Please read all the information found at the Alien Times website first (see the articles in the Cars section of the TOPICS part of this website). It's a lot of info, but its good info. I would consider my information as a supplement to that information. The credit goes to its writers for making sure I passed the test on my first try.
First word of advice is to make sure you know how to get to your licensing center. I had no problems, but that was due to lots of planning and research done ahead of time. For me, it was a two hour train ride and a 30 minute bus ride to my licensing center. Plan ahead of time, since the foreigner licensing window is only open from 9-10am. According to the sign, its open from 9:30-10am, I don't which one is truly correct. The earlier you are there the better.
Here's the break down of the day:
When you get to the center, be sure to start signing in and stuff. You need to pay for your paper work at a different window. I brought passport pictures, which are not the correct size, so I had to get pictures taken again. Near your center, they should have everything you need (i.e. picture place, ATM). I even paid 300yen to get them to fill out the paper work for me. If your Japanese is ok, you can probably do it yourself. For the sake of saving time and neatness I had them do it. They type out your info and print it on the sheet for you.
Let me warn you, no one spoke English at my licensing center. I would suggest you go with your boss or a friend if possible. I went alone, but I did alright. Even the instructions in Japanese were not very specific, so at one point I was waiting in the wrong area. After you pass the written test, you should probably go to the driving course where you should find the rest of the foreigners. They will line you up and tell you who you will take the test after. You also get to ride in the back seat while the person before you is doing their test.
You have to choose between an automatic or manual transmission car. I chose manual, most people choose automatic. In my case I never got to ride in the back seat because the woman before me bailed out and asked to do the automatic car, only after she took the ride. In my opinion if you can drive stick, go for it. It's not that bad/much harder than auto. It was only my second time driving stick in a right hand drive car. Since we are talking about cars, the car you will drive for the test will most likely be one of those Japanese taxi type cars. So if you have a friend with one of those, I would suggest you ask them if you can practice driving with it. I have only driven K-cars while being in Japan, so the bigger car felt a bit different. It's kind of like driving a boat.
OK, now to the test. Some people say this and that about how to use your blinker when you start the course. This is what I did and I passed so I think it's correct. There were three lanes from which you will enter the course. I was in the middle lane so I signaled right since I was merging into the right late, then right before I got onto the course, I signaled left. Of course stop and look before you enter the course. While taking this test, when you look right and left, you HAVE TO over exaggerate. This means even turning your shoulders when you look. There will be one point on the course where you will have to make a left turn, before making this turn, look around. You also need to look back over your left should to check for bicyclists. You need to basically half turn out and look. My friend failed the test once for not doing this.
Before taking the test, be sure to walk the course. This test is not about whether you can drive it not. It's about how well you can take the test. I am not joking about this statement; I can only explain it as being very "Japanese". There is a right way and a wrong way to do the course, even my Japanese friend was shocked that I passed it the first time. I even went as far as pretending to hold the steering wheel while walking the course. Make mental notes on where you need to do things. Even picture where the tires of the car should be while making turns and stuff like that. While walking the course, you will notice that there are number signs on the side of the roads. I believe those signs are there for a reason. They indicate that you probably need to do some thing there. For example blinker, change lanes, slow down, blinker again. There will be a triangle slow down sign near the corner of the course. When you pass the number sign before that sign, it's your signal to slow down. Once you pass the triangle sign, you should be going exactly 10km/hr as much as possible. The car I drove only had numbers starting from 20km on the speedometer, so I just slip the difference between the 20 and the 0.
While driving, keep your hands at 10 and 2, with your thumb pointing upwards. When making turns, don't cross arm over arm, "it's really dangerous". What you need to do is shuffle your hands while turning. It feels really strange while driving, but it's the "right" way to do it.
Ok, almost done. So after my test, I totally thought I failed, but he said OK, you passed. I think one of the tricks to this test is to listen to the man. If he tells you, "you did something wrong," be sure to correct that mistake and don't do it again. A fixed mistake is a lot better than a repeated one. For example, there is a zig zag turn on a really narrow road. I couldn't make the turn so I needed to back up. While backing up, I forgot to look back. The tester got mad at me and told that was very dangerous. When I came to the second turn and needed to back up again, I was sure to do the over exaggerated look back. So although I made a really bad mistake, but fixing I think I made the guy happy.
I hope this will be a help to you all in your quest for a Japanese drivers license. I wish you luck and hopefully it's not as hard for you as it sounds.
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