Earn a Japanese Driver’s License

Have you been residing in Japan for so many years? Or are you living and working in countryside where the need of a vehicle arises. Then, YES it is possible for an expat to drive a car in Japan. For novice in driving; Japan is a very good place as a training ground, not only because of the organize road and highway system but also the other driving individuals have proper driving education and strictly following the rules accompanied with manners.

For a citizen to be able to drive a car, one needs to take an aptitude test and driving test (both on the road and writing). But as they said, there is a very little chance of passing the road test when you just proceed immediately in taking the exam without going to a driving school. Most of the time 98% fail in the road test. That is how strict Japan is when it comes to earning the driving license. Hence the significance of the driving schools.

Did you know that most of Japanese as early as finishing their high school at 18 years old, whether they will own a car or not, they enroll to driving schools and obtain their driving license before reaching college. Despite enrolling to a driving school is expensive, it is preferable because during the exam at the license center road test will no longer be necessary because  the graduation documents from the driving school will serve as a proof that you have passed the road test. Thus, lowering the chance of failing. But attending and graduating from a driving school will not give assurance of passing the written exam.


Unlike in the Philippines that LTO officials are facilitating the licensing of expectant drivers, here in Japan driving license center is also operated by the Japan police.


Two Options to Obtain a Japan’s Drivers License (For Foreigners)


1. Is currently holding a valid driving license and converted it to international driving license at his/her motherland. With a proof that shows that the applicant have been in his/her motherland driving for more than or at least 3 months before the examination in Japan. With the right documents, proceed to the Driving License Center [Unten menkyousenta (運転免許センター)] of your town. There is a section that caters conversion of foreign licenses. And from that on I have no idea what happens.

2. The other way would be the same way as how Japanese obtain theirs. Enroll to a driving school, study hard to be able to graduate on time and take the written exam. During the exam at the License Center, foreigners can either choose English or Japanese questionnaire. But believe me, if you studied everything in Japanese and can read Japanese, better use the Japanese questionnaire because English version is confusing.


Two Ways to Study in a Japan’s driving School

1. The regular way: enroll in Kyoshujo (教習所)

Most of the students or people with job avail this program because of the schedule’s flexibility. The entire course takes around 3 months.

But is quite expensive and would range from 250,000 ~ 300,000 yen (1000~3000 USD) or more during the peak season (February~April).

2. Or the “gashuku” (合宿)

which is the fastest and cheaper method. Cheaper because students will be staying in lodging house provided by driving school. Students will go through a compact program that covers both lectures and driving lessons following a rigid two-week schedule. It is like a training-camp-style. During off season it will be as low as 170,000 ~ 210,000 yen.

“gashuku”= I don’t suggest this method for those who have no Japanese background yet because as the schedule is tight exams are coming in and out so fast and the failure to pass the written and driving tests will cause extensions and additional payments. Materials, books and lessons are also in Japanese language.

But is also a fair option for those who want to obtain the license in a short period of time and those who are able to read, write and comprehend Japanese.

Take note that NOT ALL driving schools offer gashuku program, and gashuku program do not admit students residing near the school. Thus, most of the gashuku students are from distant prefectures.

* I am not sure if there is a driving school that caters foreign students using English materials or classes.


How to Enroll in a Driving School : Gashuku


1. Go online, search the reservation hotline for gashuku enrollment. Call the number, you will be interviewed to determine your preferences. If you ask for the cheapest then they will provide you the cheapest possible school that is still open.

Or you can also search on your own online or read the advertisement brochures that can be found at the stations or convenience stores.

2. After you have chosen the school, the reservation center will be in contact with the school you selected. A pamphlet or documents will be mailed to you. Fill it up and make the payment as instructed.

3. There will be some things that you will be required to bring like your residence card, passport, certificate of residence [juminhyo (住民票)]-  can be requested at the municipal office [Shiyakusho (市役所)」

If you wear glasses or contact lens you need to declare it, use only flat close shoes during the classes.


Some of the expected things to do:

(for AT license- Automatic car only)

  • On the first day:

⇒fill up documents and contract with the school,

⇒do the eye test, and

⇒aptitude test 適性検査 (assess one’s physical, mental, emotional faculties and determine its effect on your driving ability and manner)

⇒simulator machine driving

⇒since gashuku schedule is compressed, on the first day classes will begin 学科 (subjects).




  • By the end of the first week,

⇒ need to pass the 学科効果測定 (Gakka kokasokutei)

– 50 items exam; 2 points each item total of 100 points; passing score is 90.

– depending on the training center, this exam is done using the computer

– covers all the lessons you took on the first few days

– should be passed to be able to take the Karimenkyou exam 仮免許 (exam for temporary driving license)

– if failed once, retakes will be given depending on the schedule but make sure to pass this before the 仮免許 test schedule.

⇒ driving test; (修了検定)

– during the test the instructor will give the directions;

– passing score is 70 points.

⇒ Undergo the Musen class (無線)

– Musen means wireless, the instructor facilitates using a radio transmitter while watching from a distant

– student will drive the car alone

– use one route among the practiced driving courses during the class

– not scored, so it is okay to have a mistake


  • If the above tests will be passed;








⇒ Karimenkyo test (仮免学科) will be taken:

– written exam facilitated by the school but the questionnaire is provided by the police

– 50 items; 2 points each and passing score is 90

– if failed once, depending on the driving school’s rules, retakes are allowed.

– if passed; a 仮免許 (temporary driving license permit with your photo on it)will be given which is needed to be able to drive on the highway outside the school’s premises. This is also needed to be able to graduate and will be one of the requirements needed during the exam at the Japan Driving License center)


  • Just before the graduation/ completion

⇒ Pass another 学科効果測定

– 100 items (1 point each 90 items; 2 points for the next 5 items)

– passing score: 90 points

– chances will be given if failed so long as the schedule permits

⇒Driving test 卒業検定

– done on the highway together with the teacher who gives direction

– exam route will be one of the courses that have been taken during the class

– passing score is 70 points

– avoid accidents like crashing someone or something and ignoring the red light

⇒ Undergo 応急 class (Firs- Aid)

⇒ Chance to drive on the express way speeding up to 100kph


  • During the graduation

⇒ If all the test above are passed in two weeks

⇒ A graduation certificate will be awarded

⇒ Orientation on the rules of taking the Driver’s license exam


Points To Remember:

⇒ Even if you already graduated from the driving school and owns a temporary permit (仮免許) this does not allow you to drive a car alone.

You can, but a “仮免許練習中”signboard should be placed outside the car on its respective areas. And should be supervised by a person who owns a 第一種免許 type 1 license (for 3 years)  or 第二種免許 type 2 license.

⇒ The certificates from the driving school also the temporary permit which are necessary for the driving license exam have an expiry period.

⇒ Please check the school’s rules regarding the retakes and period of extensions

⇒ If the written exam is successfully passed  and you start driving: always have with you your license and always place the 運転初心マーク (beginner mark) in front and at the back of your car.

⇒ Japan’s drivers license is point system. The first year of driving is considered as the crucial days that’s why as much as possible avoid any penalties. For beginners only few violation points will cause trouble on your license or may extend the period of your 運転初心マーク license. Or worst, due to many violations it will cause the license to be forfeited or cancelled and will require you to re-enroll in seminars or even back to the driving school again.


Karimenkyou mark placement (仮免許練習中マーク)


Shoushinmaku (運転者初心マーク)


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