Drinking and Driving Laws in Japan

Despite Japan’s unique heavy drinking culture, it is obvious that no one should ever drink and drive. My best friend lost his mother due to a drunk driver many years ago and I have personally been a witness to a terrible accident that left a 12 year old girl dead with the drunk driver of the other car with a few minor scratches.

Perhaps if Japan had stricter laws back then, my friend’s mother and the 12 year old girl would still be alive today.

With that in mind, it is very pleasing to know that laws on drinking and driving in Japan have become very strict. Any minor DUI infraction can have you end up in jail and have you pay a nice big fine.

One Beer is all it Takes to Land you in Prison in Japan

Just know that it is prohibited to drink one beer and drive in Japan. You will serve time in prison. The severity of your punishment will be based on your actions and your breath alcohol content level (the BAC). 

Furthermore, any 3rd party individuals who have offered you alcohol as well as those who let you drive, and any passengers found inside your car (when drunk) will be persecuted to the fullest extent of Japanese law.

The above is probably the best summary out there regarding the drinking and driving law here in Japan.

Just so you know, the following are the rules and consequences when caught driving under the influence. If you are on an international driver’s permit, the consequences still apply!

  1. Drinking just 1 beer (BAC of 0.15) and driving can land you in jail for up to 3 years or a fine of 500,000 yen ($5,000 USD) and cost you 13 demerits to your license.
  2. Driving and having a BAC over 0.25 can put you in jail for up to 3 years or add a fine 500,000 yen, and 25 demerits and your privileged to drive in Japan for up to 10 years.
  3. IF you drive over over the speed limit with a BAC of 0.25 and above, you 25 demerits (and include number 2 above.)
  4. If you drive 50 kph above the speed limit with a BAC of less than 0.25 to 0.15, 19 demerits (and see no. 1)
  5. If you drive 30~40 kph above the speed limit with a BAC of 0.25 to 0.15, 16 demerits (and include no. 1).
  6.  If you drive over 25~30kph above the speed limit with a BAC of 0.25 to 0.15, 15 demerits (and include no.1)
  7. If you drive over 0-25 kph above the speed limit with a BAC of 0.25 to 0.15, 14 demerits (and include no. 1)
  8. You fail to stop at a stop light or stop sign with a BAC over 0.25, 25 demerits (and see no.1)
  9. You fail to stop at a stop light or stop sign with a BAC less than 0.25, 14 demerits (and see no.1)
  10. If you kill someone while drunk behind the wheel you lose 62 demerits, go to prison for a long time and probably never drive in Japan.
  11. Hit and Run comes with a penalty of 1,000,000 yen ($10,000 USD) and up to 10 years in prison.

*Know that you have a a clean slate on your driver’s license when you first receive it. The more demerits you receive breaking traffic laws, the more you risk having your license revoked. The magic number is 15. When you accumulate 15 demerits or more, you will no longer be allowed to drive in Japan. As a foreigner, you might also get deported after serving your sentence.

Rules/Consequences to a 3rd party Associated with Drunk Driver

  1. If you provide a drunk person a vehicle you will also be liable (see no.1 or no.2 above as it will depend on the BAC of the driver)
  2. You offer or sale alcohol to an individual who then drives, you can serve up to 3 years in prison or pay up to 500,000 yen ($5000 USD)
  3. You ride as a passenger driven by a drunk person or if you fail to prevent that drunk person from driving; you will serve up to 3 years in prison or pay a fine of 500,000 yen.

Remember, you will have to pay tons of court fees and other additional fees. Also, as a foreigner, don’t be surprised to have deportation papers waiting for you to sign after you served your time in prison.

Drinking and driving is no joke so stay on the safe side and don’t drink and drive. If you have to go by car to an izakaya, always use “the Daiko“. Daiko is a special taxi service that will have a driver your car to your house or wherever you live, while you sit in the passenger seat of your car giving directions.

I like to add that prison life in Japan is no walk in the park. You might not need KY jelly as seen in other countries but Japanese prison is a hard place to be in. Furthermore, they seemingly have developed a special section within prison for traffic offenders. According to a TV program I watched earlier this year, they do hard time just as everyone else but what makes their time in prison different is that they must pray in front of a shrine and beg for forgiveness for the serious offenses they’ve committed such as killing someone while being drunk behind the wheel.

Drinking and driving ain’t no joke.

Innocent kids, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, and sisters have died because of reckless drunk drivers. It’s not worth going behind the wheel even with just a beer. One beer can change your life forever.

Be responsible! Always safer and less stressful not having a car. Take the cab or the train. Lots of transportation options in Japan.

Here’s a Japanese drunk driving commercial of a dog that lost its owner due to a drunk driver.


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