How to Get a Driver’s License in Japan

The Background Check

Once your application is accepted, the license center will run a background check on your driver’s license.

They will try to gather as much information and history they can from your driver’s license.

They will also interview you about your driving history. (e.g. did you go to a driving school? How long was your written test? What did you have to do in your practical driving test and etc.)

After that, depending on your nationality, you will be able to receive your driver’s license. If you are from a non-exempted country, you will then proceed to take both the written and practical test.

Exempted Vs. Non-Exempted Countries

List of Exempted Countries from taking the test:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • South Korea
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • United Kingdom
  • United States (Washington and Maryland State only)

If you are lucky enough to be in this exempted group, all you need to do is do the application paperwork and take the eye test. Pay the fees and get your driver’s license the same day!

If you don’t see your country up on the list above, then you will have to take the written and the infamous practical driving test. ( e.g. U.S., Brazil, the Philippine Islands, China, Kenya, India, and other countries not on the list)

I like to add that if you have a driver’s license from Washington or Maryland state, consider yourself lucky because you don’t need to take the test.

Why are some countries non-exempted?

For countries such as Brazil, the Philippines, China, and etc.. It seems that the NPA does not recognize their driving to be adequately strict and safe enough to ensure safety when driving in Japan. It seems that a lot of this has to do with the practice of bribing of examiners and low driving standards typically seen in some 3rd world countries.

The Written Test: It’s all Common Sense!

By all accounts from actual test taking people, the written test is very easy.

You will be able to take the exam in your preferred language. The written test is available in multiple languages such as English, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Persian and possibly more languages so do check..

Furthermore, the written test is 10 minutes long and will consist of 10 true or false questions in which you have to get 7 questions right. If you have more than 3 mistakes you’re out.

The written exam will test your basic understanding of common traffic signs, traffic rules, how to deal with bicycles on the road, pedestrian crossings, and etc.

Just a note: The written test is really easy if you compare it with a test a Japanese person would take. A Japanese individual would have to answer a 2 hour, 100 True or False question test, and need 90% to pass. We need a 70% to pass, which is considered pretty low by some standards.

It’s nice to know that some centers offer the test digitally while others take them via the traditional pencil and paper.

Make note that the questionnaire could be in your language butthe answer sheet that you write on could be in Japanese so listen carefully when the proctor gives you instructions. 

The Eye Test: Vision and Color Acuity

After you pass the written exam you will then take your eye exam. You will see a bunch of C’s and must indicate where the opening of the C is. You will answer in Japanese (Hidari, Migi, Ue, Shita).

They will then test your peripheral vision and test for color blindness. The only colors they will test you for is green, yellow, and red.

Once you passed the written and the eye test you are cleared to take the practical driving examination.

How to get a driver’s license in Japan Part 2

5 thoughts on “How to Get a Driver’s License in Japan”

  1. Thanks for this. Your tips helped me a lot that I passed the second time. I failed the first time because i did not know what to expect plus my japanese was very limited at the time. I did some research and found this post and studied a little bit and learned some traffic vocab. its not about the skills but if you can drvie the japanese way like you said. Knowinng japanese is very important. Thank you.

  2. Casey,

    You’re welcome!
    Passed the second time? Considering many people pass the test by the 3rd time congratulations!

    Knowing your Japanese and your ability to follow instructions is key. Looks like you studied really hard!

    Drive safe and enjoy the freedom!

  3. Great article. I forwarded this to a friend taking the test next week.
    To the others that might think the driving test here in Japan is biased, don’t think they are strict on just foreigners. They are strict on everyone wanting to drive.

    Them being strict is working. Traffic deaths for 2017 are at a record low. Driving in Japan could now be considered a very safe thing to do compared to the world these days thanks to stricter test for getting your drivers license.'s-traffic-deaths-drop-to-record-low-under-3-700-in-2017

  4. Just got my Japanese driver’s license.

    You really covered almost everything I needed to know to get me license. It’s nothing to do with skill. you really have to know their ways. I got docked for not going closer to the left when parking and got docked for not using the parking brake when doing the mid-stop on the hill part.

    Weird system. its all about driving vigilantly and carefully like you said! I took it slow and looked everywhere.
    Much Obliged. Now I can nanpa on the girls!


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