Joseph I. Peters takes us step by step through the procedures!
A couple of months or so before your Japanese driver’s license expires you will receive a renewal notice in the mail (it’s in Japanese—make sure you don’t just toss those Japanese language postcards in the rubbish bin). Hang on to this notice as you’ll need to show it when you go for your license renewal. By the way, you do have a Japanese license, right? If you’ve been here for more than a year, and you have registered at a ward office and carry an alien registration card, you are required to have a Japanese license and you cannot continue to drive on your foreign license or on an International Driver’s License. The penalties for driving without a valid license are pretty severe and include a fine, possible jail time, and voidance of parts of your car insurance. For more info on this law see: www.japandriverslicense.com.
If you don’t read Japanese have a friend, secretary, etc. help you figure out what the renewal notice says and which license renewal center you should visit to renew your license.
If you live in one of the 23 Tokyo wards, and if this is your first renewal, you’ll most likely wind up going down to the driver’s license center in Samezu. If you don’t know where that is have someone tell you how to get there either by train, bus, taxi, or car. If you drive yourself the parking is free—good thing it is, because you’re going to be there a while.
The penalties for driving without a valid license
are pretty severe and include a fine, possible jail
time, and voidance of parts of your car insurance.
Now that you’ve figured out when to go and how to get there here’s the basic step-through for those who haven’t been there before.
Step 1: Make sure you take that postcard you got in the mail, along with your current driver’s license, your gaijin card, and ¥3,800 (at least—more if you want to buy a drink, food, train ticket, etc.). It’s also a good idea to have some reading material with you since you may face a wait at times.
Step 2: Show your postcard to the person at the desk located just on the right side of the entrance. They’ll make a copy of your current license and print it out on a form that you carry around with you.
Step 3: Eye exam time—they’ll direct you to the machine. It’s a simple test—look at the little circle and tell the tester if the opening is up, left, right, down. If you wear contact lenses you’re supposed to tell them that.
Step 4: Get your eye exam hanko on your form from the guy just past the eye test machine then proceed to the next window where they’ll check your form, tell you to have a seat, and then call you back to the window to hand you back your form—not sure what they
check here, but it’s one of the necessary steps.
Step 5: Go pay your ¥3,800 fee. They’ll tear off part of your form—properly “hanko’ed” of course—and hand it back to you. Do NOT lose this—you’ll need it to get your license at the end.
Step 6: Photo time—just what it says. Just go in, hand over your form, sit down and get your picture taken. Smile!
Step 7: Now the fun begins. For you first timers—that is, those who have the green bar license (licenses have green, blue or gold strips on them depending on how long you’ve had the license and whether or not you have any violations), you’ll get to sit through a two-hour class. The first one hour and 15 minutes or so is a lecture by one of the Same-zu staff—in Japanese. Then a 10 minute break and finally about a 40 minute video of those who have violated the laws and their story from their prison cell. You will go upstairs (second floor) for this class and you have to wait until the next class starts so your wait may be anything from a couple of minutes to 50 minutes. Remember that reading material I told you to bring—aren’t you glad you did! Something to do while you wait and no, you can’t get a cup of coffee in the summer time unless you like presweetened iced coffee (go back downstairs to the cafeteria, buy a prepaid ticket from the food / drink ticket vending machine, and give it to the lady behind the counter for your coffee).
Step 8: Okay—you’ve made it through the class, duly informed of the rules and regulations as well as the evils of drinking and driving in Japan (hey, if you do that you don’t deserve to have a license anyhow), so now you get to go up to the third floor and turn in the remaining part of your form for your license. It’s up to you to check your license—make sure it’s yours (do you really look like that picture?) and make sure the info on the license is correct. Of course, it is written in Japanese, but of course, so is everything else there at the Samezu center.
That is—anything from two and a half to four hours or so later and you’re on your way home with your new license in your pocket and three books of Japan’s driving rules and regulations (in Japanese) in hand. Job done—well at least until the next time.
Have fun—safe driving—and don’t you dare drink and drive (you do know the penalties for that here—right?—talk about severe)!