the side of the road… you have to be switched on all the time!
You might be wondering why on earth I’d want to get my licence then? Well, good question! Actually I would hate to have to drive in Tokyo. What I do want to do is hire a car in the countryside. Believe it or not, there are loads of places in Japan which are only accessible by car – no trains or even buses have routes there. I have done a couple of road trips with friends and there’s no denying it’s much easier and you can see a lot more when you have your own car. Shikoku (the smallest of Japan’s four main islands) is one place where I’m dying to go, but would need a car to get around all the mountains and valleys.
So, having gone through the process of getting my licence, I thought I’d share what I did in the hope that it might help at least one person who’s looking to do the same. Keep in mind that as an Australian, we don’t have to do a practical or written driving test. A number of other countries follow this method including the U.K., NZ, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan and many European countries.
1) I got a driving record from VicRoads for my Australian licence which showed the date I obtained my licence. It’s necessary to have this so that you can prove that you had more than 3 months driving experience before coming to Japan.
2) I went to the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) to get my Australian licence translated. FYI, you don’t need your driving record translated. You need to fill out a form with your name and address to submit with your licence.
Address: 2-2-17 Shiba Minato-ku
Time: 45 minutes
Key words: 外国免許（がいこくめんきょ）= foreign licence. 翻訳文（ほんやくぶん）= translation.
3) I went to the ward office to get a “residence record”. Basically it’s needed to show your current address, and your application can’t be processed without it. I got mine from the Shinagawa ward office (the closest office to the Driver’s License Center), but you can get it from any ward office. You have to fill out a form with your name and address and reason for wanting the record.
Time: 10 minutes
Key words: 住民票（じゅうみんひょう）= residence record. 新規（しんき）= new application (in regards to your licence).
3) I went to the Driver’s License Center in Samezu. Note the business hours are: 8:30am~11am, 1pm~3pm. It’s ALWAYS busy here. The end of the day is not a good time to go, so try the morning or right on 1pm.
Address: 1-12-5 Higashi-Oi Shinagawa-ku
Time: 3 hours
Key words: 切り替え（きりかえ）= switch over (your licence). 手続き（てつづき）= process. 申込用紙（もうしこみようし）= application papers.
Step 1: At the Samezu center, go to 3F. You will see a long reception counter. On the far left there’s a ticket machine on the counter and press the red button to obtain a number. The receptionist will take note of your number and details, then tell you to sit and wait (for about 15 minutes).
Step 2: Your number will be called. You will be given a form. Fill it out, then sit and wait (for about 10 minutes).
Step 3: Your number will be called. This time, you will give them the form and all the documents for your application. I had my Australian licence, Japanese translation, driving record, residence record, Alien Registration Card, passport, a 3×2.4cm photo (this is needed just for the application; and you can’t show teeth in the photo!). Then you will sit and wait (for about 1.5 hours).
Step 4: After all your documents have been verified, your number will be called. You’ll be given the invoice which you need to take to the window on the far right and pay. Then, you will go to 1F to have an eye test. You can choose to do the test in English or Japanese. You will have to say which direction the gap in the circle is facing (up, down, left, right) and which colour the light is (red, yellow, blue). The guy will write your result on your application form, which you then take back to 3F. You will then be told to go to a machine to make two PIN numbers which will be printed with a barcode. Then you sit and wait (for about 30 minutes).
Step 5: The final step of the application is taking your licence photo! You will be told to go to 1F. You will need to scan your PIN barcode before sitting for the photo.
Step 6: Go to 2F to get your licence! Waiting time is about 20 minutes. Then, you’re FINISHED!! The licence will be valid for your next three birthdays.
I hope this information was useful, or at least interesting, for some people! I was pretty nervous going to the licence center and if I’d known a bit more about the process I would have felt much more at ease. The people were actually quite nice, most things are in Japanese and English, and the building was renovated last year so is super modern and clean.