Daily Journal of an Assistant Language Teacher / Automatic Language Tape Recorder (ALT) in the JET Programme living  and learning in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

This page is dedicated to getting a driver's license in Fukushima Prefecture.

Click here Dave's Wonderful Step-by-Step Driver's License Script
with new linked actual pictures from Ryan.
Dave did most of the hard work.

Phase pre-1:

If your license has a date on it that is less than 3 months before you entered Japan, you must get a letter from your home state DMV showing when you first took the test. Some licenses show the first time you got a license, probably around age 16. That's what you want. Others, like mine, show when you renewed it last. I went back to the US in June and renewed my expired license and then started the process in July. The only date on my license was June 16th. I had to get a letter from the DMV showing I have been driving for several years. Don't assume you can explain anything to the J-DMV about what the date actually is or when you actually took the test. If the date on your license is less than 3 months before you entered Japan then you must have a letter from your DMV. My letter was actually a driving report that showed when I first got the license and any tickets I had received in the last 7 years, which was luckily zero. Also your license can't be expired.

If you fall into this category then plan about 3-6 weeks ahead of time for mailing and processing since American DMVs aren't known for their efficiency. When I was renewing I went ahead and got the report from them since it would be better to have and not need.

Phase 1:

COMPLETED

Unfortunately this was the easiest and most painless part of the process. I went to JAF, the Japan Auto Federation and had them translate my license. That took 30 minutes to bike to, 5 minutes and $30 to translate (which really just meant him filling out a form), then 30 minutes to bike back. If you don't live in Fukushima city, I think you can mail it to them. If you are in a hurry consider going to Fukushima city to do it. It's not close to the station.

Date: 07/14/2005
Total Amount Spent to Date - $30
Time Spent to Date: 65 minutes

Phase 2:

COMPLETED - Get special paper stating I have an alien card, even though I can show the actual alien card.

Went to City Hall and pointed to my foreigner card and said "kono kaado no shoumei". Which means "this card's verification". In essence, they need proof that my alien card is accurate and real. Filled out a form in English and paid 300 yen or about $3. It was a 20 minute bike ride each way, the process took 5 minutes. You might be able to do this at your local city hall or yakuba or whatever, but I'm not sure.

Date: 07/14/2005
Total Amount Spent to Date - $33
Time Spent to Date: 110 minutes

It seems I am half way done, but actually I am only 10% finished. The driving school will double my time thus far and triple my money. I don't even want to think about the actual license center.

Phase 3:

COMPLETED - Go to driving school. This course doesn't teach you how to drive, just how to play the "get a license" game.

Completed, but going back on Friday afternoon for more time. It had nothing to do with safe driving, but everything about about learning the script. There are specific times when you need to look certain directions or come to a ridiculously slow speed or other things like that. I need about two more hours. 30 minutes there 2 solid hours on the track and 20 minutes back. I did manage to walk the real license track during lunch. See above link for the script and my pictures.

Date: 7/20/2005
Total Amount Spent to Date - $109
Time Spent to Date: 290 minutes 

Date: 7/22/2005
Total Amount Spent to Date - $195
Time Spent to Date: 440 minutes 

Phase 4:

COMPLETED - Go to the DMV and do all the paperwork.

Almost had a problem since my passport stupidly shows my name as MC  DONALD, and my US driver's license says McDonald (because that's my name). But it all worked out. They accepted all my paperwork and then I just waited for the driving test.

Date: 7/25/2005
Total Amount Spent to Date - $220
Time Spent to Date: 710 minutes

Phase 5:

COMPLETED - Go to the DMV and take the driving test. (same day)

Waited for all the Japanese people to go first, then took my test confidently and passed the first time. I know of one other foreigner who passed the first time.

Date: 7/25/2005
Total Amount Spent to Date - $234
Time Spent to Date: 950 minutes - 15.8 hours

My advice to any American taking the driver's test in Fukushima is make it a two day event. If you think you don't have the time, chances are you will fail and have to go back a second time anyway. The first day take at least two hours at the driver's school. If you have never driven in Japan before take 4 hours. Take two hours from 10-12, then go to the License Center during lunch and walk the course from the map the school gave you. I recommend Azuma Driving School. They are a 10 minute walk from the license center, but they have a more down to earth atmosphere. They drove me to the license center and then the second time back to the station. Plus they told me a lot of little secrets to help me pass the test, which worked apparently.

For me the school made me confident behind the wheel on the course. The first time was just getting used to the course and going through all the parts. The second day we did the crank and the S-curve over and over until it was second nature. The second hour he drew out a course and I just went through it over and over. The final two times he strictly graded me and I passed both times. Then he told me a number of small secrets about how to pass the test, or rather how to fail and things to avoid. It was 100% worth the time and money.