If you decide to stay in Japan for longer than a year, you will need to get a Japanese drivers license. A renewal of your international license is not allowed. The international license is valid for one year and is calculated from your original date of entry into Japan (trips home don’t count). The process of changing licenses is long and frustrating, but Hyogo-ken tends to be fair.
While some extremely kind schools/BOEs may grant you special leave to take care of getting your Japanese driver’s license, most people end up using a few days worth of precious nenkyu all said and done.
Translate Your License
Get a translation of your home country’s driver’s license by the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF). This cannot be done by anyone else (no personal translations accepted), and must be done BEFORE going to the Akashi Driver’s Licensing Center. The translation costs 3000 yen plus postage. You must have lived in your home country for at least three months after the issue date on your license. If not, you will need to get a license record from your home country (this must also be an official, notarized translation). Also, keep the following important points in mind:
- The applicants’ overseas driver’s license must be valid (expired licenses cannot be transferred).
- The applicant must be able to prove that he or she stayed in the country where the license was issued for at least 3 months after obtaining the license. If your license does not show a date of issue, or if the date of issue is less than 3 months prior to arrival in Japan due to license renewal, you must provide documentation and a translation showing the original date your license was issued.
- Australians: Australian licenses usually (never?) don’t have an issue date on them, so to prove you have been driving for more than 3 months, you need to bring in either your previous license or ask your RTA for a copy of your driving history record.
How to get the Japanese translation
How to apply
Submit a photocopy of the foreign license to any JAF counter in Japan. This can be done in person or via registered mail (現金書留 genkin kakitome)
A photocopy of the license, preferably clear color copies of the front and back (JAF will not accept original licenses)
Translation Fee: 3,000 yen per license plus 380 yen for return postage, by registered postal cash envelope
More detailed information can be found here.
You should receive the translation in about four days.
JAF Branches in Hyogo
Please see the JAF webpage for up to date information on JAF office locations: 
Please note that JAF will not refund the translation fee when an application is rejected. The period of validity of the Japanese translation is the same as that of the driver’s license.
Check Your Country
Find out whether or not you must take a written and/or practical (i.e. driving) test. This depends on where you got your driver’s license. If you have a license from Australia, Canada, or any of the other 22 countries listed here, then lucky you, because you don’t need to take the test. Those unlucky souls from America, Jamaica and South Africa must take a written and practical test (there may be other exceptions, so make sure to confirm this yourself by calling the Akashi Driver’s License Center ahead of time.)
List of 22 Lucky Countries
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom
Go To Akashi Licensing Center
Head down to the Akashi Driver’s Licensing Center, taking the following items with you. Be ready to spend the whole day there, and be warned that there are no English speakers and everything is written in Japanese only (take a Japanese person with you if you can)
- 2,400 yen
- Personal Seal
- Ballpoint pen
- One Passport-Sized Photo (3cm x 2.4 cm)
- Residence Record (住民票)
- Home Country License
- JAF license translation
Get Your License
In the Morning
Go to section 7, take a number, and wait outside the door. Get there early – you can only hand in your paperwork between 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. and they do not accept anything after this time. I recommend getting there a half-hour early, as there were already 2 people waiting in front of when I arrived at 9:00 a.m. Sometimes they will open a little earlier. It is first come first served, and they do not stay open later than 10:30.
I waited in the waiting room for about an hour (I was the third person to go in). I went in and sat down. Next, I had a short interview in Japanese, the officer wrote down my passport information (all my entries in and out of Japan), my JAF translation, my gaijin card details, and looked at my home country license. I then did an eye test.
When the officer finished the paperwork, I had to go and purchase a 2,400 yen stamp, then go back to the room. The officer then gave me a slip of paper with what was happening next and my ID number. Do not lose this. I finished this first part at about 11:00 a.m.
If you are from one of the above 22 countries
- Listen to the road rules of Japan in Japanese for about an hour and fill out a form. # Line up in number order to get license photos (takes a a long time). When it was my turn to go up, the person asked if the spelling of my name was correct, told me something about having to use a beginner’s plate for one year, and took my photo.
- Wait in the main foyer a long time with everyone, and then they called out everyone’s number again. Go up, stamp your hanko, and receive your license.
If you are not from one of the above 22 countries
After purchasing your stamp you go back to the room, do the eye test and take a written test. It’s really easy, just remember that you cannot cross a yellow line, but you can pass on a white line.
After finishing the eye test and written test the officer gives you back all your stuff and shuffles you to the basement. Go to the first queue and they will give you your course map. You will have to wait until 1:00 p.m. (eat lunch: there is a café there or BYO). At 12:00 p.m. you can go and walk the course. It is pretty basic except for one really tight section.
At 12:55 the testing begins. You are put together with the other foreign license holders. There is only one troublesome section where you must maneuver through a tight turn in the huge taxi car they give you to use (you can’t use your own car).
Hopefully you will pass, at which point you will have to wait some more, go to a different room, and finally you will get your license sometime around 4:30 p.m. If you have time after or in-between your appointment, go and visit the Akashi castle park near the station.
Most people fail the driving test at least once so allow time to make multiple appointments – you must make an appointment for the driving test before you go and sometimes the next appointment will not be available for a month or more, so be sure to allow enough time to change licenses well before your international license expires!
For some tips on how to pass the test, see the Driving Test section.
A Word Of Warning
You do not want to be stuck driving without a valid license in Japan. The maximum penalties are extremely severe (namely, a year in jail and/or a 300,000 yen fine!) Worse yet, if you ever get in an accident while driving without a valid license, the accident is automatically your fault under the law, even if the accident was 100% the other party’s fault.