You need to have a valid driver’s license to drive a car.
Cars, motorcycles and bicycles
International driver’s license
- You can drive in Japan if you have an international driver’s license which are issued in participating countries of the Geneva Convention and conform to required styles.
- An international driver’s license is valid for a maximum of one year from your date of arrival in Japan.
- The expiry date of the international driver’s license will take effect even if the one-year period has not elapsed since your arrival in Japan.
Foreign driver’s license
- If you have a license issued in Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Estonia, Monaco, or Taiwan you can drive a car in Japan for one year from the date of your entry with a Japanese translation attached to the original license.
- Such translation has to be issued by either the embassy/consulate of the country concerned or by the JAF (Japan Automobile Federation).
Transferring of foreign driver’s license to a Japanese one
- If you have a valid driver’s license issued in a foreign country, and you can prove that you have lived in the issuing country for at least three months after the license was issued, it can be exchanged to a Japanese driver’s license by following set procedures. The procedures may be taken at the driver’s license center or driver’s license examination center of the region in which you live.
- Remember to renew your license before it expires. The expiration date is indicated on your license.
※Information regarding driver’s license procedures
Driver’s license telephone service: Automated guidance is available 24 hours a day.
- When you change your address, you are required to report to a local police station, driving license center, or driving license examination center of your new address by presenting your driver’s license and identification showing the new address (such as your revised resident card).
Suspension/cancellation of driver’s license
- If you cause a traffic accident or violate traffic rules, your driver’s license may be suspended or cancelled.
- The law against drunk driving and driving under influence of alcohol is very strict. Not only a driver but also passenger(s) and those who provided alcohol drinks or a vehicle are subject to the penalty.
The following cases have to be reported to a local Transport Bureau branch. A regular car inspection test (commonly called shaken) is also mandatory:
- when you purchase/sell/finish with a car or a large-sized motorcycle.
- when the address of the owner has changed.
- when the name of the owner has changed.
Parking space certificate
- To register your new car and have it licensed, you need a parking space certificate issued by the police station nearest to the location of the parking space concerned.
- To own a car, you must have automobile liability insurance (jibaiseki hoken) and can buy additional voluntary insurance policies.
- It is strongly recommended buying some voluntary insurance policies to cover damages caused by an unexpected traffic accident.
Traffic rule guidebook: "Rules of the Road (foreign language edition)"
- "Rules of the Road" is an easy-to-understand guidebook of Japanese traffic rules issued by the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF).
- The e-book version of the guidebook is 880 yen each. Available: English, Chinese, Portuguese and Spanish.
- The printed version of the guidebook is 1,430 yen each. Available: English, Chinese, Portuguese and Spanish.
Registration of small and mid-sized motorcycles and bicycles
- Register mid-sized motorcycles at the District Land Transport Bureau and small motorcycles (scooters) at the municipal office.
- Register bicycles at bike shops to deter theft.
Traffic rules for motorcycles and bicycles
- Motorcycles and bicycles are very convenient and a highly maneuverable means of transportation, but you should ride safely and follow the rules.
- In particular, you should not forget that bicycles are a type of vehicle even though they are used by a wide range of individuals from children to the elderly.
Riding bicycles on the street
- Bicycles are required to be ridden on the left side of the road, the same as cars.
- Bicycles are required to be ridden in a line along the left edge of the road. They are allowed on some sidewalks where signs approving bicycle traffic on the sidewalk exist and also on bicycle-only pathways.
- Bicycles are allowed on sidewalks in an area where it is considered dangerous to ride on the road. However, riders of the bicycles are required to give right to pedestrians on the sidewalk. The riders are required to stop or get off the bicycle when the bicycles may interrupt the safety of the pedestrian traffic.
Purchasing Motorcycle Insurance
- There are two types of motorcycle insurance. One is motor vehicle liability covering motorcycles which is compulsory, and the other is optional insurance.
- It is recommended to purchase optional insurance in the event of an at-fault accident.
Purchasing Bicycle Insurance
- Under a Tokyo prefecture bylaw in effect since April 1, 2020, bicycle insurance is compulsory.
- There is no penalty levied for not having insurance, however there are increasing cases where the accused rider in bicycle accidents is required to pay large compensation sums. It is recommended to buy insurance to prepare for such an eventuality.
- If you leave your bicycle or motorcycle in a no-parking area (indicated with a sign), such as in the vicinity of a train station, it will be removed to a designated temporary storage place.
- If your bicycle/motorcycle has been removed, you will need to visit the temporary storage place and pick it up within a month of it being removed.
- You are required to show your ID and pay for the removal/storage fee when you pick up your bicycle/motorcycle at the temporary storage place.
Highways in Japan are toll roads. A system called ETC (Electronic Toll Collection), allowing the user to pay tolls automatically without stopping at toll gates, has been introduced at many highway toll gates to save time and labor costs and to improve traffic congestion near toll gates. In order to use the system, an ETC-compatible system must be installed in your vehicle and activated by inserting an ETC card into the unit. ETC-only lanes are available at some toll gates.
If you drive on a highway for a long time, it is always beneficial to take an occasional break to avoid fatigue that may lead to an accident. National highways have service areas (SA) with facilities such as restrooms, gas stations, shops and restaurants for your use. In some SA’s located in rural areas, you may enjoy tasting local special dishes or shopping for local special products. Away from highways there are service stations called “Michi-no-Eki (roadside stations)” on the main roads, such as national routes.
In addition to national highways connecting Tokyo to other parts of the country, the Metropolitan Expressway (shuto ko) network runs through central Tokyo. Using this expressway is also subject to a toll. The Metropolitan Expressway is a vehicle-only road without traffic lights, but is not always convenient as it can suffer from severe traffic jams at peak parts of the day. It is best to check current traffic information if you plan to use it.
Pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles of 125cc or less are prohibited on the Metropolitan Expressway. Because some entrances and exits to the Metropolitan Expressway located in the center of Tokyo are difficult to identify, please be careful to avoid entering the expressway inadvertently. There are increasing numbers of cases where people mistakenly enter the expressway due to: failing to notice a traffic sign; being intoxicated; and using a smartphone's navigation app in vehicle mode, etc. There have been serious accidents and even fatalities. Please be careful.