Monday, July 14, 2008

Getting a Driving License in Japan Part 1

Shake ya ass, it's time for more helpful tips involving paperwork and waiting in lines.

Converting an Overseas Motorcycle Driving License to a Japanese Motorcycle Driving License

This report applies to someone who:
  • Has lived in Japan for more than 1 year
  • Is American
  • Has a valid motorcycle license from America
It may be relevant for others. Let me address what I know about other situations first.

From scratch:

If you are getting a license from scratch, with no valid license from another country, you have to go to a driving school and take some tests. This isn't like in the States. I remember my driving school at age 15 cost about $100. Some High Schools have their own driving education courses. I don't know how it is now. I just remember, it was really easy for my Baskin Robins working self to get it done.

Back to Japan...

Driving school here costs about... are you ready... $3000. Just for the school. Do you get a free compact car with that fee? Nope. Crazy whack funky, people say you look like MC Hammer on Crack Humpty.

You've been here less than a year:

Get an International Drivers Permit. It's funny how easy this is. You get this paper pamphlet that is so cheap, but it works. You can drive on this for up to a year upon entering Japan. The expiration date doesn't matter. My permit said it expired December 2007, but since I arrived in Japan on June 2006, it wasn't good in Japan after June 2007. Please don't look at my past blog entries about motorcycle touring in the autumn of 2007. Ummm...

If you're from (insert Western country) and not America:

Some countries have agreements with Japan, and can just fill out a form to get their license. I've been told the reason that the US doesn't have this is that each State governs driving, so it's too complicated. Whatever... lucky Dutch.

Now... If you're like me:

Step 1 - Get a JAF translation of your license. You can do it by mail, but if you live in Tokyo, just go to the office. Bring:
  1. Photocopies of your Alien Card and License
  2. The application form (you can fill it out there if you want)
  3. 3000 yen
It takes about 30 minutes. There was no wait when I went.

Step 2 - Go to the License Center. Tokyo has 3. I went to the one in Samezu, was told I was missing some documents, then went to the one in Fuchu. The Samezu place is a madhouse. After waiting about an hour, they said that I needed something from the California DMV. Some sort of certificate of driving record. They showed me an example, it was printed off the internet. I called the DMV, and they said that I can't access this online, and it would take 4-6 weeks to get by mail. When I went to the Fuchu center (which is a 15 minute bicycle ride from my house!) they asked for it, but a simple ありません (don't have) was sufficient. Here's my day at the driving center in Fuchu.
  • 12:30 - I arrived with my Passport, current valid CA driving license, expired 2002-2007 CA driving license, my Alien Registration Card, Translated License from Step 1, two 4cm x 5cm photos (every train station in Japan has a photo machine for these), and money.
  • 12:31 - The information desk sends me to Counter #1
  • 12:35 - Counter #1 says "No" and send me to Counter #3
  • 12:40 - Counter #3 says "No" and send me to Counter #31 on the 3rd floor
  • 12:45 - This is the Foreign License counter. They speak English. I hadn't registered my new Visa with my city office yet, and they told me I have to do that. But the stamp in my Passport was enough. She asked for that mysterious driving record from the California DMV. I said I didn't have it. She also wanted my old passport, which I have no idea where it is. She seemed fine with just my old expired license. The thing is, you have to have been in the issuing country of your license for at least 3 months after getting it, so they will check all your visa stamps and expired documents. I'd only been to Europe twice and China once, so it was easy to explain. This step is a big your mileage may vary type of thing. There were only 2 other people translating their licenses here, so it was very laid back and friendly. The big center in Samezu had about 50 people waiting. Just FYI.
  • 1:00 - The license conversion people are on break from 11:00 to 1:00. At 1:00, I gave them my application forms which they will make for you (I had one for a bike, and one for a car), my 2 licenses, my passport, and my Alien card.
  • 1:08 - They asked me to explain my travels in England in 2002. Just how long I had been there. This goes back to that 3 months thing. I have read of people with dozens of entry stamps from around the world having to explain each and every trip. Make a spreadsheet explaining all of your visa stamps in order if you have a lot of them, this could save you a lot of time if you are some sort of jet setting playboy or something.
  • 1:20 - Sent to Counter #1 where I paid 2950 yen (about $30) and took an eye test. They stamped my application forms and sent me back to Counter #31
  • 1:25 - Take the Knowledge Test. It's really hard. 10 true or false questions. I remember a couple. "It is important to follow rules and signs on the road, true or false?" "It is OK to exceed the speed limit if traffic is light, true or false?" "On National Expressways, the passengers must wear saftey belts, but the driver doesn't have to, true or false?" You need 7 out of 10. It's in English. If you fail, please don't pursue a license. Or a purpose in life. Chances are if you fail this you probably can't drive because you are blind from jabbing a chopstick in your eye when you were learning how to use them.
Thats it, you make a reservation to come back a few days later to take the driving test. I take mine on the 17th. A nice Japanese man saw me looking over the driving test course and told me, "Manners are more important than skill." I have a course map and have been committing it to memory. The only "skill" parts are driving over a balance beam (!), going around cones, and going over train tracks. People who fail fail because they don't bow at the right time, or touch the rear view mirrors in the wrong order.

Stay tuned for my (either happy or sad) report of the driving test. がんばれ!!!

If this guide is helpful to you, please leave me a comment.


Aaron said...

What if I want to get my pilot's license in Japan?

Good tips man. I'm going to use up my international permit until next year and then I'm going for my full on license.

Ganbate on your test!

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