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Anyone learn driving in Japan?


Sep 2, 2009
It may be a funny question for those come from America or Europe, seems everyone should already have a driving license.

I am thinking if I should learn driving in Japan. As I may not be able to stay back my hometown to learn and stay there for 3 more months in order to enable my license.

I find a English speaking driving school in Tokyo, which as expected very expansive (from 370000 - 395000 yen). Most other schools cost around 270000 - 320000 (because I am on age 31 already) which is using Japanese, I am wondering if my Japanese is OK for me to learn. (my Japanese should not be able to pass the JPLT 2, may be able to pass the old level 3, reading is much much better than listen and speaking)

Any suggestion?
I am pretty active in the Gaijin motorcycle community. I remember reading about different experiences about getting motorcycle licenses in japan on our forum:

Also another guy has blogges his experience about getting a bike license from start here:

Like many other things here in Japan it is either expensive or very frustrating and slightly cheaper to get a license.
I don't believe that it is necessary to go to a english speaking school. I do believe it is important to find a gaijin-friendly place if you decide to not take the classes in english. Might be a good idea to visit a couple of places to see what they say?
The way most people drive in Japan I'm surprised that they even require testing. My 2 biggest pet peeves -

1) How many times do you see motorcyclists dragging or dangling their feet? The ONLY time your foot should come off a peg (or pedal) is to dismount.

2) Early apexing. Comeone - how many corners do you see in the road? Jeesezu, you'd think they are playing 'Where's Waldo' with the line.

etc etc ...

p.s. I'm studying for my JDL now - the written is in Jinglish, which makes it kinda fun - and easier than the correpsonding Japanese version, which has even more obscure triple negatives and marginal implications to the reverse questions. From what the local License agency told me, I just pay a fee, take the written , get a learner's permit, then can apply for the standard license test anytime. Of course there are fees for the permits and licensing test - but its hardly 300,000 yen. That is for people who require instruction from the very start. Also - pretty much no one passes the first time, or 2 - so, just use the test as a preliminary guide - its 6000yen (after the 1st expected failure), therefore , again, much less expensive than the silly 'prep' classes.
Oh yeah another thing. The main reason Japanese go to the schools is they can avoid official testing. They just get the license issued as part of completion. Another fine example of the 3rd sector corruption in Japan. And also explains how people can drive <legally> with seemingly zero knowledge and skills. (e.g 88% of all Taxi drivers)
I had a UK driving license for cars and motorbikes which I converted. Several years later I did an oogata nirin course/test, to be allowed to ride bikes over 400cc. I did this at Tokyu Driving School near Futagotamagawa Station. I did this all in Japanese... my Japanese was probably level 2 at the time, ten years ago, and I've since passed level 1. I didn't have to do a written test.

I had read about the time and frustration involved in passing a test without going through driving school. One has to make a choice between expense and hassle. I chose the former.

It was an interesting experience. Having already been a driver/motorcyclist for 15 years, I had to 'unlearn' several common sense points in order to pass the test at the required standard. @Tim: I'm quite sure that the foot-dangling is a vestigial effect of driving school motorcycle training.

(Serendipitously my Kawasaki ZZR400 'baby ninja' died couple of months later allowing me to buy huge BMW K-bike I'd wanted for decades!)
seemingly zero knowledge and skills. (e.g 88% of all Taxi drivers)
Understand your frustration with taxi drivers, but as I think you know the issue is not as clear-cut as 'they don't know how to drive'. Progressive deregulation starting in the late 90's has led to saturation of the roads, with ever more taxis fighting for an ever-decreasing pool of passengers. Quite simply, the drivers' priorities are different:
If no passenger - get passenger as quickly as possible.

If have passenger - get passenger to destination as quickly as possible in order to get rid of passenger and find another.​
Many city taxi drivers work 16 hours or more a day, and barely receive a subsistence wage.

Taxi accidents in 2003 increased by almost five times the increase in general road accidents compared with 2002. For the same time year, fatal road accidents decreased overall by 7%, but the number of fatal taxi accidents increased by 25%.

I have some sympathy for taxi drivers. I'm very glad I don't have to do that to earn my living*. And I try to give them a wide berth to earn theirs!

* I have however on occasion thought that "Gaijin Taxi Driver" might make an interesting and amusing TV documentary.

I seem to have gotten way of topic. Sorry!
When I first came to Japan I went with a buddy to the large bike school on Tamagawa. It was being taught by Japanese Motorcycle Cops who were really putting the students through the paces. And one of the main things was to teach perfect balance and maneouverability. Your foot comes off the peg - FAIL! So - if all Japanese large bike riders have to go through this testing, how the hell can they get a license? I see so much seriously sloppy driving here. As for the Taxis - my point is that qutie simply you DON'T have to actually take the official test to get a license. You just need to pay the 'instruction fee'. What better way to indenture early-retirement people? And correspondingly flood the system with incompetent dolts. BTW - it seems they are in a hurry to GET a passenger - but NEVER in a hurry to get you to your location! And in fact, if they aren't lost, can't read the GPS or a map, they are intentionally taking the most roundabout route possible whilst pumping the acclerator and brake at the same time. (Someone told me they do this to 'pump' the meter - not sure why / how that's supposed to do anything - except incur vomiting)
Anyway ^ I digress! I've setup appointment for the Aptitude test which must be done on the separate day of Theory Test in advance to get my Learning Certifcate, after which I can take the Practical Test. A friend is getting her license now in Fuchu and apparently it costs only 1000yen per Practical exam (she's on her 3rd try, I believe). I want to see how far I can get with minimal Japanese language ability and zero practice, besides the only RHD drive experience I have is a Ford Escort rally car which I drove for only 3 stages some 15yrs ago.
I did my car driving license at Chofu driving school. I didn`t need much Japanese basically turn right, left, stop etc. However, I had a motorcycle license so didn`t need to do the theory/written test. Chofu is just down the road from Mitaka.
I did think that if we started a bike crimes thread there would be a car crimes one following in its wake and possibly overtaking following an inappropriate manoeuvre involving cutting it up on a left-hand bend.

2) Early apexing. Comeone - how many corners do you see in the road? Jeesezu, you'd think they are playing 'Where's Waldo' with the line.

The only time I feel apprehension here is when a car starts to overtake me as a left-hand bend approaches... Surely, car drivers must be aware that the two sets of wheels have a different turning circle. But no: I witnessed a woman pull out of her parking space in the supermarket the other day...she was parked next to the flower bed and managed to scrape the whole back half of the passenger side on the flower bed as she was unable to judge her turning circle and lacked the common sense/awareness to abort the manoeuvre.

PS: Why do Japanese drivers take so long to pull away from traffic lights? No matter how much time I try and allow them so I can maintain momemtum it is never enough. Must follow the equation n+1 where n is the amount of time I allow...:hammer:

Anyway, can`t complain: still miles safer than England.
Thanks for the advise. I am considering to learn car driving instead of bike. Seems most Japanese demanding part is the theory/written test.

I should check the Chofu one, as least that is good to know the school have an experience to help a non-Japanese to learn driving.
I'm doing mine at Chofu, btw. They have a theory test that is in English. Though they said (admitted) it may be hard because the translation is not accurate. Not too worried, its the same old stuff anywhere. And my friend, who comes from a small town in Thailand (village actually) with less Japanese ability than I has passed her test on the 4th try with no auxillary instruction, classes, etc. So, there ya go.
Quick Update on this --

FYI - I am going through the standard procedure. NOT the quick and dirty conversion process!

1) Step 1a - Go to license center and register to take the learner's permit. You will need to pay (3000yen) , show your gaijin card and bring some photos. Once they process the app - you take an eye exam and read off the colors (don't forget green is actually blue in Japan) . Then you get a time slot to take the first written test (50 true/false questions.) The test is given only 2x a day - so you better get into the test center well before 9am if you want to make the first test.

Step 1b. After you pass the written. (It took me 2 tries), then you can register for your Driving test. Yes, you need a driving test to get the learner's permit! I just did that - and make sure you register for manual transmission, otherwise you'll be stuck with only being able to drive an automatic.

Step 2a. After you've completed the obligatory 'learning' which is nothing more than some time behind the wheel with ANY licensed driver (3yrs or more), you can register for the Category 1 Written Exam - which is 100 questions. Once you pass that (a guy in the place today was on his 4th try) then you can register for the Category 1 Driving test.

Step 2b. Driving Test for the real license. More of the same B.S. as the first - though, they <may> take you on the real roads for this one. Again, pretty much any departure from the head-cocking, brake pumping, signal wacking necessity will cause an instant fail.

THEN - after you've done ALL this - you sit in a mandatory lecture / skills class for almost all day while the instructor shows you old safety videos and if you're lucky you get to play around on a gundam road simulator. Since you pay around 14,000 yen for this experience - as long as you don't die, you pass and will get your actual license issued.

The gaijin conversion process is infinitely easier. Just a lame 10 question test (if you can call it that) and a couple laps around the slot machine track. If you're lucky and come from an approved exchange country - you don't even have to take the driving test.

Apparantely the JAF sells an English study guide for 17,000 yen. From what I was advised, this is almost a requirement if you want to pass the 100 question test - because - well, its not a test, its a testament to the most f*d up Engrish vagueness, reverse implication, bizarre use of the language, trivial pursuit you've ever had. And the JAF manual is the companion concordium ostensibly published by Megadodo Publications.

I passed the 50 question exam by taking note of the questions in question (those not 100% obvious) on my first try and simply reversing the answer. I also managed to get a loaner of the JAF 'Handbook' which is not the eponymous giude itself, but a marginalized facsimile of the same. In fact - the only thing really useful in it was the agenda of pictures of the Japanese roadsigns and markings. Which actually gave me 2 solid answers correct compared to the first try at the test. The test itself is about 50% common knowledge - with questions like:

"When approaching an intersection that the light has turned solidly red, you should depress the acelerator thus speeding the vehicle through the intersection as quickly and safely as follows" (T/F). As ANYONE knows - the REAL answer is TRUE! However - the answer THEY are looking for is FALSE. So - you need to follow this exact tactic for every common sense question.

25% of the questions will be related to the road and sign markings. With tasty tidbits like: "The sign in figure 5 expressly allows all vehicles to enter the roadway with caution". The figure in question being a red circle with diagonal strike.

And 25% Of the questions will be in vehicle knowledge - like how many meters does it take to stop from a speed of 80kph, in the rain. Or my personal favorite; "The wheelbase differential will seemingly arise durning the course of a slow turn" (T/F) - I shit you not - this was an actual question! Its kind of like a cross between gauging the political tension of the Diet compared to the likelihood of farting after eating a bowl of tonkatsu ramen.
Good times, eh!

You'd think it would be within the wit of the Chofu Police amakudari-kyokai to find a native English squeaker to write a meaningful set of questions. Mais non!
I'm glad I've never had to take more than an eye test to get my Japanese license, and get it renewed every five years... :p (Easy to be on gold when one doesn't own a car :rolleyes: )
Ok - well, I took my first stab at the practical and failed. Alot of use of the word 'anzen' and 'hairai'. So, I guess I was a bit too fast and not quite safe enough. Anyway - none of the people in my group (about 15) had passed at the 1st go - or even the second. And in this round only 2 people passed. I talked to the one guy and he thought I passed (he was in my car) - he passed and I just copied as much of his performance as possible. It
was his 4th take and he also did a professional guidance instruction.

Quite frankly - if Japanese drivers really drove like this all the time the streets would be awesome. Somehow they become permanently brain damaged and revert to just the opposite sorts of drivers. Must be a pill they give you AFTER you take the exam. You must look everywhere, all the time, use winkers at least 3s or 30m before ANY turning action, check ALL around your vehicle before initiating any manouver, etc etc. The slightest infraction or failure to do this within a +/- 5% variance will auto-fail you.

Quite frankly, my helicopter checkrides were easier. Navigating a Tokyo Taxi through a decreasing radius 'S' turn whilst double and triple checking, head bobbing, winkers winking, heel-toe double clutching and flux capacitor monitoring is more difficult than a straight-forward 180 auto from 400m onto a chalkline in the grass.
I'm glad I never had to go through this headache. I'm in the military and only had to take a short written test in english after sitting through a hour long familiarization course. Been driving in Japan for 5 years now without a problem.
Latest Update -

Woo hoo! Took the practical exam for the 3rd time and passed it. Now I have been issued my official Learner's Permit and am free to drive (with a 3yr+ licensed driver) to 'practice' for my standard examination.

So - what did it really take to pass this? Honestly I have no clue whatsoever. in fact, I felt my first exam was better driven. Though I did pay a little more attention to a couple of things this time around:

1) More 'head cocking'. I believe that mirrors generally work - oftentimes better than turning your head for the simple reason that turning your head causes myriad re-focusing and realignment of your senses, while using a mirror you can keep your attention focused in the forward plane (where you are driving) and at the same time do a cursory check without losing attention. In short - it is safer to use the mirrors that cocking your head around like an owl. EXCEPT IN JAPAN. You need to do alot of headcocking - so might as well break the mirror habit.

2) In contradiction - the examiner DOES make sure you are using the mirrors as well. So, as you cock your head around - do a brief pause at each mirror vector.

3) More fanatic use of the 'winkers'. I put on the turn indicators for every possible directional event. And also paid closer attention to the 3 sec rule.

4) More fanatic use of the 'side brake' or as we prefer to call it 'parking brake'. In Japan, drivers are taught to use the side brake whenever they come to a complete stop at any signaled intersection. Come to stop, put the brake on, car in neutral, count off 3sec, then proceed. Or when the light turns (blue), you may proceed.

5) Remembered to check under the front of the car for any hidden children or animals, then entered the car - AND remembered to look as if for ships on the horizon for any ships before actually entering the car following Japanese 'manners' perfectly. As in:

- Bow when you enter
- Announce yourself
- Excuse yourself
- Bow again
- Then finally sit in the seat
- Excuse yourself again

6) I also followed another student's suggestion for simple things like:

- Ask everyone to check their seatbelts and locks
- Repeat EVERY navigation command issued by the instructor. This is easy for me -as I have an aviation license, and you learn this from the start. Follow standard ATC voice procedure and it helps clarify the instruction - and it also positively re-reinforces your rapport with the examiner. (NLP hint)

That's it for this stage. Now I have to steady like crazy for the 100 question version of the written - and then prepare for the final practical, both of which are the same thing - just piled higher and deeper.

By the way - this testing and procedure has been great way to really learn the psyche of the Japanese driver and also what is really legal or not as far as bikes go.
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