Last year, I posted to Instagram Stories about my experience renewing my Japanese driver’s license. I got lots of questions about the process and my experience going to driving school in Japan.
My experience going to driving school in Japan will be a bit different than those on English language blogs as I did all my coursework in Japanese.
So, unfortunately, I won’t be able to recommend any driving school in Tokyo that offers classes in English.
But, if you’re thinking about attending driving school in Japan, please read to see what to expect!
My Experience Going to Driving School in Japan
It’s rather strange that I ended up getting a driver’s license in Japan anyway.
After all, what first attracted me to life in Tokyo that I didn’t need a car to get around.
Basically, all I need here is my autocharge IC card and the Jorudan app, and I can hop on the next bus or train to get anywhere I want. And, you can even use the Suica mobile app for riding the Shinkansen, so I’m pretty much set! (My daughter loves trains and trainspotting is a big thing for us.)
So, what pushed me to go to driving school in Japan?
Well, every year I’ve given myself a mini-project of learning something new. It keeps me busy and helps me keep up my Japanese language skills.
Among the challenges I’ve completed so far are: getting a scuba diving license, learning archery, and of course, this blog.
I figured learning how to drive would be necessary for when my husband and I eventually relocate to Ibaraki.
Plus, with Costco and IKEA just half an hour away, it would be fun to do Costo runs on my own.
Finding the Right Driving School
The first step was finding the right school for me.
In addition to traditional driving schools, there are also gasshuku menkyo (合宿免許) overnight “camps” for people who want their license in a very short amount of time.
Gasshuku menkyo schools are an intensive learning experience that will allow you to get a license in as little as 2 weeks
But, as I worked full time, gasshuku schools were out of the question.
So, I went the traditional route and attended classes after work and on the weekends.
There were only two factors I cared about when looking for a driver’s school:
1. Being able to pay with a credit card so I could earn points
(I earned nearly 3,000 ANA miles in the process!)
2. Within a reasonable commuting distance from home/work with pickup and drop-off service
(What can I say, I’m pretty easy to please!)
Signing up For Driving School In Japan
Enrolling was very easy.
I made an online reservation to visit the facility, enrolled on spot, and started classes the next day.
All I needed was a recent juminhyo (住民票), and a few recent photos of myself.
At Japanese driving schools, there is no limit to how many classes you can take in a day. But, there is a limit to how many hours you can do on the school driving course/on the road. The maximum is 3 hours.
The school fees include insurance, all courses, textbooks, and tests.
My driving school had a key card system to clock in and register for classes.
I paid in full, which made it very easy to sign up for classes and to take exams.
But, any makeup classes and test cost extra, which I learned the hard way…
The Structure of Japanese Driving Schools
Driving school is divided into 2 parts:
Stage 1 (第一段階 – 所内教習 | dai ichi dankai – shonai kyoushuu
Stage 2 (第二段階 – 路上教習 | Dai ni dankai – rojyou kyoushuu)
Each stage is further divided into 2 parts: coursework (学科| gakka) and road skills (技能 | ginou).
Student ID/Report Card
Instructors stamp at the end of class. They also check this before driving to make sure no one is taking the road courses in your place.
Fundamentals of Driving
My worn-out textbook!
First Aid Essentials
“What’s your driving personality?” type textbook
I think I only used this textbook for one class!
August 20, 2020 Update: If you’re looking for any of the textbooks above, check out the listings for 運転教本 (unten kyouhon) on Rakuma or Mercari. Shout out to Rachel for reaching out!
After 12 hours on the school course and 13 hours of coursework, it was time for the midterm test (中間テスト | chuukan tesuto) a 50 question paper/computer test.
Only after I passed that test, I could move on to the second stage.
A funny story about my midcourse test:
The first time I took it, I scored a 44 out of 50, missing the pass score of 45 by just 1 point!
This prompted the receptionist to encourage me to take it in English…
I scored even less this time around with a 41/50!
Third time was the charm, however, and I passed with a 45/50.
I should mention that each additional time I took the midcourse test I was out 4,500 yen, meaning I lost 9,000 yen. (The receptionist who advised me to take the test in English avoided me for days after that!).
On top of that, I had to retake one on-site driving course, which set me back another 7,000 yen. The class I had to retake was クランク (kuranku), the part of the course with narrow, right-angle turns.)
I was determined to lose no more money, and things got progressively better in Stage 2!
Before I got to Stage 2, though, I had to take yet another exam for my driver’s permit (仮免許 | kari menkyo) that would actually allow me on the road.
You’ll need two of these plates on your vehicle (one in front and back) if you’re practicing with your permit. Available on Amazon Japan.
Stage 2 required 19 driving hours and 16 hours of coursework. First, I took a few classes in the simulator and then I also had to take a first aid course.
As a kindergarten teacher, I already got certified by the Red Cross. While that didn’t exempt me from the course, it was something less to worry about.
Strangely enough, I didn’t worry about the driving part. By the time I entered Stage 2, I felt confident (but not too confident) with my driving ability. For that, all I had to do was drive as instructed.
I knew that the greatest challenge would be the exams.
I already knew from taking the midcourse exam many times that the paper test would be hard.
On the weekends, I practically lived on campus. I brought my bento box and studied in the reception area using the practice tests available and by using my textbook.
The test (true/false format) is basically filled with trick questions that make you overthink and second guess yourself. (And I know now why Japanese cram schools are a big business!).
Any question along the lines of 必ず〜しなければならない (kanarazu… shinakereba naranai | you must do…) is X,
While anything that states やむを得ない場合はを除く (yamu wo enai baai wo nozoku | With the exception of the following…) is O.
But, I managed to score a 92 on the final exam (卒業検定 | sotsugyou kentei) and also passed my road skills review (みきわめ | mikiwame) with flying colors!
Once that was all done, I got a certification of completion of driving school (卒業証明書 | sotsugyou shoumeisho).
This document exempted me from taking the road test at a driving center… but I still had to take another paper test at the driving center. (This is Japan, we love tests here!)
So, one week after driving school was all done, I made my way down to the Koto Driving Center to take my final test.
Now, the policy at the Koto Driving Center is that they only tell you your score if you fail, so I have no idea what I scored.
It didn’t matter because I passed on my first try and walked out with a license on the same day!
Japanese Driving School Timeline
I enrolled on June 2, 2016;
Passed my school’s final test on August 11, 2016;
Got my license a week later on August 18, 2016.
And that’s my experience going to driving school in Japan!
Is Going To Driving School In Japan Worth It?
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In my case, yes. I only got a permit when I was 15/16. On top of that, I had no road experience at all. Driving school seemed necessary in my case!
Before I end this post, I want to add two things you should know before going to driving school in Japan:
1. Going to driving school in Japan is not a requirement.
Some foreign licenses can be used to drive in Japan. Likewise, some foreign licenses can be converted to Japanese ones.
If your current license does not fall under either category, it’s still possible to skip going to driving school.
As long as you can pass the written and road test at the driving test center, you’re good to go.
But, here’s one thing that you need to keep in mind…
It doesn’t matter how well you drove “back home” or whether you have a international driver’s permit. Whatever you learned “back home,” forget it!
All that matters is how well you drive according to the requirements, which may seem completely unnecessary to you.
Things like checking for (imaginary) sleeping cats under the car before you get inside. Making it very obvious that you’re adjusting your seat and rear view mirror. Rolling down the window when you reach a railroad crossing.
Long story short, there’s a huge gap between what is taught at driving school and how people here actually drive! During the first few weeks of driving school, I’d be walking my dog and mentally taking notes of what not to do.
Before taking the road test, sign up for a few practice courses to get a feel of what to expect and be sure to listen to your instructor. Bring a note pad and jot down something so it looks like you’re making a effort to pass the test.
2. If you are thinking about settling in Japan long term/having a family – consider getting your license before you are pregnant!
If you are pregnant in Japan, it will be very hard to find a driving school that will accept you.
I found out I was pregnant when I was halfway through driving school.
But, I wasn’t even showing and always remembered to remove the maternity badge from my handbag before arriving on campus.
Now, if you have young ones, most driving schools provide onsite daycare facilities free of charge. You will want to provide your own car seat when using the pick-up/drop off service, though.
If you are considering going to driving school in Japan, it’s definitely an interesting experience! Good luck!
Once you get your license, don’t forget to put these green and yellow “leaves” on your car. (初心者マーク | shosinsha ma-ku) The meaning is basically, “Hay y’all, I’m a new driver. Watch out…I mean, yoroshiku onegai shimasu!”
It’s a legal requirement during your first year of driving. You’ll need 2, one for the front of your vehicle and one for the back of your vehicle. Get a pair on Amazon Japan.