Owning A Car
Japan has a very efficient transport system; the trains are always on time, the buses go everywhere and every city/ town/ village has taxis. However, trains are infrequent and often stop running before midnight, buses are expensive and generally stop running at 10pm, and taxi fares are exorbitant. For these reasons and more, many JETs buy (or seriously consider buying) vehicles.
In Toyama, we’re really quite lucky. It’s a relatively un-crowded area, so driving around is easy (even for those of you who normally drive on the right side of the road!). If you are considering getting yourself some wheels, whether of the two or four wheeled variety, then please read the following article.
DRIVING IN JAPAN
Before you buy a car or motorcycle, make sure you have the proper papers. To drive (legally) in Japan, you need a valid license for a car or motorcycle from your home country, plus the applicable international license. Note that you MUST carry your driving license AND your international driver’s license with you at all times when operating a motor vehicle. Police frequently carry out checks on vehicles, and in these situations, you will be asked to show your licenses. You also have the option to obtain a Japanese license. Depending on your home country and the license you want to take, you may have to undergo normal Japanese preparation for the test, including the all written tests and driving lessons, which will require using nenkyu and quite a bit of cash. But we’ll get into that under “Getting a Japanese license.”
Before you drive
It is important that before you drive in Japan that you have the correct papers. For your first year here that is a Driver’s license from your home country (which you must have had for 3 months prior to coming to Japan) and your international driving permit (which can be obtained in your home country for a very reasonable fee and a relatively simple process.)
If you drive without a valid license all insurance in Japan is void. A JET a few years ago drove without a license and had an accident, which resulted in him losing a leg. All insurance, including JET accident insurance was void. He was left with medical bills of 180,000 USD. If you are caught driving without a license, you are almost guaranteed to be fired and deported.
Under new legislation (as of June 6th 2002), Japan only allows the use of an international driving permit for up to one year after your initial entry into the country (even if the international license would otherwise not be expired). To obtain a new, valid, international license requires that you return to your home country for at least 3 months. Therefore, JETs renewing their contracts must obtain a Japanese driving license if they wish to drive in their second year in Japan. Since getting a Japanese license can be a lengthy process, we highly recommend switching to a Japanese license as soon as possible, especially if you need a car to get to your school(s).
Also, if you received a license for the very first time within three months of coming to Japan, you will not be able to convert to a Japanese license and will need to obtain a Japanese license from the start (i.e. by attending driving school) in order to drive in Japan.