Driving licence in Japan
In Japan, a driving licence (運転免許 Unten menkyo) is required when operating a car, motorcycle or moped on public roads. Driving licences are issued by the prefectural governments' public safety commissions and are overseen on a nationwide basis by the National Police Agency.
Types of licence
Japanese licences are divided by experience level and by vehicle type.
|Provisional licence||仮運転免許||Issued to a new driver undergoing training for their Class 1 licence. Requires the driver to display learner's black-on-white plates on the exterior of the vehicle, and to be accompanied by a supervising experienced Class 1 licence holder while driving. This licence expires unless a learner driver gains a Class 1 licence within six months.|
|Class 1 licence||第一種運転免許||The ordinary licence for operating a private car.|
|Class 2 licence||第二種運転免許||Required when operating a commercial passenger-carrying vehicle such as a taxi or bus. Driver must be 21 years of age or older and have at least three years of experience driving under a Class 1 licence (relaxed to two years for members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces).|
The vehicle classes are as follows:
|Heavy vehicle||大型自動車||Any vehicle which weighs 11,000 kg or more in total, has maximum capacity of 6,500 kg or more, or carries 30 or more people.|
|Medium vehicle||中型自動車||Any vehicle which weighs 7,500 kg or more in total, has maximum capacity of 4,500 kg or more, or carries 11 or more people.|
|Semi-Medium vehicle||準中型自動車||Any vehicle which weighs 3,500 kg or more in total, has maximum capacity of 2,000 kg or more, or carries 10 or less people.|
|Ordinary vehicle||普通自動車||Any motorised vehicle outside the other classifications.|
|Heavy special vehicle||大型特殊自動車||Specialised automotive equipment such as tractors or cranes which are used for particular work and are not classified as small special vehicles.|
|Small special vehicle||小型特殊自動車||Specialized automotive equipment with a maximum speed of 15 km/h or less and no larger than 4.7m × 1.7m × 2.8m.|
|Heavy motorcycle||大型自動二輪車||Any motorcycle with engine displacement over 400cc.|
|Ordinary motorcycle||普通自動二輪車||Any motorcycle with engine displacement over 50cc.|
|Moped||原動機付自転車||Any motorcycle with engine displacement of 50cc or less.|
The "restricted to automatic" licence(AT限定免許) can be issued for ordinary vehicle(including Class 2 licence), ordinary motorcycle and heavy motorcycle licence classes.
The vehicle type ratings are as follows:
Class 1 licence
|Vehicle types allowed to drive||Minimum
|Vehicle (自動車)||Special vehicle (特殊自動車)||Motorcycle (自動二輪車)||Moped
|Heavy (大型)||Medium (中型)||Semi-Med (準中型)||Ordinary (普通)||Heavy (大型)||Small (小型)||Heavy (大型)||Ordinary (普通)|
|Heavy (大型)||Permitted||Permitted||Permitted||Permitted||Permitted||Permitted||21 (20)|
|Medium (中型)||Permitted||Permitted||Permitted||Permitted||Permitted||20 (19)|
|Moped licence (原動機付自転車免許)||Permitted||16|
|Trailer licence (牽引免許)||Required to drive any vehicle towing a trailer weighing more than 750 kg gross (other than when towing damaged vehicles).||18|
There are two options for learners. Firstly, learners can attend a designated driving school. Graduates from a designated driving school do not need to sit the practical examination but they do need to sit the written examination. Secondly, learners can attend non-designated driving school or obtain practice through other means, in which case they must sit both the practical and written examinations. The Japanese driving examination consists of a written examination and a practical examination for each level of licence. Most Japanese go to a driving school prior to taking these examinations (though it is not required), and upon completing the course at a non-designated driving school must register for the examinations in the prefecture where they are registered as a resident. The practical examination consists of driving a vehicle through a purpose-designed driving course while obeying relevant rules of the road.
Japan also allows Japan-resident holders of foreign driving licences to convert their foreign licence to a Japanese licence through an abbreviated examination process. This consists of an eyesight test and, depending on the issuing country of the foreign licence, may also require a short written examination and a practical examination. The pass rate for the practical exam is only about 35% for JETs for example, but those who take a lengthy and expensive course reportedly have a 90 to 100% pass rate, even though this exam is much harder. The fee for an English-speaking foreigner to obtain a licence from a Japanese driving school is about ¥400,000 (about $3900).
Driving licence card
Every licensed driver is issued with a driving licence card (運転免許証 Unten Menkyo Shou), which they are required to have available for inspection whenever they exercise the privileges granted by the licence.
Layout of a driving licence card
The sections of the sample licence shown are:
|1||年 月 日生||Date of birth|
|2||氏名||Last name and first name|
|4||交付||Date of issue of the card|
|5||年 月 日まで有効||Date of expiry of the card||Background colour: green for new drivers (valid for 3 years), blue for normal drivers (valid for 3 years), gold for good drivers (no violations during the previous licence period, valid for 5 years)|
|6||免許の条件等||Conditions||In this sample, vehicles weighing up to 8 tonnes. Usual default also includes a limitation to Automatic Transmission (AT); separate driving test on manual transmission vehicle required for this permission.|
|7||見本||"Sample"||Doesn't exist on a normal licence|
|8||優良||Superior||Annotation for good drivers (with gold background)|
|10||二•小•原||Date of first issue of motorcycle licences||Including motorcycles (二輪車), small special vehicle (小型特殊自動車), or moped licence (原動機付自転車).|
|11||他||Date of first issue of other licences||Other categories exclude the commercial ones.|
|12||二種||Date of first issue of commercial licences||Literally means driving licence of the second kind|
|13||種類||Valid categories||Valid categories are shown in abbreviations in Kanji, invalid only with a hyphen.|
|14||番号||Number||Intra-office reference number.|
|15||公安委員会||Issuing authority||Public Safety Commission of a prefecture|
|16||Seal||Official seal of the prefectural public safety commission|
The dates are written in year-month-day order. The years follow the Japanese era calendar scheme. The months and days follow the Gregorian calendar, as in most Western countries.
|Era and Year||Month||Day|
|Meiji (明治) 1868–1912
Taishō (大正) 1912–1926
Shōwa (昭和) 1926–1989
Heisei (平成) 1989–
- the driver's date of birth (昭和５０年６月１日) is the 1st day (１日) of the 6th month (６月) of the 50th year (５０年) of the reign of Emperor Shōwa (昭和), or 1 June 1975
- the expiry date (平成２４年０７月０１日) is the 1st day (０１日) of the 7th month (０７月) of the 24th year (２４年) of the reign of Emperor Heisei (平成), or 1 July 2012
Categories of Japanese licence
Abbreviated names of the categories of vehicle this licence includes. For illustrative purposes, this sample licence shows every category. Category names are in the same places on every licence. If a category is not included in a licence, in the place where the category name would appear there is a horizontal bar.
|English||Heavy vehicle||Medium vehicle||Ordinary vehicle||Heavy special vehicle||Heavy motorcycle||Ordinary motorcycle||Small special vehicle|
Amendments to the license, such as a change of address, can be recorded on the reverse side of the licence. For amendments that cannot be recorded in this manner, a new license must be issued.
There have been several instances where court orders are issued to make special exemptions for drivers with diplomatic status in Japan. 
- "Driving in Japan: Passing the Japanese Driver's Test". Gakuranman. March 2012.
- "Driving in Japan". U.S. Embassy in Japan. Retrieved December 5, 2012.