Foreign visitors can drive in Japan using both the International Driver License and National Driving Permit for one year after entering the country. But, from December 2010 Japanese transport authority prefer that only tourists with up to 90 days entry visas drive in Japan without Japanese driver licenses. So, if you are going to stay in Japan more than 90 days, you should obtain the Japanese driver license. You can again drive with your International driver license if you leave Japan at least for three months.

Japan realizes the International driver license issued in accord to the International Convention on Road Traffic of 1949 year.

To make easier obtaining the Japanese driver license for holders of a valid foreign driver licenses, Japan has concluded agreements with following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. If you are from one of these countries and hold a valid National driving permit, you don’t need to pass a written or practical exam for getting a Japanese driving permit. You must render to a local license center your National driving permit and its official Japanese translation, the evidence that after receiving your original driver license, you were in your domestic country no less than three months. You also will take an eye test.

If your residential country has not concluded an agreement about driving permit with Japan, in order to obtain a Japanese driving permit, you must take the written and practical exams. Visitors who are found driving in Japan without a recognized driving permit are subjects to fines, arrests and deportations.

In Japan, cars, gasoline, and parking are expensive. It is hard to find space for parking; rent for reserved parking spaces may cost as much as rent for apartments. Most roads are toll free; highway tolls are about $1 per mile. Regardless of the fact that most signs on major roads are in both Japanese and English Languages, visitors who cannot read the Japanese should not drive in Japan. They will not understand road signs on the most roads. In cities, roadside parking is mainly absent, and traffic is often overcrowded. It is illegal to park cars on the right line of the road, but in cities, Japanese often do that and in that way block traffic. They also may stop their cars at the edge of the street. Many Japanese roads are narrow; furthermore, width of the country roads is like a bike path.  In winter, many roads in mountainous areas are closed; car should be equipped with tire chains.

As a rule, Japanese drivers are mannered and considerate, but some of them run intersections on red lights. In the case of an accident, all drivers are held liable; the police estimate fault in an accident on all drivers.

In addition to having valid driving permit, each visitor should know the basic laws of driving in Japan:

  • Japanese compulsory insurance is obligatory for owners and drivers of motor vehicles.
  • Traffic moves on the left side of the road; steering wheel and driver seat are on the right side of the vehicles.
  • Distances and speeds are measured in kilometers.
  • The minimum driving age is 18 years.
  • At red lights, turns are forbidden. Vehicles can only turn in the direction of a green arrow traffic signal.
  • Speed limits on roads without traffic signs are 100 km/h on expressways, 60 km/h on roads.
  • That is compulsory to stop in front of train crossings.
  • Drinking and driving is strictly forbidden; in this respect, Japan has a zero tolerance policy.
  • Pedestrians on a crosswalk have the right of way over cars at all the times.
  • A driver and all passengers must wear seat belts. Child-car seats for children under six years old are mandatory.
  • Crossing any yellow-lines is prohibited; all white-lines can be crossed.
  • Traffic from the right has the right of way.
  • Driving and using cell phone is prohibited.
  • Drivers over 75 are required to have a symbol on their car which shows that an elderly driver is in a car.

Foreigners should also pay attention:

  • Japanese “Stop” signals have a triangular form.
  • Traffic lights in Japan are located after intersections and you must stop far from.
  • When all traffic lights for vehicles turn red, the intersections are open for pedestrians to walk.
  • If the police catch you, you may be deported after disobedience of traffic rules
  • In Japan, call 110 for police, and 119 for ambulance.


Japan Road Traffic Signs

Japanese Road Vocabolary

 Driving Overseas - Short Information