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In Japan, automobiles and bicycles are driven on the left side of the road. Seatbelts in automobiles and helmets on motorcycles must be worn in accordance with the law. Traffic infractions, including drinking under the influence of drugs or alcohol, may result in severe penalties. When you purchase a car, new cars must be inspected within 3 years. Thereafter, cars must be inspected every 2 years from the date of the first inspection. You must also purchase automobile insurance.

International Driver Permit

Driving permits from nations who are signatories to the "Convention on Road Traffic (Geneva Conventions)" can be used in Japan. International Driver Permits will stay valid for 1 year from the starting date. Citizens of Germany, France, and Switzerland can use their own nations' driving permits if they have a publically issued Japanese translation of them.
Please contact the Driver's License Center for more information.

Switching over to a Japanese Driving License

If you came to Japan without switching your driver's license to an International Driver Permit, you can still switch over at one of the Driver's License Centers. Please bring an interpreter with you if you do not speak Japanese. You will be tested on your ability, knowledge of driving, and techniques.

Conditions

  1. Your driver's license from your own nation is still valid.
  2. You can prove that you have resided for at least 3 months in the country you obtained your license from.

Required Documents

  1. A valid driver's license from your own nation
    Permits with no effective date or lacking an issuance date will require proof of your driving record.
  2. A Japanese translation of your own nation's driver's license.
    The translation must be issued by an embassy or a consulate of your nation in Japan, or by JAF (Japan Automobile Federation).
  3. Passport
    Must have information on your entry into the country and when you obtained or renewed your driver's license.
  4. Residence Record (juminhyo)
  5. Signature seal (or signature)
  6. One photograph for identification purposes (3cm × 2.4cm)
  7. Fee

Please consult your local Driver's License Center for further details on documentation requirements.

When obtaining a license in Japan

To obtain a driver's license in Japan, you will be required to study the traffic laws of Japan. Paper tests can be done in English, but the driving test will be done only in Japanese. If you wish to take the paper test in English, please state that on the day of the test. Also, the minimum age to obtain a license for a regular automobile is 18 while the minimum age for a motorcycle is 16.

Penalties for traffic accidents in Japan

There have been many accidents caused by driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in recent years. The provider of the alcohol as well as any passengers in the automobile may also be held to the same liability as the driver. Under current law, traffic accidents caused by driving under the influence will have the crime of reckless endangerment with casualties on a vehicle applied to it. It will have a maximum sentence of 15 years if injury has resulted and a minimum sentence of 1 year for manslaughter (a maximum sentence of 30 years is possible when combined). If you have been drinking, please do not drive.

Even if the accident does not involve driving under the influence, accidents caused by reckless driving will have the same penalties apply. Please be especially careful when driving.

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