Things to Watch Out For When Getting a Driver’s License in Japan or Taking the Driving Test in Japan

May 4, 2008

First of all, full disclosure.
I did my driver’s license in Hyogo Prefecture… I got it on the third try. First I’ll start off by telling you exactly how I failed the first two times. Very simple actually…

Failure One: I ran a stop sign… Sounds kind of stupid, but it took me this experience to learn the trick for the test…

  • You see, you have to stop at the stop line first. Make a nice relaxed FULL STOP, and then you pull up to the place where you can see if cars are coming or not. That was the key, you see, someone who’s been driving a long time will coast slowly to the point at which he or she has a clear view of the intersecting road… When you take the Japanese driving test, you’d better stop at the line first, then coast up to where you can see and stop again, then proceed if you can.

Failure Two… This time I hit the chains. There’s kind of a snake path on the course. I’ve seen people go through without backing up, but you’re allowed to back up once without losing points. I think the second time you back up you have some small amount of points taken off. There are some chains hanging down on the side that represent a wall on one of the tiny backstreets of Japan.

  • I guess the trick to this one is just to be used to what the turning radius of the car looks like. If you’re American or from another country that drives on the opposite side, it means getting used to the different perspective you get from the other side of the carl.

The time I passed:

  • Whenever you take the test, it’s usually a bunch of foreigners or Japanese people who first got their licenses abroad lined up… but mostly non-Japanese people. (The Japanese people who got their licenses abroad saved themselves hundreds of thousands of yen that people here pay for driving school.) Anyway, unless you’re first, you’re going to get to ride in the backseat and watch the person before you ride. I was very lucky because the woman who drove when I was in the backseat was an excellent driver. She was originally from the Philippines but was married with children in Japan. Her husband was a truck driver who’d coached her perfectly. She gave me a lot of good advice which I will now pass on to you.
    • When you make a right turn in Japan (which is across traffic like a left turn in the United States) you turn first into the LEFT lane, no matter what!
      • In the U.S., you turn into the closest lane… in Japan you always enter the left-most lane when turning! I don’t know if it makes sense or not… I KNOW that people don’t do it in practice here in Japan.
      • Here’s a picture I drew, just in case…
    • Another thing to remember is to check around the car before you get in. The idea is to make sure there are not dogs, cats, kids, obstructions, or things like that in the way. The guys I had didn’t really seem to be to concerned with this, but I’ve heard of other Americans who seem to think they lost points by not doing that.
    • Also, reread what I wrote about the stop sign above. Stop TWICE!
    • Watch the snake area, don’t back up too much, but don’t hit the chains. It’s not really that hard, but very few people do it without backing up. Think a turn or two ahead.
    • There’s one of those lined crosswalks. I stopped at it and took a look, but the prefectural police officer that gave me my test said I didn’t have to do it but it doesn’t hurt. If there happen to be people waiting to cross for some reason, you’d better stop and let them go.
    • LASTLY, be nice to people. That sounds silly and obvious, but if you are courteous and fail, the guy that tested you will probably tell you exactly what you did wrong. If you’re argumentative or a jerk about stuff your proctor has no obligation to help you out. They all know English well enough to communicate… if you speak Japanese well enough to understand that’s all the better!

Even with my advice, don’t be surprised if you fail. Given what I know about Japan I believe if someone passed too many people he would get a talking to from a superior. There are probably some ways to make people fail if they think they need some brushing up or something. I also met a girl who was taking it for the ninth time and failed that day too.

If you’re reading this because you’re taking the test soon, good luck! And feel free to comment if you feel I’ve missed anything or if you have an experience people might benefit from!
Technorati Tags: japanese driving test, driving in japan, getting a driver’s license in japan, ,