Licensed to … drive

After a few years here in Japan, I finally got around to sorting out my Japanese driver’s license. To be honest, in most cases, driving in Tokyo isn’t really needed, but I’ve been thinking of buying a car, and it’ll be more useful to go on hiking trips, and such by just renting a car and getting out of the madness of Tokyo. It’s important to remember that to own a car – any car – in Tokyo, you have to prove you have a parking space, and a parking space can cost 20,000-40,000 yen a month in most parts – that can make things pretty expensive! Petrol here is about 92yen a litre, though cars generally 10-20% cheaper than in Europe – sometimes more.

As I’m from the UK, all I have to do in theory is get some documents together, go to the test centre, do some eye tests, watch a video, fill in the forms, and get out of there with a license. As we all know, theory and practice are slightly different.

I decided to go to the ‘Unten Menkyo Senta-‘ (Driving License Centre) in Samezu near Shinagawa, south Tokyo. The address usefully is on the web page provided by my local council here. I spent the evening getting all my stuff together: my current passport, my British license, my ‘gaikokujin torokusho’ (alien registration card), my old passport (to prove I had held my license or 90 days outside of Japan), a photo and a translation of my license into Japanese, which I got from the Japanese Automobile Federation (JAF). Along with some cash, a big book and my iPod, I headed down there – it took about 45 minutes on 3 trains.

My cunning plan started to fall to pieces almost immediately when they refused to accept my Alien Registration Card – when I took it to my local council office to have it updated to reflect my new 3 year visa a few weeks ago, they hadn’t covered the new text on the back with a special holographic security tape. I asked if it was that important, and the basic answer was that I wasn’t getting anywhere without it.

The license office only accepts applications between 9-11am and 1-3pm, and it was already nearly 10am, so I decided that since I had already took the day off work, I should try to get it all done – it took 40 minutes to get to the council office, and I explained what the problem was and I can only describe the clerk’s face as one of disbelief – ‘they really turned you down because of *that*?’ They readily agreed to put the tape on (it should be, but I suppose the person who wrote the new details on forgot, and I never even thought to check), and after a quick trip to my apartment for more proof of not being in Japan for 90 days just in case, I went back to Samezu.

I fared better this time, and they accepted my application. After waiting for about 40 minutes they came to check a few more details, and then sent me for an eye test, which I could probably have passed with my eyes closed, a quick colour test, based on the traffic light colours (red, yellow and blue here), and after another wait, to have my photo taken (so why I had to bring one with me, I wasn’t sure), then pay a fee, then after another hour’s wait I got my new Japanese license!

I can now rent a car, and even buy one if like! It’s only this easy as the Japanese drive on the left, the same as the UK, otherwise I might have had to have a test (it depends on the country). Interestingly, I should have sat through a lengthy safety video, but as it was late in the day, it wasn’t available, but I got the license anyway. At no point was I required to show any knowledge of road laws , signs or signals! Ah well, I’m happy about it.