The first thing I did when I finalized my intention to get my driver’s license in Japan is to look for as many information as I can get from the Internet. Google is a very indispensable tool. Common Keywords were “Driving in Japan”, “Switching Overseas License”, among others. Everybody else should do the same.
Translation of Driver’s License
Next step is to have my license translated to Japanese. Since Philippine Licenses don’t have the Issue Date in the card (except for the year which is indicated in your license number), I also had to make sure I have the Official Receipt given to me when I got my card in 2001. I also have the Official Receipt when I first renewed my License in 1999.
Too bad I don’t have the original 1995 Receipt but my 1999 receipt will be sufficient to prove that I have been driving for at least three months in the Philippines before I came to Japan in 2000.
I had the option to either send photocopies of these items to the Philippine Embassy/ Consulate or to the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) to have them translated to Japanese. Since the nearest Philippine Consulate to Kagoshima is in Osaka, I chose JAF.
I could have just visited their office but since I’m always working during weekdays, I opted to send the documents by money mail (available at the local post office). I included JPY 3, 290 in the envelope. JPY 3, 000 was for the translation and JPY 290 was for the return postage so they can send the translation back to me.
Here are the contents of the envelope I sent JAF Kagoshima
- A photocopy of my driver’s license (both sides)
- A photocopy of my Official Receipts
- JPY3, 290 – for the translation and the return postage
2-12 Shinei-cho Kagoshima-shi Kagoshima
+81 (99) 284-0007
I got the translation after a few days so I’m all set.
Visit to the Prefecture Licensing Department
After I got my translation, I’m all set to visit the Kagoshima Prefecture Driver’s License Testing Center (県自動車運転免許試験場) but before that, I had to have my picture (3 x 2.4 cm) taken. According to most websites, 1 piece was all I needed but it’s actually 2. I’m guessing one is for my temporary license and the other is for my actual Japanese Driver’s License, once I get it.
To really prepare for the exam, I also bought and read this “Rules of the Road” book from JAF. I visited their office in Kagoshima. When I was there, I realized I could have saved JPY 290 if I just had my license translated on the same day I bought the book. Then again, what is done is done.
By the way, the book costs JPY 1, 000 and it’s a very useful reference. I suggest you get it.
So here’s what I had to bring to the Prefecture Licensing Department…
- Philippine Driver’s License (Card and Official Receipts)
- International Driver’s License – for those who have it. I don’t.
- Alien Registration Card
- Passport – to prove that I’ve used my license in the Philippines for more than 3 months
- 2 3×2.4cm picture – most other sources would say you need only 1 but they asked for 2.
- JPY 4, 100 – money to cover the cost of conversion
Kagoshima Prefecture Licensing Department
3937 Higashi Mochida, Aira-cho
(20-minute walk from Chosa JR Station, I suggest you take the taxi)
+81 (99) 565-2295
I went to the Prefecture Licensing Department and presented the items I’ve listed above. Make sure you tell them you’re applying for Gaimen Kirikae (外免切替) because most likely, they don’t speak English. If you can go with a Japanese friend who can speak English, do so. Everything is in Japanese except the test, which I was able to take in English.
Then there was a short interview where they were just asking questions about when and how I got my license. I think they were just trying to confirm if my license isn’t fake and that I really did go through all the necessary steps (written and driving tests) before I acquired my license.
I think they believed me so onwards to the Eye Examination. It was like any other eye exam and you don’t really have to have perfect vision to pass. I got 0.7 (Japanese Scale, 0.0 to 2.0, perfect vision being 2.0) on both my eyes. It’s weird though because normally, I would get 1.5 or 2.0 but it seems like 0.7 is good enough so I didn’t complain.
Next is the Written Test. It’s a good thing they have an English version of the test so I can concentrate on the actual problems and not on the Japanese Sentences. It just consists of ten questions with a big picture on top and a short text at the bottom. I just had to determine if it’s true or false. The questions aren’t really that hard and I think the “Rules of the Road” book was very helpful especially for rules and signs that are only used in Japan.
Now for the scary part, the Driving Test. I chose the Manual Transmission Car because my friend told me that in Japan, if your license indicates that you can drive a Manual Transmission Car, it actually means you can drive both Manual and Automatic Transmission Cars. If it indicates that can drive an Automatic Transmission Car, it means you can only drive Automatic and not Manual.
At first, the person conducting the test made me sit at the back as he drives through the course, explaining what he’s doing. Then, it’s my turn to do exactly the same as what he did.
Here’s the bad news… I failed the Driving Test. He was nice enough to explain why I failed and I have to admit, I was pretty bad. I don’t want to think it’s because I don’t know how to drive because I know I can. I think it’s because I wasn’t able to follow some of his instructions. Either I was confused or nervous or my Japanese simply wasn’t good enough. Whatever the case, I failed and it was very humbling.
It’s a good thing I can retake the exam as many times as I want… at least before my Philippine license expires. That’s exactly what I’m going to do. But first, I need to take review lessons. They (Prefecture Licensing Department) offer lessons during Saturdays and Sundays and the lessons start at 8:00 AM. I’ll talk about that once I finished the lessons.
Eventually, I did get my Driver’s License but believe me, it wasn’t easy.