Driving Test Guide
The following presents a comprehensive guide to the practical examination to get a Japanese license in Toyama.
SOME BASIC POINTS
Bring a Japanese friend the first time you come. They won’t be able to ride in the car with you, but they can help you with registration and come in the car after the exam to help translate the tester’s comments.
Each time you go you must arrive and register between 8:30 and 9:00 at window 11. Every time after your first visit, go to window 2 first and pay the 3400 yen for the exam. You must be at the window between 8:30 and 9 to submit your forms. If you arrive late, you’ll just be turned away and sent home.
If you ARE NOT from the US, Jamaica, or South Africa: You will submit your forms, take an eye exam, and switch your license. Congrats! One day and you’re done!
If you ARE from the US, Jamaica, or South Africa: The first time you visit you will submit your forms, probably wait in the lobby for several hours, and spend your afternoon taking the written test. For car licenses, you can take a short 10 question English exam about general driving laws and traffic signs. For motorcycle licenses you have a to take a difficult 100 question exam just like the Japanese do. If you pass the written test, you will reserve a day to return for the driving test. You MUST make a reservation to take it, and it is only available on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. You will be handed a stack of papers that you must bring with you to every visit from now on, along with your residency card, passport, etc.
On your next visit to take the driving test you will again go to window 11 between 8:30-9:00 am to submit your forms. (Remember to pay for the test at window 2 first!) You will get a map of the course for that day – there are 3 courses (A, B, and C) chosen at random that morning. You are allowed to walk around the course until 9:30. A note about the map: in places where there are two lanes, the red lines do NOT indicate which lane you should be in or turn into.
After registering, everyone taking the exam will be called around 9:30 by and you will be told what order you are taking the exam in (everyone has the same tester unless there are a lot of examinees). Pay attention to who takes the test before you as you will ride in the back of the car during their exam.
The exams will begin at about 10:00. (Note: I don’t think it hurts to dress well. I went with a shirt and tie each time. It helps make a good impression on the tester.)
Be as polite as possible. Most people at the License Center are quite friendly, especially at registration, but the testers can be a little rude when describing all of the horrible things you did during your test. Don’t take offense or get frustrated! You might get the same tester next time. It’s not inappropriate to address the tester as ‘sensei,’ and as such, don’t question what he tells you by asking questions like ‘Where did I make that mistake?’ Just respond ‘Hai, wakarimashita.’ However, if you are told that you were too far from the left line when you turned left, it would be okay to ask how far away your should be, and so on.
FROM THE TOP
Before getting in the car, you must walk around the car and check each tire for any problems, obstructions, or people (there won’t be any). Use this as an opportunity to check how the car is aligned with the stopping pole at the front left side of the car. You will need to align the front of the car with this pole at the end of the test, and it is best to know what the proper position looks like from inside the car (once you get in).
Before stepping into the car lane, check for traffic to the left and right.
Do the same before stepping out from behind the car. Before opening the door, look behind the car to check for traffic.
Once in the car do the following (these instructions should be followed in order):
- Adjust the seat, pumping the clutch a few times (if there is one) to check that the seat is adjusted properly.
- Adjust your rear-view mirror.
- Put on your seat belt.
- Adjust your side mirrors.
- Put the car in neutral if manual or leave it in park otherwise.
- Step on the brake pedal.
- Start the engine
- Leave the brake pedal depressed.
- Release the emergency brake.
- Put the car in gear.
- Put on your right blinker.
- Check the left blind spot, left mirror, rear-view mirror, right mirror, and right blind spot (in order, not too quickly – you can nod lightly at each mirror to show the tester you are checking each).
- Re-check the right mirror and right blind spot (in order).
- Go! Leave the right blinker on until you merge onto the driving course (treat this merger like getting on the highway – just much slower!).
SOME ADVANCED POINTS (WHILE DRIVING)
1. There is a section on the back side of the course where you will be asked to speed up to 50 km/hr (this is called the ‘out course’).
2. When slowing down or stopping, always check your rear-view mirror first then pump the brake twice (three times is acceptable when coming out of the out course).
3. Do not brake or accelerate during a corner. A little bit of gas just to maintain speed is okay. Wait until you come out of the corner before speeding up again. If you touch the brake while turning a corner you will fail immediately.
4. Treat the speed limit on the course as 30 km/hr (except on the out course). This means that, when there is room, you should speed up to 30 km/hr. The tester wants to make sure you can speed up and slow down appropriately, so don’t go too slow. This mostly applies to the lap around the course before turning into the interior, but there are one or two places inside the course that allow speeds of up to 30 km/hr.
5. When turning right, avoid driving on the little triangle at all costs. This holds true for all other solid lines, too.
6. When turning right, be as close to the center line as possible before entering the intersection. When turning left, be as close to the left line as possible. This is to avoid the possibility that a motorcyclist or bicyclist could squeeze between you and the line before you make the turn. You should hug this line for as long as the road and other circumstances permit.
7. When having to turn left after exiting the clank (sharp 90 degree angle turns), it is okay to leave a slightly larger gap on the left side of the car than you would at a regular left turn. The corner is simply too sharp, and your rear tire will fall into the ditch otherwise. Another measure is to start making your turn late (that is, go straight for half a car length or so before making your turn in order to pull your back tire into a safe position). The lane you are turning into here is quite wide, so go ahead and use it.
8. When turning onto a road with more than one lane, turn into the far left lane UNLESS you will be turning right very soon (this situation occurs near the end of Course C after exiting the S-curves and perhaps elsewhere on other courses).
9. When turning into the far left lane where there is no triangle to guide the direction of the car, go straight before turning sharply into that lane. In other words, don’t let the tail end of the car drag through the right lane as you slowly merge into the left lane; cross the right lane and turn sharply into the left lane.
10. The blinker should be on for 3 seconds before turning or making a lane change.
11. Do not completely stop unless there is a red light, stop sign, or train crossing.
12. However, it is okay to stop before turning when exiting the clank and S-curves.
13. Stay to the left side of the lane when you are driving in the left lane. This holds true even when going around corners to the right. This gap should be larger than the one you would when turning left at an intersection.
14. While driving you must be about 50 cm away from the curb – too far or too close will result in failing the test!
1. Always use two hands.
2. Sharp turns should be made hand-over-hand style.
3. Slow down a lot before turning into the clank or S-curves (down into first gear for drivers of manual transmission vehicles).
4. Other pointers for drivers of manual transmission vehicles: you will need to shift down (usually from 3rd to 2nd) to aid braking when slowing down or stopping from over 20 km/hr. When slowing down upon exiting the out course, if you choose to shift from 4th all the way to 2nd, you should skip 3rd entirely. When accelerating, you should shift up a little earlier than you would when actually driving so you are able to shift down from 3rd to 2nd when slowing down. First gear should only be used for very slow sections like the clank and S-curve, or of course when starting the vehicle from a stopped position. When stopping, leave the car in 2nd gear with the clutch depressed and shift into first only after stopping.
These are the points that frustrate a large number of drivers, so study these carefully! You should make the fact that you are making these checks obvious to the tester, so actually move your entire head rather than just check by moving your eyes. You will be failed otherwise. It is important to complete the checks BEFORE moving the steering wheel in the desired direction.
- When merging onto the course at the beginning of the exam, check your right blind spot before entering the left lane.
- At the pedestrian crossing, slow down enough that you could stop if a person stepped into the road, and check both the right and left sides before continuing.
- As mentioned earlier, always check your rear-view mirror before braking.
- Before entering any intersection, look to the right, then the left, then the right once more to check for moving vehicles on the intersecting road.
When moving into a lane to your left (as when turning into the left turn lane before an intersection or turning into the pit area that serves as the beginning and ending point of the exam), in order:
- Use your left blinker.
- Check your left mirror then left blind spot.
- Move to the left.
When turning left at an intersection:
- Use your left blinker.
- Look right, left, right for cars on the intersecting road..
- Check your left mirror then left blind spot.
- Make the turn.
- When 5 and 6 are in sequence and your blinker doesn’t turn off after moving to the left the first time, just leave it on and continue to 6.. Also, don’t forget to minimize the gap to the left side of the car before moving to the left both times.
When changing lanes (always to the right on the course except when moving into the left turn lane as outlined in 5, and always preceding a right hand turn at an intersection), in order:
- Check your rear-view mirror, right mirror, and right blind spot.
- Use your right blinker.
- Re-check your right mirror and right blind spot.
- Making sure 3 seconds have passed since using your blinker, move into the right side of the right lane. You should hug the center line and make sure your blinker is still on as you will be making a right turn.
Right turns usually follow lane changes or turns from another road on the course. You should:
- Make sure you are hugging the center line with your blinker on.
- Check right-left-right before entering the intersection.
- Approach the triangle (where there is one) without driving on it.
- Check for pedestrian traffic to your right.
- Begin making the turn.
- There is a section on the course where there is a ‘hard to see corner’ near the back left side of the course following a stop sign. Here, you should:
- Check right, left, then right again.
- Move forward a little.
- Check right, left, then right again.
- If you are turning left here, check your left mirror and blind spot before continuing.
It is possible to make small mistakes and still pass, but the allowable margin is very small. Certain mistakes yield penalties that are too large to make a passing score achievable. Some of these are: missing a check, leaving margins to the left or right of the car that are too large, and dropping a tire in a ditch. I passed even though I was told I drove too slow on one part of the course after exiting a corner and didn’t align the car properly with the stopping pole at the end of the exam.
There are driving schools around the prefecture including the one next door to the driving center. Classes are expensive but they will help you understand all the small checks and procedures the testers are looking for. Some testers will also check your paperwork or ask you how many classes you took. Taking some shows them you invested time and money into learning this stuff, and they may be more inclined to pass you.
Once everyone has completed the exam, you will wait in the lobby again until he comes out and gathers you together. He will announce who passed and who failed. If you passed, you will turn in the forms and get your photo taken for your Japanese license (which is printed and given to you around 1 or 2 in the afternoon). If you fail, you will reserve another day with the tester to come back and re-take the driving test.
If your school makes you use nenkyu to do this you will probably need a full day of daikyu for each trip. If you fail the exam you will likely finish the driving test and know your results by 11:00 or a little later. So you may make it back to your school in time for afternoon classes and only use half a day of nenkyu.