In the "good old days" quite a few years ago, it was rather simple for a foreigner with a valid foreign license to apply for and get a Japanese license. For those from a few "lucky" countries, it still seems to be rather easy. But for people from most countries, including the U.S., getting a Japanese license has turned into a major headache.
Many a foreigner working in Japan for a few years decided to simply renew an international license each time they returned home on holiday, and avoid the hassle and expense of getting a Japanese license. Last year, however, the rules were changed so that a newcomer can use an international license only during the first year of residence. It is still possible to re-enter Japan with a new international license, but only if you have been out of Japan for at least 3 months - a rather long "holiday" to be sure.
Recent "horror stories" of foreigners with good driving skills and years of driving experience being flunked on the driving test points to the need for both reform on the Japanese side (don't hold your breath!) but more importantly a thorough understanding by the foreigner on how to maneuver through the system with the least amount of hassle.
The Alien Times is soliciting information from readers who have recently attempted to get a Japanese driver's license (whether successful or not) as to what they experienced. Reading the experiences of others will help you know what to expect and to prepare yourself for the ordeal. Rarely, it seems, does anyone pass on their first attempt, as the examiners are extremely meticulous. The Japanese driving schools teach their students (who pay something like 300,000 yen for the course!) to do things the "right" way, and this is the standard used in evaluating driving skills. In order to pass the test, foreigners are required to do things the "right" way.
Our advice is to practice what you need to do beforehand, take along a good book or something else to occupy yourself during the long waits, and be patient. Also, start early in the process so that you won't be stuck without a license after your international license expires. Contact us with your experiences so that we can put together information that will help others negotiate the hurdle.
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