No foreign driver's license? You may want to continue your support of the public transportation. It is an expensive and arduous road ahead for those starting at the very beginning. However, if you have a valid overseas driver's license, you are cordially invited for a fun-filled day at the local "shikenjo," a testing and licensing center in your area. Persons residing in Ibaraki Prefecture will have to travel to the Mito "Unten Menkyo Shikenjo," 0292-93-8811. It's actually relatively painless, and if you enjoy waiting for hours for your turn at the next counter, you'll be as happy as a skylark, or some other Buick perhaps.
OK, before you jump on the train to Mito (remember you can't drive here with your foreign driver's license), you will want to gather your necessary documents. You will need your original license (eligible if you were in the issuing country for a minimum period of three months), your passport, alien registration card, two 2.4 by 3 centimeter photos of your face and an official Japanese translation of your foreign license.
If you go by train to Mito Station, the Testing Center is about a 30 to 40 minute bus trip on Kanto Tetsudo Bus leaving from boarding area 3 at the north exit ("Menkyo Shiken-Jo Yuki"). Official translations are available through the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) office in Mito (0292-31-3273) or from your embassy. You can order the JAF translation through the mail by sending a photocopy of your foreign driver's license, a ¥3,000 translation fee and ¥700 for return postage in a "genkin-kakitome futo" (a currency registration envelope available at the post office) to the Japan Automobile Federation, 1-347-2 Miwa, Mito-shi 130. For an extra ¥1270 they will send you a copy of The Rules of the Road, a handbook of Japanese traffic rules and road signs.
There are many languages, however, which JAF will not translate, including Arabic, Thai, Russian, and Persian. Applicants with Korean language licenses are asked to take a translation to their consulate for a confirmation stamp. The Korean to Japanese translation could be done by either yourself or a friend. For more information contact your embassy or JAF.
Set the alarm clock! You have to be at the Mito shikenjo early in the morning. They will only accept applicants between 8:30 and 9:00 AM, Monday through Friday. After you register, you will eventually take a simple eye test and a written test regarding Japanese traffic rules and road signs. The written test is available in Japanese, English, Cantonese, Persian, Spanish, Thai, Korean and Portuguese. Seven correct answers out of 10 will put you in the driver's seat for a short driving test around a course at the licensing center. After you pass this, your Japanese license will be issued to you for a fee of ¥3,800.
This new license will be valid until your third birthday after the date of issue and the renewal of this license will be very simple. It is best to not let this license expire, as the red tape to obtain a new one is considerable. Happy motoring.
Editor's note: The Winter 1995 issue of "Chotto Ibaraki", the English newsletter put out quarterly by the International Division of the Prefectural Government in Mito, also has a very good article about getting a Japanese driver's licence. Copies are available at the Tsukuba Information Center and several other locations.
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