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Right of Way: Driving in Japan

Advice from an expat in Japan on navigating the roadways.

For those of you who have driven in a foreign country, you can probably relate to this blog post. For starters, traffic moves on the left side of the road here in Japan rather than the right side as in America, Canada and most of Europe (except the U.K., of course). By the way, the United States is pretty much the only country that uses the imperial system for measuring distance. Here in Japan and the rest of the world, the metric system is used. There are little rules of the road that are somewhat different here in Japan. So let’s start with some basic things about how and what I’ve learned since I started driving here in Japan.

My Car

I drive a Suzuki Wagon R which is a small sized Keijidosha (or Kei “K” car for short) Kei cars have small sized engines (about 100 ccs) thus making acceleration a challenging task on the highway. I can fit up to four adult passengers inside somewhat comfortably and there is a little space for cargo etc. in the back. On average I get about 14.7 kilometers per liter (km/l) (30mpg), which is pretty decent.

Filling Up

On average it costs me about 4,000 yen (51USD) to fill up my tank which holds 30 litres. Gas in Japan is quite expensive, averaging about 140 yen/litre or about $6.75USD/gallon. It’s much cheaper where I come from.

Japanese drivers are a bit passive aggressive so there things such as road rage do not exist. Americans or other Westerners might find that speed limits are quite low compared to their own countries. The max speed limit on major highways for example is about 55 mph or 80 km/hr.

Driver’s License

If you are living/working/studying in Japan you are allowed to drive legally on an IDP (International Driver’s Permit) for one year after arriving in Japan. After that you must convert your foreign driver’s license into a Japanese driver’s license. Also keep in mind that you must show that you had your license for at least three months in your home country before departing for Japan.

Japanese people must pay about 3,000 USD to take a driver’s education course in order to obtain their license. Depending on your nationality, foreigners who hold a foreign license must simply pay the conversion fee, driver’s test fee and a license issuance fee. The exact total can range from 4,000 yen to about 7,000 depending on whether or not you have to take the road test. Americans, Jamaicans and many other nationalities must take the driving test. Citizens from the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand for example only have to pass an interview, vision and written exam in order for the conversion. Depending on your nationality you may luck out so check with your local testing center or embassy website to find more detailed information.

Below are some links about driving in Japan from the United States Embassy in Tokyo and the Japan Tourist Organization. Happy and safe driving!


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Willie J. Inman Jr.

Willie J. Inman Jr. is an ambitious American who wanted to see more than just the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia where he grew up. After studying abroad for one year in Kyoto, Japan and earning a degree from Georgia State University in Journalism, he’s back for more in the land of the rising sun. Changing the lives of elementary school children in Shiga, Japan one day at a time as teacher on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET). 

Website: williejinman.blogspot.jp/

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