It seems that every year, at least one JET gets in trouble for driving illegally. You can drive in Japan with an International Driving Permit (IDP), but there are a few things to pay attention to:

  • Make sure that you have a legit International Driving Permit.
    Please ensure that you have a valid IDP and not some wishy-washy, internet printed fake. There is usually a national automobile association that is authorized to issue IDPs in your country.
  • Make sure you have the right license - In Japan, different vehicles require different licenses, and your IDP will list what kinds of vehicles you are allowed to drive. For example, to drive a car in Japan your IDP has to include "Category B: Passenger Cars," and to drive a motorcyle it has to include "Category A: Motorcycles." Check your IDP and make sure you have the correct permit in your license before you start driving.
  • Watch the expiration date. - The rule is one year from when you originally arrived in Japan, or the expiration of the IDP, whichever comes first. Note that you cannot go back to your home country and pick up a new IDP because it’s a year from when you originally arrived in Japan that matters. You need to stay outside of Japan for at least 93 consecutive days to qualify for a new IDP, and even then, if you hold on to the same Residency Card, things get a bit tricky.
  • Check when you entered Japan. - Even if your IDP hasn't expired, or you've renewed it through the mail, once you've been in Japan for a year you can no longer use it. If you will remain in Japan a second year and you want to keep driving, you must get a Japanese driver's license.

Getting AroundEdit

Getting around will seem pretty daunting at first. Do not be a "hot-shot." Talk to renewing JETs, your predecessor, and the locals for tips on navigating your local area. Having a road map (Google Maps) and/or a smart phone helps you tremendously in those sticky situations.

The road system in Japan is fairly straightforward, and the roads are broken down into the following categories:

  • Local roads: Free, but slow, windy, and full of traffic.
  • Main routes: Basically the same as local roads. They are indicated by different colors in map books and numbers such as R42.
  • Highways/Bypasses: Often have small toll charges. They are usually fast flowing, full of traffic and usually limited to certain urban areas. They provide the best balance between price, speed and convenience.
  • Expressways: Fast, convenient, traffic-free and ridiculously expensive. Expressways extend to all corners of Japan, but it is usually cheaper to take the train than to travel long distances on the expressway. They have names such as "Chugoku Expressway", "Bantan Expressway", etc.
  • Tunnels & Bridges: Usually have heavy toll charges. If you can avoid using new tunnels and bridges, you can save a lot of money.

Driving to Wakayama CityEdit

There are several roads into Wakayama City, but for those who live a long way off in the Southern part of the prefecture using the Hanwa Expressway is the fastest and easiest ways to get to the city. Though it is convenient, fast, and generally traffic free, it is also very expensive. It's a good idea to carpool when driving to Wakayama to split the toll between friends and thus everyone saves.

Types of Car InsuranceEdit

  1. Compulsory: This is included in shaken charges, and goes directly to the government.
  2. 3rd Party Insurance: This covers damage to people, buildings, objects, power poles, etc. and also covers any vehicle you collide with. It is good to check that your coverage for people and objects are unlimited, which is normally the case. If it's not, you could end up paying a year's worth of wages if you ever hit a power pole, etc. Cost varies with the age of the driver and the type of car. Average costs range from ¥30,000 - ¥70,000 per year. Can be variously be paid monthly, or the whole year up front. Usually rural JETs insure with the insurance department of their local bank
  3. Full Coverage: This covers damages to your car, and increases your coverage for damage to an opponent's car. It's expensive. Recommended if you buy a car worth anything, and highly recommended if you're leasing a car. If your car is not worth much, it is probably cheaper to not take full cover, and throw your car away if you have an accident, as the full cover premiums probably cost more than the car's worth. The full insurance cost can be more than one year's shaken.

Rules of the RoadEdit

Most rules of the road are probably the same as in your home countries, but there are a few notable exceptions:

  • If you are caught at more than 30km over the prescribed limit, you will receive a heavy fine and your license may be revoked.
  • Handheld cell phone use while driving is illegal. Fines are around ¥6000 and the police need no other reason to pull you over besides the cell phone violation. Handsets and hands-free setups are legal. Don’t write cell phone e-mails while driving because that is also frowned upon.
  • Seat belts are mandatory for the drivers, the front seat passengers and now more recently the back seat passengers as well. As strict as this is, don’t be surprised if you see little kids jumping around the front seats and babies climbing around the dashboards while their parents are driving.
  • Flashing Yellow light: This means Give Way. You should slow down, and then carry on through if traffic is clear. Many Japanese drivers speed through these like the lights are out, but be aware that occasional late night police checks will ticket you ¥70,000 if you run through a yellow without slowing down.
  • Flashing Red light: This means Stop. You should come to a complete stop once. Many Japanese drivers treat this as a give way sign, but it is in fact a stop sign.
  • Often signal lights that are green-yellow-red in the day time will change to flashing yellow or flashing red signals at night. This is good, because there are altogether too many signal lights in this country.
  • There is no legal parking on the side of the road. If you are parked on the roadside, you can be ticketed, towed, or even arrested depending on where it was. Every piece of land in Japan is accounted for.
  • Bicycles have virtually no rules, and will often ride upstream into on-coming traffic, at night and without lights. Please be ready for these daredevils.

For more information please click on the link and you can purchase a copy of the 2008 Road Traffic Laws from Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) Rules of the Road

Drinking and DrivingEdit

In most of our home countries, there is a tolerance for a low blood alcohol percentage. Many states in the United States have a limit of 0.08%, which means you can get away with a few drinks or sitting it out for a little while before heading out. In Japan, there is no tolerance at all. Even suspicion of being under the influence can lead to a big hassle and being found with even a small amount of alcohol in you can carry extremely heavy consequences. Huge fines and imprisonment are not the exception, they are the rule. This is not special treatment for foreigners, Japanese face the same penalties and probably suffer even more severe consequences, legally and socially.
Do not mess around with this. If caught you will be fired and possibly deported.

Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (酒気帯び運転, shuki obi unten)Edit

Driving Under the Influence is the lesser of Japan's two drunk driving charges. Even if a driver shows no signs of drunkenness, if the amount of alcohol in their body is greater than the set limit, they are guilty of DUI. The level for DUI is .15 milligrams of alcohol in one liter of exhaled air during a breath test. The penalty for DUI is up to one year in prison or a 300,000 yen fine. In addition, if the breath test shows .15-.24 milligrams per liter, six points are tacked on to the offender's license resulting in at least an immediate thirty day license suspension. If the breath test shows .25 milligrams per liter or more, thirteen points are tacked on to the offender's license, resulting in at least a ninety day license suspension.

Driving While Intoxicated (酒酔い運転, sake yoi unten)Edit

Driving While Intoxicated is the greater of Japan's two drunk driving charges. Regardless of the amount of alcohol in the blood, if a police officer believes that the driver is not able to drive properly through an assessment of speech or actions, the driver is guilty of DWI. The penalty for DWI is up to three years in prison or a fine of up to 500,000 yen. In addition, those convicted of DWI lose their license, and may not apply for a new one for two years.

Note about BicyclesEdit

Riding a bicycle is counted as driving a "light vehicle" in the eyes of the law. DUI does not apply to "light vehicles," so a person riding a bicycle may not be arrested for DUI. However, DWI does apply to light vehicles, so if a bicycle rider is visibly drunk, they can be arrested for DWI. The devil is in the details, suffice to say don't get on a bike while drunk.

Driving in WinterEdit

Wakayama usually gets light snow, but depending on where you are, winter/snow driving will be an issue (Koya, Ryujin, Hongu, etc...)

Preparing your Car:Edit

  • Winter tires - studless, as studs are now illegal in Japan. Tread should be soft, with many wide rivulets clearly visible.
  • Use low viscosity winter oil. This makes it easier to start your car.
  • Replace wiper blades with snow-blades. Helps in snowstorms.
  • Make sure to carry extra anti-freeze. In addition to its regular uses, it can be added to your wiper fluid to prevent ice from building up on your windshield.
  • Refuel often to guard against condensation in the fuel tank.
  • Do not use your hand break/emergency break when parking - it can seize up and render your car immobile. Just leave the car in gear instead.

Driving in Ice and Snow:Edit

  • When slowing down, especially going downhill, try to use the gears more than the breaks. Down shift slowly, well before stop lights, etc. This is called engine breaking and prevents your tires from slipping. If you do this correctly, you shouldn't need to use your foot brake at all to stop.
  • When driving uphill, leave a large amount of space between you and the car in front of you so you never have to come to a complete stop.
  • Drive much more slowly than you normally would. Ice and snow seriously reduces your ability to stop.
  • On this note, having 4 wheel drive helps you accelerate but it does nothing to help you stop. I have seen many a 4X4 spun out in the ditch coming back from the mountains.
  • If you must brake suddenly, pump the brake (pushing it up and down rapidly) rather than jamming it. If you do start to slide, take your foot off the brake and try pumping it again. Do not use the handbrake! This will put you in a full slide.
  • If you begin to spin, steer the opposite direction that the car is rotating. If the back of the car is rotating to the left (counter-clockwise), steer right. Conversely, if the back of the car is rotating to the right (clockwise), steer left.
  • Triple your normal following distances. 10 car lengths is the bare minimum.
  • In blizzards and fog, low-beam (dipped lights) give better visibility than high/full beam.
  • In blizzards serious enough that you cannot even see you your own hood/bonnet, slow down but do not stop since following cars may collide into you.
  • If you get stuck in ice or snow, and your wheels are spinning, do not push the accelerator hard. This will dig you in deeper. Instead, try to move the car as slowly as possible, using 2nd or 3rd gear to give you a better chance of gripping. Also try moving to and fro, changing the direction of the wheels, to find some grip. And if all else fails, get out and dig!

My BOE won't let me drive!Edit

It is important to realize that more than anything else your Contracting Organization feels responsible for your well being and are often afraid that something bad will happen. (We are all adults, but accidents do happen and people do feel responsible for us.)

As far as the technical question goes, CLAIR's official policy is as follows: According to your contract, your school/BOE can tell you not to drive during work hours (including you commute) because you are their legal responsibility during that time. In your personal time, as long as you have a valid license and insurance, your school can't tell you not to drive.