A licence to drive

When staying or planning to stay in Japan for more than a year, you have to apply for a Japanese driver’s licence. Otherwise it’s enough to just have the driver’s licence translated. That’s what I did last year in August, when we rented a van to explore the region between Kyoto and Fukui. It was quite easy. We just had to go to a Japanese Automotive Federation JAF office, hand over the Swiss drivers’s licence, wait two or three hours and pay a small fee. That’s it.

Getting the Japanese driver’s licence is a bit more complicated… Here’s my report:

First, of course, I asked Google and found the following websites which helped me to understand the process: information from JAF, from JapanVisitor, from Japan-Guide and most helpful from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

Fortunately, Switzerland and Japan have an agreement which allows people from Switzerland to just get a Japanese licence without having to take neither a written nor practical exam. So, I just searched for the closest Driver’s Licence Center which is the one in Koto, prepared all documents and hopped on the bike. Riding there, took me about 30-40 minutes.

Entering the building, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sign posts and headed directly to the information desk from where I was directed to counter 1. There I received a form which I had to fill in and they checked if I had all required documents with me. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The pictures I brought were too big and they did not accept my residence card but wanted a residence record. It seems, I’m not the only one bringing the card instead of the record. They immediately gave me a small paper strip explaining what they wanted from me.

Then they handed me a map and told me to go to the building highlighted in red. I didn’t really know what for I had to go there. I was guessing either taking the smaller photos or taking an eye test. Unfortunately, their English was not good enough to explain it to me and the Google translation app was not able to scan the description.

Therefore, I just took the bike and tried to find the building. After some cruising around, I ended up in front of the Koto City Hall. I was not sure if I was in the right place but I went in there nevertheless and showed them the note from the driver’s licence center. And, lucky me, I ended up at the right place! A nice lady who spoke really good English, helped me to a waiting number and informed me that I would get the residence certificate here.

It didn’t take long until it was my turn. I showed the number and my residence card to the officer. A very old man, way over the pension age and with very poor eye sight. He had to bend his head down to the desk and needed a magnifying glass for reading and writing. But he got me the jyuminhyo and 300 yen later I was on my way back to the driver’s licence center to hand in the certificate at counter 1. They took it and sent me to the photo booth at the opposite side of the hall.

After cutting the pictures, I went back to counter 1, handed the pictures in and was asked to wait. They glued the picture on a form and asked me to check if they had copied over everything correctly. My name was written with katakana letters and my year of birth was converted to the Japanese calendar system. My first name became: スタ (= e s-su ta) and my Japanese year of birth 46. After that they handed the form over to me and sent me to counter 0 to pay the fees. In total about 4800 yen.

Licence exchange form with the order of the counters

From there I continued as indicated on the form to counter 7 to take an eye test. Just a basic one with 3 different sizes of circles and I had to say where the opening was. My score: 2 out of 3…. Then they checked if I could distinguish between red and green and I was done. I got my result and was sent to counter 8 where they checked the result, stamped it and sent me back to counter 1.

Eye test set-up

At counter 1, I handed in the test result and was asked to go to one of the machines next to the counter, type in any pin and wait again.

Finally, I got called to counter 1 again and had to re-check that my name, date of birth and address was correct on the form. To conclude, they informed me about some formalities like change of address or renewal of the license and sent me to counter 10 where they took a digital photo of me for the license. Apparently, the photos from the booth were only for the application form… :-)

From counter 10, I was then sent to the 4th floor to get the licence. Half of the floor was arranged as a waiting area. When I arrived, there was a long queue to the right side and they all got handed out cards at the front. So, I started queuing as well. When I arrived at the front, I was informed that I had to wait till my number “60156” was shown on the screen. Informed meaning that they first tried to tell me and then, when they realised that I didn’t unterstand Japanese, they showed me a written explanation. Again, I’m probably not the only foreigner not knowing what to do.

After a wait of about 30 to 45 minutes, my number was called and I got my Japanese driver’s licence. Yay! Walking out, there was a row of computers where most of the people who also got a licence stopped and seemed to do something with their card. I didn’t get any instructions but didn’t want to miss anything. I was thinking maybe this last step was needed to activate the licence. So I put my card there and was asked to input a pin. I tried the one I created at the pin machine next to counter 1. It worked and the screen showed me the information linked with my licence. All good. In total, the whole process took almost 2.5 hours and earned me another experience of Japanese bureaucrazy :-)

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