Driving in Japan



Japan has a very efficient public transport system. However, moving around outside cities and towns could be difficult if you don’t have your own car. Here are a few tips that may help if you want to drive in Japan.

Roads & Traffic Conditions

Japanese roads are well maintained and equipped with internationally recognised symbols. Road signs and instructions to drivers are in English and Japanese. This should make it easy for you to move around. Traffic is orderly and most Japenese are polite drivers. However, try to avoid rush hour traffic, as you could be on the road for hours.

In general, road conditions are good but streets tend to be very narrow, leading to frequent traffic congestion in major cities and urban areas.

Japan also has some very expensive tollways.

Driving License

Holders of International Driving Permits are permitted to drive in Japan. However, Japan only recognises International Driving Permits that are issued in accordance with the Geneva Convention and can be used for a year only. If you intend to stay in Japan for more than a year, you must obtain a Japenese Driving License. You can take an official translation of your original license to the local license centre to get your Japanese Driving License. You will not need to take a practical exam or written test. An issuance fee of 3,000 yen must be paid even in case of re-issuance of lost licenses.

The minimum age for driving is 18 years.


Cars in Japan move on the left hand side of the road and overtaking is from the right. Speed limits differ in designated areas, such as 80 kph on expressways, urban developed areas 40 kph and side roads 30 kph.

Seatbelts are mandatory. Reduce your speed during adverse weather conditions.

Keep your vehicle in good condition. Be alert, cautious and leave no room for complacency when you are in the driver's seat.

Carry all important documents with you at all times: passport, driving license, vehicle registration and certificate of insurance. If you are not the owner of the car, an official letter from the owner permitting you to drive it will be required.

Compulsory insurance in Japan does not cover everything and it is recommended that you purchase optional insurance to cover all costs.

Every two years all Japanese cars undergo compulsory inspection known as "Shaken". Be prepared to pay anything between 100,000 and 200,000 yen toward this inspection.


Drinking and driving is illegal in Japan.

Some hazards you will face on Japenese roads are:

• Drivers crossing red lights at interesctions without any warning.

• Cyclists moving on the wrong side of the road.

• Parking of cars and vehicles so as to block traffic.

In Case of An Accident

In case of an accident dial the following emergency numbers:

Police: 110, Emergency at sea 118, Fire and Ambulance: 119

If you are not seriously injured you can head for the emergency unit of a nearby hospital. However, it would be best to wait for the police to arrive and prepare a report.