Japanese driving laws is somewhat unusual to me. The process of obtaining a license involves series of tests. I can't remembered exactly, but there are 2 written and 2 driving exams one must take before obtaining the official license. It is not like the US where a student can obtain a learner`s permit and anyone that is older than 21 of age can teach that person to drive. The driving test in Japan is different to say the least.
In Japan, any legal residents that has never obtained a driver's license before must hire a certified driving instructor to teach them how to drive. These schools are very expensive and requires considerable amount of time from the applicants. Most will fail before they even get the chance to take the actual driving test.
Fortunately, being a gaijin (foreigner) has it's perks. That is if you are a legal foreigner and have a valid foreign driver's license, you qualify to convert your license to an official Japanese driver`s license. This process is faster and much easier* then having to go through a driving school.
Applying for International driver licenses are quite simple. You fill out a form that proofs you do have a driver`s license , take a true/false written test (consist of 10 questions with several different languages to choice from), pay a fee of about $50, and take the driving test. There is no need to apply for an international diver permit. Simple and cheap right? There is one catch as noted with the * above.
During the driving test, only 4 people can be in the car. Which is the instructor and 3 other applicants. The instructors are actual police officers by the way. The course is held within the facility monitored by cameras and controlled signal lights. Thus, the feel and look if you were in the actual road would be the same. To make the rules fair for Japanese citizens who are getting their license, all driving test are held in Japanese. For example, the instructor may say something like this. Number 3, turn left or Number 56 turn right. Just like the driving test in USA, the instructor will not say anything during the test other than to instruct you to move the vehicle. At the end of the driving examine, he will tell you the results. Passed or failed.
Think you can handle it? I actually took the test and failed the first time but I returned the following week and passed with flying colors. Keep in mind that I have never drove in Japan, the driver's seat is on the right side and my Japanese level was below basic. I still am :D To be honest, I should have passed the first time around. I failed because I turned on the windshield wiper instead of the blinker during the test, twice.
It was a great experience and I do want to upgrade my license in the near future so I can drive either an automatic or a manual transmission vehicle. Since I took the test in an automatic, I am only allowed to drive such type. It said so on the license itself. Having a car of my own would be a plus as well. Borrowing the car from the in-laws can get pretty old fast.
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