After 2 months of hard working, finally I got my driver’s license in Japan. In this post (and some next coming posts), I am going to note how I did it. I hope this would be a good reference to any foreigner who is also considering taking driver’s license in Japan! This note is not for anyone who has already taken license from an other countries. If you already had yours, I believe you could just do some paper work to change to Japan license.

Introduction

In Japan, and especially in Tokyo, we are living in an extremely convenient environment. There are many trains running from early morning to midnight. And bus stations system is pretty good as well. For that reason, it is not that surprised if you can live here without a car. This is so different from some other countries, for example America. Actually, I had been living in Japan for 7 years without a license but didn’t get any problem at all.

At first, my motivation to take driver’s license was that most of my friends had taken it, so I thought it may be a good time to check it out. But after a few weeks practicing, I realized that driving is actually interesting! It’s a combination of recognizing around environment, choosing the right decision and taking action quickly. And the world while driving is so different compare to the world of walking people. This is a new thing that I had learned during the course.

So, if you ask if it is worth taking driver’s license in Japan. My answer is absolutely a big YES.

Choose your course

So, after determined to take driver’s license, you have to choose what kind of license to take. Before that, I would like to introduce about Japan driver’s license system.

Basically, there are 3 types of licenses here:

  • First type license (第一種免許) - This license is for normal car, motorbikes, etc as standard vehicle
  • Second type license (第二種免許) - If you drive a taxi, bus, or even Uber, you would need this license. In easy language, this type is for anyone who using car to take passengers and make money from that.
  • Temporary license, or Karimen (仮運転免許) - While taking above licenses, you would need this one for practicing. Without this license, you cannot drive in actual streets. I will note more detail about this license later.

I believe most of us are going to take First type license (第一種免許), just to drive car for yourselves and with friends. If you don’t drive a truck, medium vehicle, the license would be about normal vehicle, or in Japanese 普通免許. This license allows you to drive car with 10 or less people.

One more thing to decide is choosing to learn AT car or MT car.

  • AT car (Automatic transmission): In Japan, most of normal cars are AT, which means that there is no cluster to change gears. Gears changing is automated and there are only two type of pedals: for brake and for accelerator. (In Japanese: brake pedal = ブレーキペダル, accelerator pedal = アクセルペダル). AT car is consider easier to learn and many Japanese choose this license nowadays. A standard course for AT car costs around 280,000 JPY.

  • MT car (Manual Transmission): Compare to AT car, MT car is considered more difficult to learn. Beside brake and accelerator pedals, there is also a cluster pedal which is for gear changing. But if you want to experience actual driving, I would recommend a MT license. What more, if you have change to drive in other countries, for example, in Europe, MT would be better selection. Not like Japan, in some Western countries, most of vehicles are MT. A standard MT course costs around 300,000 JPY.

As a conclusion, in Japan, there is no problem to take only AT car license. It’s easier to take and cost less. But in my case, I want to register Vietnam license as well so I chose MT car. What more, most of sport cars are MT, so if you are interested in driving sport car, MT may be a better selection.

Register a driving school

After picked a license type, next step is about choosing a driving school. In fact, it is not required to go to driving school and learn if you already know how to drive. You can go directly to police station testing center (detail below) to take both paper test and driving test. But in my case, I didn’t know how to drive before so I chose a school to learn more detail about driving techniques & how to drive safely in Japan. Experiencing driving school course in Japan is also interesting. You would know how good their education system is!

Even choosing to go to driving school, there are many ways to do that. You can take a camp course, going to a far place and learn continuously for 2-3 weeks and take driving test there (this type of course is cheap, costs around 120,000 JPY). Or you can register a standard school to learn in week days and weekends.

I have a daily job so unfortunately could not take a camp course. I chose a standard school which is near my working place and learned in the evening after finished work. For some lessons, I also use weekends to go to school as well. Depends on one’s condition, we can choose school near work office, near home or any convenient places. Most of school provides with similar courses, but with some minor difference about extra benefits. For example, normal lesson takes 50 minutes but some schools also provide 100 minutes driving lessons. We can learn more driving techniques or drive to far places with 100 minutes lessons. An other example is that some schools take you to highway road as a part of the course while some don’t. So make sure to check their websites, ask friends, or go directly to driving school to confirm about the courses.

I will introduce a little more about the school I went. Around Tokyo, I think they provide pretty good courses with easy to understand instructions. I took a course at Koyama Driving School near Futakotamagawa station. Here is their websites:

Japanese: http://www.koyama.co.jp/

English: http://www.koyama.co.jp/english.htm

This school is good because it is:

  • Only school in Tokyo to provide lessons in English (I took Japanese course, though). I saw some English speaking staffs there, their English is pretty good.

  • Provide interesting lessons, includes: driving for 100 minutes (normal lesson is 50 minutes), driving in highway road, taking video and analysis dangerous situations with other members.

  • You can drive Audi A3/BMW here (yes, you can!, but depends on the courses, you could drive it 1 or more times. In my case, I only drive Audi for 1 time, when going to highway road). This is also first time in Japan you can drive Audi A3 in a driving school.

  • Provide on line account so that you can practice on line after each lesson. There are also sample tests. If you pass all sample tests here, I believe it would be 90% you could pass actual paper test in police station testing center afterward.

Sample of course’s fee in Koyama driving school:

Japanese: http://www.koyama.co.jp/price/list_1_ftk.html

In the list, you can check their courses: With some courses, you could practice with Audi, or BMW! Make sure to check their campaign as well. In my case, I chose RATSコース for free because they had this campaign in April. With this course, you can input your free time, they would schedule lesson with that provided timetable. No need to register every time!

English: http://www.koyama.co.jp/english/english_02_01.html

If you go to Koyama Driving School, please use my referrer code. It would be cheaper with a referrer code!

ID: 2185474

Name: グエン クアン フオン

Schedule from 1st day

After joining driving school, they would provide textbooks and detail instruction about schedule.

This is the book for Lesson Manual. Includes schedule how you should take lecture lessons and driving lessons.

There are also textbooks for whole course:

From left to right:

  • Textbook for lecturing - This book provides rules of the road, how we can drive safely. And the content is for lecturing.

  • Driver’s license book - Instruction for actual driving lesson (how to start engine, stop engine, turn right, turn left, avoid other cars, climb slope, etc)

  • Collection of exercises - Includes mock tests for both temporary license (Karimen - 仮免許) (30 minutes) and actual license test (50 minutes). Content of this book may be different for each prefecture. In my case, this is for test of Kanagawa prefecture.

Every school normally has orientation day. In this day, they would explain everything step by step, so there is nothing to worry beforehand. But just for reference, I list my schedule below:

  • First day: Orientation

  • Second day: Take a test about driving aptitude (運転適性診断テスト). This test’s objective is to know if you are qualified for driving and know you characteristics while driving. It is very rare someone failed this test so you can take it easy, just remember to answer to all questions . This is also a good opportunity to know your personal characteristics while driving.

  • First lecture: (先行学科1) - you have to finish both driving aptitude test & first lecture before going on.

  • First step of lectures and driving (before temporary license, or before Karimen).

After finished both driving aptitude test & first lecture, you can take first step of lectures and actual driving skill lesson concurrently. Japan driving schools separate a course into two parts: before Karimen and after Karimen.

As mentioned above, Karimen (仮免) is the license for practicing driving on actual roads. For that reason, you have to take this license before actual riding a car on normal roads with actual traffic.

Karimen certification is nothing special, it’s just a pager with signature certifies that you are qualified for actual driving. Here is mine:

So for first step, you would learn to get this certification:

  • There are 13 lectures with subjects about: signal, rules while take part in traffic, vehicles type and rule about them, etc.

  • Similarly 13 or 14 lesson about actual driving. You will ride actual car and run inside school’s campus. In this step, lessons cover subjects such as: start/stop engine, turn left/right, go up/down hill, run in narrow road, road with S figure, etc. After each driving lesson, instructor would consider if you pass this lesson or not. If you do not, you will have to take similar lesson once again. In my case, there were 2 times I had to take extra lessons.

After finished both lectures and driving lessons, you have to take examination to get Karimen. Failing this examinations will cost extra money for re-testing so please make sure to review all lectures and pass the test at first try! Before this examinations, there would be also mock tests (効果測定テスト). It is required that you pass this mock test before registering for actual examinations (for both lecture and driving). Passing this mock test is also a good thing because you would be more confident for actual examination.

After passed Karimen, you would go to 2nd step and is the final step before graduating. In this step, there are also both lectures and driving (on real roads!)

  • 10 lectures cover subject such as: how to drive safely, dangerous things on the road, how to drive in bad condition (rain, snow, in the evening), how to drive on highway road, how to maintain your car, etc. I think this step’s lectures content is easier compare to first step’s.

  • Around 13 or 14 lessons about actual driving on roads with real traffic. This includes driving on highway road, pass pedestrian crossing, narrow road, etc. There is a lesson in this step takes part in school campus, which is about backing and packing. As from my experience, packing is the most difficult lesson. And even after taken driver’s license, currently I still feel it is quite difficult.

After finished all these lessons, there would be driving test on real road. For the test, you start with 100 points, each time doing something wrong, some points would be deducted. If your remaining points are 70 or more, you would be considered as passed the test. Make sure to check how instructor counts error while driving with your school. Failed from driving test would cost extra money for re-testing, so make sure you pass the first time!

If passing this test, you are considered to have enough skills for driving and would be graduated from driving school. Not like first step, there is no lecture test. For the actual lecture test, you have to go to police station as mentioned below.

Some advices while studying:

  • In lectures’ time, make sure to not use your mobile phone. If lecturer knows you use, or your phone rings, you would be forced to quit that lesson and have to register it again in an other day. This is quite fair rule because using mobile while driving is very dangerous and schools want you to know that.

  • Make sure to take note for parts that lecturers ask to. Use your pen to actual cross lines, write down in your textbook. Those are important information and usually appears in real test.

  • Check out Youtube videos for driving instruction. There are many videos about driving for beginner and this is helpful if you don’t get all the information instructors say in 50 minutes. I’ve always checked this channel while studying: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCk0GBYwh0Kno8od_fEhPBdQ

  • Ask instructors for advices, how to drive correctly. This is a good thing about driving school. You go with experienced instructors so make sure to use this chance to ask as many questions as possible.

Examination in police station testing center (運転免許試験所)

This is last step before actually get driver’s license.

You have to go to police station testing center (運転免許試験所) to take paper test. If you pass the test, police would issue driver’s license right away in that day. The place is different for each prefecture and you have to go to police station of your living address. The test is from Monday to Friday (in Kanagawa-ken, it is possible on Sunday as well but may take time to register). If you take the test on work day, make sure to take a day off from work/school because the procedue may take time. Make sure to go to police stations early because there is some form you have to filled to register.

In this final test, there are 90 true/false questions and 5 questions with pictures. Each of 90 true/false question scores 1 point, each of picture question scores 2 point, totally 100 points. Passing this test requires 90 or more points.

In my case, I studied about 1 week before actual test and score 94 points. Passed it! Here is my driver’s license.

Take driver’s license is only the very first step. We have to practice many times before getting familiar with real traffic situations. And make sure to drive safely! Driving may be fun, but with careless, a car may become dangerous weapon, could take people lives!

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