How to Get a Driver’s License in Japan Without Speaking Japanese

Driver’s License in Japan

Being quite honest, the idea of driving a car terrifies me. But since I choose to live in a remote area like Nagano Prefecture, having a car would make life much simpler. To put it mildly, walking 40 kilometres each way to and from work each week is becoming exhausting.

I can have a conversation in Japanese, but I’m not fluent. So I still prefer to use my native English when conducting formal business like contract discussions, legal matters, or registering a vehicle.

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I have a problem with learning to drive because of this. Yes, there are a number of driving schools out there; in fact, one is within a short walk from my house. Sadly, neither they nor any of their staff members provide any information in English.

I rapidly realised that unless I could significantly improve my reading and writing skills in Japanese, I would not be able to learn to drive in Nagano. Here is the procedure you will experience if you choose to obtain your Japanese driver’s licence before locating the appropriate English-speaking driving school (which I will list at the end of this post).

Process of getting your Japanese driver’s licence

The process of obtaining a licence in Japan is laborious, expensive, and filled with paperwork. If you already possess a licence from your country of origin, the procedure is substantially simpler—though still tedious. You can use the links below to skip to the part that applies to you as we examine both situations.

If you don’t already have a licence in your home country

The process of obtaining a Japanese driver’s licence mainly involves four steps.

Step 1 Get a learner’s permit

You must pass a written, multiple-choice test covering road safety and Japanese driving legislation in order to do this. To pass, you must receive at least 45 out of a possible 50. The next step is to successfully complete an on-site practical driving course at a recognised driving school.

Once you have your licence, you can leave the driving school and take practical lessons on the open road. In terms of functionality, this is very similar to the UK’s system of provisional licensing.

Step 2 Take even more driving courses

After that, you’ll need to go to more classroom and practical training sessions to get ready for your driving and final written examinations. It’s up to you how many lessons you take. The sole restriction is that you must go through the learner’s permit application process again if you don’t upgrade your learner’s permit to a full licence within six months.

You must complete a certified first aid course before taking the final exam. To be eligible for the final test, you must have completed at least five sessions of actual driving practice on public roads during the previous three months.

We warned you it was challenging!

Step 3 Take the final written test

The written test has been strengthened after that. There are 95 questions overall this time. Ninety of them are multiple-choice questions with the same structure as the written test for the learner’s permit. The final five questions each carry two points and are illustration-based. There isn’t much room for error because the passing score is 95 out of a potential 100.

Step 4 Take the actual driving test (finally)

You are now prepared to take on the last challenge—the driving test—after completing several hours of theoretical and practical instruction. In the part after this, we’ll go into greater detail.

If you already have a licence in your home country

In this case, there is no need to bother about obtaining a learner’s permit or to enrol in any genuine driving lessons. The practical driving test, which is the same for individuals without a licence from their native country, and the 10-question written exam are what matter.

The “practical” driving test, however, is problematic because it goes completely against how you are probably accustomed to driving. Instead of “prove how well you can drive,” it’s more like “show how well you can pass this test.”

For instance, you must show that you can drive through a tight “S curve” that resembles a cartoon snake more than a real road while maintaining a constant distance of 70 cm from the curb. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time; it usually takes non-Japanese three or four tries to pass this test.

What would I suggest? Get ready. Visit a driving school and request to take a few practice tests on the school’s driving course with an instructor before the real thing.

If you don’t pass the first time, some of the driving schools listed below provide free or heavily discounted follow-up lessons.

English-speaking driving schools

Here are four English-speaking driving schools in Japan. Remember that you might have to travel a little.

Kodama Driving School

This institution, which has locations in both Tokyo and Yokohama, appears to have the top internet reviews for its English driving programme. However, at 396,000 for an automatic transmission driving course and 410,000 for a manual one, they are also by far the most expensive.

Chubu Nippon Driving School

Those of you who reside in central Japan may want to consider the Chubu Nippon School in Nagoya. At 353,000 for automatic and 369,000 for manual, it is a little less expensive than Kodama. If it provides you any further peace of mind, the Toyota Motor Company also supports the school.

EDS Driving School

This subsequent school, which has campuses in both Tokyo and Saitama, is one of the few that provides various pricing plans based on the needs of the student. Some people pick things up more quickly than others, so if you believe you could get by with a few fewer hours than the required training, their cheap automatic transmission plan, which costs just 176,000, might be right for you.

Okui Driving School

Of the four schools, Okui Driving School in Saitama has the most affordable tuition. Their entry-level beginner’s training costs just 120,000. They also offer a “VIP” package for 400,000 if you desire an intensive training designed to earn your licence in two weeks.

I am using this time to prepare for the theoretical test. Later this year, hopefully, I’ll travel for the first time, health and finances permitting.

Wishing everyone luck and careful driving.

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