To drive in Japan, one must have either a valid international driver's license or a valid Japanese driver's license in one's possession at all times. Having a valid international license makes it convenient and comparatively easy to drive in Japan, but it is valid only for one year. An international license is not supposed to be renewed while in Japan, but it can easily be renewed indefinitely if you go back to your country each year.
The alternative to that is to get a Japanese license (unten menkyo-sho). A valid license from your country is a must, and there is a rule that you must have received it at least 3 months before you left that country to come to Japan. If the date of issue is not on the license, then one must bring documentation that certifies the date when the license was issued. Also, if one cannot prove that one was in the country where the license was issued for 3 months after it was issued, then one must bring one's previous license or certification of renewal as well.
To get a Japanese license in Ibaraki, one has to submit the following documents at the Ibaraki Driver's Licensing Center in Ibaraki-machi just south of Mito (tel. 029-293-8811/ext. 243): (1) a valid visa, (2) driver's license, (3) a certified translation of the driver's license (must be translated by the Japan Automobile Federation (tel. 029-231-3273), (4) alien registration card, (5) passport, (6) 1 photograph (3 cm x 2.4 cm), application fee (car-3800 yen, motorcycle-4300 yen), (7) inkan or personal seal, and (8) if applying for a motorcycle license, a helmet and a pair of gloves.
At the center, you will be required to take three tests: a ten question true-false test on basic traffic rules, a driving test on the testing center course in a testing center car, and an eye test. The true-false tests can be taken in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese or Korean (as well as, of course, Japanese). This test is not necessary for a person having a German, French or Swiss driver's license.
If you have any questions, feel free to call the Foreigner's Consultation Section, Ibaraki International Association (029-244-3811). Good luck and safe driving. There is free legal consultation at the Ibaraki International Association on the 8th and 29th of September.
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