Driving license in Japan
In Japan, a driving license (運転免許, Unten menkyo) is required when operating a car, motorcycle or moped on public roads. Driving licenses are issued by the prefectural governments' public safety commissions and are overseen on a nationwide basis by the National Police Agency.
Types of license
Japanese licenses are divided by experience level and by vehicle type.
|Provisional license||仮運転免許||Issued to a new driver undergoing training for their Class 1 license. 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 license holder while driving. This license expires unless a learner driver gains a Class 1 license within six months.|
|Class 1 license||第一種運転免許||The ordinary licence for operating a private car.|
|Class 2 licenses||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 license (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 between 7,500 kg and 11,000 kg in total, has a maximum capacity between 4,500 kg and 7,500 kg, or carries 11 to 29 people.|
|Semi-Medium vehicle||準中型自動車||Any vehicle which weighs between 3,500 kg and 7,500 kg in total, has a maximum capacity between 2,000 kg and 4,500 kg , and carries 10 or fewer people.|
|Ordinary vehicle||普通自動車||Any motorised vehicle which weighs less than 3,500 kg in total, has a maximum capacity less than 2,000 kg, and carries 10 or fewer people.|
|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 125cc.|
|Small motorcycle||小型自動二輪車||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" license (AT限定免許) can be issued for ordinary vehicle (including Class 2 license), ordinary motorcycle and heavy motorcycle license classes.
Vehicle Type Ratings
The vehicle type ratings are as follows:
Class 1 license
|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)||Small (小型)|
|Moped license (原動機付自転車免許)||Permitted||16|
|Trailer license (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 license. 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 licenses to convert their foreign license to a Japanese license through an abbreviated examination process. This consists of an eyesight test and, depending on the issuing country of the foreign license, may also require a short written examination and a practical examination.
Countries exempt from the exam include, as of 2022: Iceland, Ireland, parts of the United States (limited to only the states of Ohio, Virginia, Hawaii, Maryland and Washington), United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Austria, Netherlands, Canada, South Korea, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Hungary, Finland, France, Belgium, Poland, Portugal, Monaco, Luxembourg, and Taiwan.
In 2003, the first-time pass rate for Americans was slightly higher than the 35 percent pass rate for Japanese returnees, but not much. On the other hand, for those who took the regular test, they had to go through an intensive (and expensive) driver education program. The first time pass rate for this group, even with the harder test, was 90 to 100 percent. As of 2022, the fee for an English-speaking foreigner to obtain a license from a Japanese driving school is about ¥500,000 (or about US$4556).
Driving license card
Every licensed driver is issued with a driving license 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 license.
Layout of a driving license card
The sections of the sample license 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 license 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 license|
|8||優良||Superior||Annotation for good drivers (with gold background)|
|10||二•小•原||Date of first issue of motorcycle licenses||Including motorcycles (二輪車), small special vehicle (小型特殊自動車), or moped license (原動機付自転車).|
|11||他||Date of first issue of other licenses||Other categories exclude the commercial ones.|
|12||二種||Date of first issue of commercial licenses||Literally means driving license 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) 1989–2019
Reiwa (令和) 2019–
- 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 license
Abbreviated names of the categories of vehicle this license includes. For illustrative purposes, this sample license shows every category. Category names are in the same places on every license. If a category is not included in a license, 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 motorcycle||Small special vehicle|
Amendments to the license, such as a change of address, can be recorded on the reverse side of the license. For amendments that cannot be recorded in this manner, a new license must be issued.
Use in other countries
Great Britain has an exchange agreement with Japan (and with 16 other countries/regions) which allows the holder of a Japanese license who is deemed to be resident in the UK to exchange it for a British license. To do this, the holder must send the license, a translation thereof, an application form and a fee to the DVLA or DVA (for Northern Ireland).
- "Driving in Japan: Passing the Japanese Driver's Test". Gakuranman. March 8, 2012. Retrieved March 10, 2020.
- "外国で取得した運転免許証を日本の運転免許証に切替えるには 警視庁". www.keishicho.metro.tokyo.jp (in Japanese). Retrieved June 14, 2022.
- "Japanese Drivers Licenses, An Update | Alien Times, Tsukuba, Ibaraki JAPAN". www.alientimes.org. Retrieved March 10, 2020.
- "Gov.uk". Exchange a foreign driving license. Retrieved 29 October 2020