You need to have a valid driver's license to drive a car.
Cars, motorcycles and bicycles
International driver's license
- You can drive in Japan if you have an international driver's license which are issued in participating countries of the Geneva Convention and conform to required styles .
- An international driver's license is valid for one year from the date of issue and cannot be renewed in Japan. Your license may expire during a stay that is less than one year.
Foreign driver's license
- If you have a license issued in Switzerland, Germany, France, Taiwan, Belgium, Slovenia, or Monaco, you can drive a car in Japan for one year from the date of your entry with a Japanese translation attached to the original license.
- Such translation has to be issued by either the embassy/consulate of the country concerned or by the JAF (Japan Automobile Federation).
Transferring of foreign driver's license to a Japanese one
- If you have a valid driver's license issued in a foreign country and have lived in that country for the total of at least three months, you can convert it to a Japanese license through certain procedures. The procedures may be taken at the driver's license center or driver's license test site of the region in which you live.
- Remember to renew your license before it expires. The expiration date is indicated on your license.
※Information regarding driver's license procedures
Driver's license telephone service: Automated guidance is available 24 hours a day.
- When you change your address, you are required to report to a local police station or license center your new address by presenting your driver's license and identification showing the new address (such as your revised resident card).
Suspension/cancellation of driver's license
- If you cause a traffic accident or violate traffic rules, your driver's license may be suspended or cancelled.
- The law against drunk driving and driving under influence of alcohol is very strict. Not only a driver but also passenger(s) and those who provided alcohol drinks or a vehicle are subject to the penalty.
The following cases have to be reported to a local Transport Bureau branch. A regular car inspection test (commonly called shaken) is also mandatory
- when you purchase/sell/finish with a car or a large-sized motorcycle
- when the address of the owner has changed
- when the name of the owner has changed
Parking space certificate
- To register your new car and have it licensed, you need a parking space certificate issued by the police station nearest to the location of the parking space concerned.
- To own a car, you must have automobile liability insurance (jibaiseki hoken) and can buy additional voluntary insurance policies.
- It is strongly recommended buying some voluntary insurance policies to cover damages caused by an unexpected traffic accident.
Traffic rule guidebook: "Rules of the Road (foreign language edition)"
- "Rules of the Road" is an easy-to-understand guidebook of Japanese traffic rules issued by the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF).
- The e-book version of the guidebook is 864 yen each. Available: English, Chinese, Portuguese and Spanish.
- The printed version is 1,404 yen each. Available: English, Chinese, Portuguese and Spanish.
Registration of small motor vehicle/motor-assisted bicycle
- Register small motor vehicles of 125cc or under (including motor scooters and motor-assisted bicycles) and have them licensed at the municipal office in the ward (or city, town or village) where you reside. For motorcycles of 126cc or over, registration is accepted at the Transport Bureau branch in the ward (or city, town or village) where you reside.
Registration of bicycles for prevention of theft
- You are required to have your bicycle registered to help prevent theft. The registration procedure can be handled at the shop where you buy the bicycle.
Traffic rules for motorcycles and bicycles
- Motorcycles and bicycles are required to follow the same traffic rules as cars. Ride safely and always follow the rules.
Riding bicycles on the street
- Bicycles are required to be ridden on the left side of the road, the same as cars.
- Bicycles are required to be ridden in a line along the left edge of the road. They are allowed on some sidewalks where appropriate signs exist and also on bicycle-only pathways.
- Bicycles are allowed on sidewalks in an area where it is considered dangerous to ride on the road. However, riders of the bicycles are required to give right to pedestrians on the sidewalk. The riders are required to stop or get off the bicycle when the bicycles may interrupt the safety of the pedestrian traffic.
- If you leave your bicycle or motorcycle in a no-parking area (indicated with a sign), such as in the vicinity of a train station, it will be removed to a designated temporary storage place.
- If your bicycle/motorcycle has been removed, you will need to visit the temporary storage place and pick it up within a month of it being removed.
- You are required to show your ID and pay for the removal/storage fee when you pick up your bicycle/motorcycle at the temporary storage place.
Highways in Japan are toll roads. Recently, a new system called ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) has been introduced to many highway toll gates to save time and labor costs and to improve traffic congestion near the gates. The system allows users (whose cars are equipped with an ETC-compatible in-vehicle system) to pay the toll automatically as the user's in-vehicle system communicates with the antenna of the gate by radio. ETC-equipped cars do not have to stop at the toll gate. ETC-only lanes are available at some toll gates. To use the ETC system, you need to install an in-vehicle system and insert an ETC card (works like a credit card) into the unit to activate it.
In addition to national highways that connect Tokyo and other parts of the country, a Metropolitan Expressway (shuto kosoku) network runs through central Tokyo. The Expressway is a vehicle-only toll road that has no traffic lights, but it may not always be convenient as it can suffer from severe traffic jams during some parts of the day. It is best to check available traffic information if you plan to use the Expressways.
If you drive on a highway for a long time, it is always beneficial to take an occasional break to avoid fatigue that may lead to an accident. National highways are equipped with service areas (SA), which include facilities such as restrooms, gas stations, shops and restaurants. Some SAs in the countryside may have a public onsen (hot spring). Many travelers use the SA to enjoy local specialty food and buy souvenirs.