Drivers License adventures in Japan

When I came to Japan in 2016, I had my German drivers license translated by the Japanese Automobile Federation. For ~4000 yen I got translations. Like some other expats from Germany, I got the idea that I would then have to run through normal Japanese drivers school and pass the exam.

Public transport in Tokyo is great, so I kept it at this.

Now in my 8th year in Japan, I learned that drivers licenses from certain countries can be rewritten into Japanese licenses - Germany is one of the accepted countries.

On a Friday in February 2024, I had a day off and looked into this. Looking up 運転免許証 (‘drivers license’) showed that a police station in 15min walking distance handles these. They opened 8:30 in the morning, so I walked over, and learned that this station just deals with license renewals. First difference: drivers license in Japan need to be renewed.

I had seen a bigger office related to drivers licenses, and got there by bike in 25min. This was the districts main office, but I learned there that just 3 offices in the Tokyo area handle rewrite operations. The next was was the Samezu Driver’s License Center (鮫洲運転免許試験場) in Shinagawa, I cycled there in 50min.

Turns out that plum and other trees start blooming. :)

Entered the huge building, they even have a dedicated room for bicycle parking. The procedures started. I handed over:

  • face image (I had it taken at a foto booth)
  • my German license - I still have a paper one which I got in 1998. The pins holding my face image are rusty..
  • travel passport
  • translation of my passport into Japanese, I had that since 2016, it was done by the Japanese Automobile Federation
  • proof that I had lived for some time in Germany after obtaining the German drivers license. I used papers, written in English, showing that I was employed in Germany. This was apparently requested as a sign that I had also driven cars in Germany.
  • proof of residency (住民票). This turned out to be a fun one..

After handing over the papers, I waited 30 or 45min, and got further instructions.

Proof of residency/住民票

The ‘proof of residency’ is in most cases issued by the local town hall. One hands over the residence-card (在留カード), fills out a formular, waits 15min, pays 300yen, and receives the ‘proof of residency’. The paper can have optional features: depending on what you want to use the paper for, you might need to get references to your citizenship (‘German’ for me), your assigned number (マイナンバー, it’s for example used to identify you when paying taxes) and some other ‘features’. Of course, you want to hand out the ‘proof of residency’ with a minimal set of details, just the details the receiver needs to know. On the other hand, you also need to know that set. When I was at the town hall, I said “I need this for the drivers license”, hoping for suggestions for the right set of features.

Now, I got the wrong set.. the paper needed in my case a note about my citizenship, which it did not have. I pictured myself already cycling 60min to my local town hall. Now, we have some level of digitilization in Japan: I have a ‘mynumber card’, a personalized card, which I can use for example to get the ‘proof of residency’ printed at convenience stores.

On Thursday, I went to the town hall to get the ‘proof of residency’. I went in person to get their advice regarding the options I needed on the paper. Going to the drivers license centers on Friday, I did not have the ‘mynumber card’ with me, so printing at a store was not an option. Luckily, there was a town hall nearby - so it’s possible to use ones outside of the district where I live.

Further procedures

10min by bike to the Shinagawa Yashino district center (品川区八潮地域センター), and I got the paper printed there. After a lunch at a nearby Indian restaurant I got back, completed papers. I had to pay ~5000yen, pass an eyetest, and had a picture taken. Then again waiting until the card was printed, receiving the card (‘Contratulations! Please check the details on the card!). It’s an RFID card, you got to choose 2 pins and after entering them on readers which are provided, you can verify your details.

Great idea: on the backside you can directly choose options to donate organs: to not donate, to donate after the brain stops working, and more.

As this is Japan: when leaving the license center, one also has to apprechiate the small shop which has fan goodies and figures of the official Japan police character. 🥰

Last modified on 2024-02-04