Driving in Japan: Getting Your Japanese Drivers License Renewed

© J // Washing Rice Blog

The renewal reminder postcard will look something like this.
© J // Washing Rice Blog

About two months before the date my current drivers license was set to expire, I got the usual postcard in the mail that told me my renewal was due soon and gave me information on the renewal procedure.

This is my second license renewal, so it was pretty straightforward, but you’ll have to allot a full half-day (either morning or afternoon) for the application, sight test, picture taking, lecture course, and finally, getting your shiny new license at the end.

As I mentioned, you should get a postcard in the mail a couple of months beforehand reminding you about going in for your license renewal.

You’ll need to bring your license and the fee (mine was 4,000 yen for license renewal processing and the lecture course).  It’s recommended you bring something to write with for use during the lecture course, but they usually have pencils provided if you don’t.

You aren’t required to bring the post card with you, but since most license centers operate on weekdays with a set time slots for renewals in the morning and afternoon, it’s good to hang on to and good to show the information desk for assistance if you can’t speak much Japanese.

Last renewal I had my picture taken while going through the renewal process, but this time I had some extra license-sized photos lying around where I looked pretty OK in, so I decided to use one of those instead of risking another bad license picture.  If you go this route, you’ll need to bring in one picture of the correct size (license/resume photo size you can take at any photo booth around town), evenly cut out, and lightly write your name on the back (so it doesn’t show markings through on the other side) in black or blue pen.

When you arrive, you’ll be given a license renewal form and a questionnaire regarding your ability to drive (in relation to your health, etc.) and then be given an eye exam.  If you need to wear contacts or glasses to drive, wear them for the exam.  The exam is a bunch of C shapes with a hole at one side and you have to identify where the hole is, either ue (up), shita (down), hidari (left), or migi (right).  If you have trouble with Japanese, just use gestures.

Then you’ll take your forms up to the license renewal window, who will then send you over to the cashier to pay for a fee payment stamp, or inshi, to be affixed to your application.  Afterwards you’ll be sent to present everything to another desk who will either arrange for you stand in line for your license photo, or collect the license photo you’re providing for the picture.

During license processing, you’ll be required to sit through a two hour or so lecture course if it’s your first renewal or if it’s the second renewal or more and you’ve had some points taking off of your license during the past however many years.  My first renewal it was a drunk driving movie that lasted about an hour.  Then they gave us a questionnaire survey and a quiz.

This time around it was a video of a guy who hits someone due to carelessness, and an angel comes to grant him another chance, where after he hits many more people and is granted many more chances until he finally gets it through his head not to be such a shitty driver.  We were told to flip through this manual that the lecturer randomly selected pages from and read off, and then given a driver personality quiz.  It was dreadfully useless and boring, and my lecturer had a bad habit of saying “ne” after every second or third word.  However, you can’t get your license back renewed until you’ve completed the course, so there’s not much you can do but grin and bear it. 😦

At the end of the lecture those who had their picture taken on site got theirs back, while mine was stamped with an extension.  The only caveat when using your own license photo means about a 2-3 week turn around time (mine was less than a week, though), which they informed me of multiple times of.  I got a phone call when it was ready, and then went to pick it up.  You can pick it up anytime during opening hours, if you go this route.

For anyone curious, here’s what it looks like:

© J // Washing Rice Blog

© J // Washing Rice Blog

If you’re a really good driver, or just lucky enough not to get pulled over by the police at random, you’ll be eligible for a gold license, where the blue strip (denotes a regular license) is replaced by a gold one.  I think I’m going to do my best to get that one next renewal, that way I don’t have to sit through the snooze lecture again. 😉

– J

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