How to drive in Japan

Is driving included in your options for the transportation methods when you travel in Japan?


We assume that you are thinking that driving a car in Japan is impossible…

  • Maybe because you don’t understand any Japanese…
  • Maybe because you are afraid of getting in trouble…
  • Maybe because you are afraid of driving on the left side of the road…

We are sure you can assume several kinds of trouble and difficulties when driving in a country that you don’t understand their language.
However, it is very fun traveling through places that are not world-famous sightseeing places and spots because there, you can see the actual living and that will lead you to the real culture of the land you don’t know.

Of course Tokyo is a very exciting city. But the lives in Tokyo are NOT real Japan, we mean ‘NOT real’ because mother places apart from Tokyo and other major cities in Japan like Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka are only a small part of Japan. These big cities, especially Tokyo could be classified as an artificial internationalized metropolitan city with much American and European culture influences. Like other big cities around the world, they are full of internationally chained shops which you find that they are quite the same, without the countries’ characteristics.
We too, when we travel outside Japan, feel bored staying in the big cities with same brand shops, same coffee shops and same fast food restaurants on the road side.

It is fun visiting the famous sightseeing spots, museums, and ready-made places for tourists when you are quite new to the country in the first place but when you get used to the place after a while, we, for instance, feel like visiting normal places where local people lead their local living.
When we went to a very beautiful place like Prague of Czech, we spent one week visiting every beautiful historical building, museums and spots recommended in the guide book. But after few days, we realized we were not seeig anything really local, local places where local people leading their local living in Pague. Of course we had no knowledge of Czech language but we decided to go out of Prague and went to a small village which wasn’t marked on our tourist map. It was exiting to look around the village; entering local shops, eating local food and communicating somehow using boday language with local people.  We’ve got so excited and so satisfied that we were able to see more than what we were able to see in the normal sightseeing course, a little bit of reality in Czech.

In other countries in Europe like Italy for instance, we were unable to depend on local transportaion like trains as there are many delays and less trains in a day for our destination. We had to spend whole day for transporting ourselves, scheduled to the time of the trains mostly delayed. Or we had to ask a favor to our local friends who kindly gave us a ride on their cars to a designated places.

It was after several trials on traveling by trains that we started to think that we are really wasting our precious time only wating for the train to get to our destination. We then decided to rent a car to travel around Europe instead of using trains. From that moment, we were able to visit places which weren’t written on any major guide books. When started to travel by rental car where no car navigation system was available, the exploration was very difficult. We always had to take a very heavy atlas with us and keep looking at the maps full of unknown names. It was so hard just to even figure out where we were. But when we got our own car navigation with us, driving on the unknown roads dramatically changed! We explored many rural villages lead by our car navigation and saw the reality of the countries. We discovered namy things that were not on the guidebook.  We like to surprise our local friends with the stories of our exploration in their countries. We felt so proud to know something that many tourist do NOT know.  We felt so proud and special to be the first Japanese to reach very rural places which usually are thought to have nothing special for the tourists. But from that very moment, we felt the we liked the country a lot, were able to say “WE LOVE THE COUNTRY.”

So, we appreciate you to explore our country, Japan, getting on rental cars and explore other places than Tokyo and become “the first” !

So let’s think about drinving in Japan while you stay here!

Driving in Japan

It is not that hard driving a car in Japan as you imagine. Those of you who usually drive on the right side of the road with driver’s seat with steering wheel on the left become opposite in Japan.


Road signs and rules in Japan follow international standards. Most signs on major roads are indicated in Japanese and alphabets.
Japanese drivers as a whole tend to be nice and well mannered.
**Of course, there are some exceptions….

Prior to your departure

In order to drive a car in Japan, you have to have an International Driving Permits (IDP) which normally is valid for one year.  As IDP cannot be issued in Japan, you should get it through your country’s national automobile association prior to your departure.

What is important is that Japan recognizes only International Driving Permits based on the 1949 Geneva Convention.

If you are a citizen of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Taiwan, even though your countries do not issue permits based on the 1949 Geneva Convention, you can drive a car with your driver’s license in Japan as far as your driver’s license is translated officially into Japanese
** A translation can be obtained from the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) or some of the respective countries’ embassies or consulates.

List of member countries of nations of Geneva Convention;

  • Asia: Philippines, India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Korea
  • Middle and Near East: Turkey, Israel, Syria, Cyprus, Jordan, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates
  • Africa: Senegal, Republic of Sierra Leone, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria
  • Europe: UK, Greece, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, France, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican, Kyrgyz, Georgia, CzechRepublic, Slovakia
  • The Americas: USA, Canada, Peru, Cuba, Ecuador, Argentina

If you stay/live in Japan for more than one year

Japan has bilateral agreements with more than twenty countries, including Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, to ease the process of acquiring a Japanese license. If you hold a valid driver’s license from one of these countries you can get a Japanese license without taking a written or practical exam.

Instead, go to your local license center with an official translation of your license (obtainable from the Japan Automobile Federation), your passport, and proof that you hold a license that has a validity of at least three months in the issuing country before coming to Japan. Then, take a basic eye and physical test and you will be issued a new license on the same day.

If you have a driver’s license from a country which does not have an agreement with Japan, such as the United States, China or Brazil, you will have to take a written and practical exam in order to obtain a Japanese driver’s license. This process typically takes several attempts, even for experienced drivers.

There is only one driving school in Japan which provides lessons in English for a permanent drivers’ license in Japan.

Koyama Driving School

Other useful links related to the subject

Speed Limit

Normally, the speed limit on the normal roads are 60km/h and on the expressways are 100km/h in Japan.
We say ‘Normally’ which means there are exceptions.  The speed limit differs depending on the places and the circumstances. So you should always be aware of the road sign as below indicating the speed limit of the road.


The number indicated is a speed limit.
Be aware of the speed limit when driving. Sometimes police are measuring speed in hidden places where you can’t spot while you are driving or on the expressways, they measure with radar traps in normal looking cars (saloon car, most of them white).  They also patrol in their official police cars and motorcycle.

Always fasteb your seatbelt

Drivers and all passenger on board should fasten their seatbelts including passengers on the rear seats.

Traffic signals

Like many other countries GREEN means YOU CAN GO, YELLOW means CAUTION, ‘always better to stop, and RED means STOP.
When the signal is red, you must stop your car at the white stopping line on the road.

The noteworthy thing is when a traffic signal has ‘arrows’.


The arrow signifies the direction way. For instance, if you wish to turn right waiting at the signal that has arrows, you will have to wait for the arrow pointing towards right. Quite often, the arrow turns green while the main signal lamp is lighted red. In other words, you will have to wait for the arrow to turn green even igf the main lamp is lighted green. Always wait for the arrow to turn green when you are turning left or right at this type of signal.

Avoid Weekends and National Holidays

We strongly recommend you to travel around by car only on weekdays. Usually on weekdays the traffic is heavy in central Tokyo and less in outside Tokyo because the people living in Tokyo are at work in offices. While on weekends, on Saturdays, Sundays and National holidays there is very heavy traffic outside Tokyo with people want to spend their day off outside Tokyo.
You may be a very good driver but with a heavy traffic on expressways the driving can become very stressful and it takes too much time going to places and also there will be so many people in spots, which may not be so much fun.

So when you come to Japan for your holiday, take a rent-a-car and go for a trip on weekdays and on weekends try to relax in the places where there are not so many people!!

Rental Car Companies

Companies offering vehicle rental at various locations throughout Japan include: