Since the laws about driver's licenses changed in June 1, 2002, all foreign residents of Japan have had to obtain Japanese licenses to drive in Japan after one year of living here. Many people have obtained Japanese driver's licenses since that time, so a few people are probably going to experience their first "renewal of driver's license" procedure in the near future.
You can renew your license at the Tsukuba Central Police Station, which is located south of the main post office and NTT building. If this is the first time you are renewing your license, you will will have to fill in some papers, get a new photo taken, pay some money, and attend a 120 minute lecture. Go to the Police Station between 8:30am and 11am, or between 1pm and 4pm to start the renewal process.
The 120 minute lectures for "first time renewers" are not held every day, so you may have to wait until a later date to be able to attend the lecture. You can still renew your license, but the renewal will be dependent on you attending the lecture. You can attend the lecture on the designated date in Tsukuba (sometimes more than 2 months in the future), or you can make the trip to Mito to do it earlier. The Mito Licensing Center apparently has lectures scheduled on Sundays, so those of you who work on weekdays will be able to do the lecture part of the renewal process on a weekend. Note that the 120 minute lectures are not held very often, and you have to register in order to take the lecture on a certain date, so it is a good idea to start the renewal process as early as possible. The lectures tend to fill up quickly.
Be sure to do the paperwork, photo, and payment part of the renewal process before your license expires. The lecture can be done after the expiry date as long as you have done the other procedures first.
Note that the procedure for renewing your license is different after the first renewal. The first renewal requires a 120 minute lecture. The second renewal and all of the renewals after that require lectures of varying times depending on your driving record since the last time you renewed your licence. If you are deemed an "excellent" driver, you can register between 8:30am and 10am or between 1pm and 2:30pm and you will have to attend a 30 minute lecture. If you are deemed a "good" driver, you can register between 10am and 10:40am or 2:30pm and 3:10pm and you will have to attend a 60 minute lecture. The lectures for excellent and good drivers happen every day at the Police Station, so you should be able to attend one immediately after your paperwork has been submitted.
If you are deemed a "regular" driver, you will be treated the same as a first renewal. You can register between 8:30am and 11am, or between 1pm and 4pm and you will have to attend the same irregularly scheduled 120 minute lecture. Your driver classification will be written on the postcard that is sent by the prefecture to remind you that your license is expiring. One of the following kanji compounds will be written on the card.
The registration times for your classification should be written on the postcard that you receive.
More information (in Japanese):
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