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JAPAN GUIDE: Driving in Japan

Japan has one of the most widespread and convenient rail systems in the world but there are many occasions when even the train can't take you where you want to go. When this happens, and the trusty bicycle is not an option then you have to take to the road in a car or on a motorbike.

The first thing you'll notice is that the Japanese drive on the left side of the road. For people who come from Australia, UK, and many other countries in the region this poses no problems, but for everybody else this can take time to get used to. Driving in Japan is generally very safe and the majority of drivers are careful and courteous though you have to be constantly on the look out for cyclists with a deathwish when turning left at traffic lights.

Motoring in Japan can be quite expensive for a number of reasons. The price of gasoline is higher than the US and is on a par with prices in Europe (currently around 100 yen per litre for unleaded). Toll expressways in Japan can be costly unless there is a group of you to split the cost between (a trip from Okazaki to Tokyo costs just 6,500 Yen) but have the advantage of being more direct and less congested than regular roads. Major road signs are in English as well as Japanese so it is easy to find your way around on the major roads, but all Japanese maps use Kanji for the place names (no furigana) so if you planned to travel around Japan by car or motorbike it would be a good idea to get hold of a bilingual map of Japan (these can be obtained from any international bookstore such as Maruzen or from internet book stores such as Amazon.com).

Cars can be rented with the relevant license, your passport or alien registration card, and a credit card. Again car hire can be expensive but if the cost is split between three or four people then it can work out much cheaper than going by train. Car rental runs from around 8,000 yen per day depending on the type of car and the type of car insurance chosen.

At busy times and in large metropolitan areas driving is best avoided and most people take the train. In cities such as Okazaki it is wise to leave your car at home if you intend to travel during rush hours (7.30-9.00am and 4.30-6.30pm). An alternative to the car, and one which is not only cheaper but in some cases quicker than traveller by car is to travel by mortorbike.

Scooters (gendoukitsukidensha - or gentsuki for short), are the preferred mode of transport for many young Japanese because they are cheap to run, and often more convenient than a car to use. You can buy a second hand scooter cheaply (from 30,000-70,000 Yen depending on the year and type of model) and if you already have an oridinary Japanese Driving License then you're ready to go. No special insurance is needed for a scooter up to 50cc.

Rules of the road:

Unless you drive like the Director of the International Office, you are unlikely to exceed 40kmh on a regular basis but for the rare times that this occurs a knowledge of the speed limits can be useful. The speed limit in residential areas is 40kmh (though this can vary depending on the place) and on the expressways is 80kmh. Whilst many drivers do exceed these limits there are police patrols and hidden cameras (especially on the expressways) that keep a check on speeding vehicles. A speeding ticket in Japan will normally result in a large fine (15-20,000 yen) or in some cases a temporary loss of your license.

Drinking and driving in Japan is not tolerated and the drink-drive level is zero, 0.0. Even a glass of wine or a beer can result in the loss of your license if your are stopped and checked. If you cause an accident you may lose your license permanently.

To drive a car in Japan you must be 18 years or over and for a moped/scooter or motorcycle it is 16 and above.

Getting a license:

If you want to get a Japanese driving license you have to go to your local Driving Test Centre and take the following items with you:

1. Alien registration card.

2. Passport.

3. Existing drivers license.

4. One passport photograph.

5. A translation of your license (This can be obtained by contacting the Japan Automobile Federation in Okazaki, or your local Consulate in your home country).

You will have to take an eye sight and eye blindness test at the centre and this costs from 3,900 yen for a regular license. You also need to make sure that you have 3 months driving experience in the country the license was issued and the license must have been issued at least 3 months before your entry into Japan, to be able to obtain a Japanese license.

If you come from a country that does not drive on the left-hand side of the road then you will have to take a full driving test in Japan in order to obtain the license. The test itself is fairly strict and it is recommended that you take at least one or two lessons from an instructor in Japan before you take the test. An hour long lesson will cost around 5,000yen. A full course from beginner level will cost from 200,000yen!

International Driving Permit (International Driving License)

If you hold an International Driving License and have a current valid driver's license from your country of origin/residence, then you can drive straight away. However, the International Driving Permit (IDP) is only valid if carried in conjunction with a valid overseas license, and only for up to 1 year from the day you entered Japan (regardless of the the expiry date on your overseas license).

If you wish to ride a scooter or motorcycle, then you can only do so if the foreign license explicitly states so. Similarly if your foreign license restricts you to a 250cc motorcycle, then that is the limit you are allowed to ride in Japan. If you have a valid foreign license that does not include motorcycles, then you cannot ride one. If you are in Japan and wish to ride a scooter (up to 50cc), and don't have a foreign motorcycle license, then the easiest thing to do is to obtain a Japanese license.

Tests for motorcycles - If you want to ride a motorcycle then you would have to take a short written test and a brief test on a scooter to decide whether you are worthy to grace Japan's roads. The test can be taken in English and a number of other languages as well as Japanese. The nearest test center to Okazaki is in Nagoya. Contact details below. Be aware though that you will need to use a least a little bit of Japanese as the staff speak very little English.

Nagoya Driving Test Center
Tenpaku Ku
Tenpaku Chou
Ooaza Hirabari
Aza Kuroishi

Tel: 052-801-3211




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Hattori Foundation (est.1919) - The Yamasa Institute
1-2-1 Hanehigashi-machi, Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture, JAPAN 444-0832
Tel: +81 (0)564 55 8111 Fax: +81 (0)564 55 8113 Email: Inquiries

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