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Driving in Japan

Date Posted: 2001-12-07

Once you finally get your work visa to stay in Japan, or if you are visiting Japan and need to drive, your best bet is to get an international driverís license rather than a Japanese license. A Japanese license is very costly, and the process of getting one takes a lot more time than it takes to get an international license. However, you must obtain an international license outside of Japan for it to be valid in-country. Luckily, there are several Internet sites that will send you an international license if you follow a few simple steps. Several worth visiting are www.idl-international.com, www.driverlicense and www.adriverslicense.com.

To get an international driverís license, you need a valid passport, a current valid driverís license from your own country and two passport-size photos of yourself. All the sites have online application forms. Fill out your application, print it and sign it. Then attach two passport-size color photos to the application. Make a copy of your national or state driverís license and send it as well as your application and the application fee to the company of your choice. Each company has its own procedures, so be sure to follow their steps closely and donít forget to include your return address.

License plates in Japan
There are two types of license plates in Japan: Y-plate and kanji-plate. If you are SOFA status and are purchasing a car on the local economy, you will most likely need to convert your new car to a Y-plate; however, if you purchase a car that already has a Y-plate, you wonít have to do this.

Likewise, if you are not SOFA status and purchase a Y-plated car, you will need to convert the plates to kanji-plates, but if you purchase an already kanji-plated car, you wonít have to do this.

To convert from a kanji-plate to a Y-plate
If you purchase a kanji-plated car and you want to change it to a Y-plate, the previous owner must produce a bill of sale and an inkan stamp. Then take the car to a garage such as AIU that will do the transfer for you. When you purchase from a dealership such as Johnnyís Used Cars, the most important thing is to bring your driverís license and a power of attorney. You will fill out a worksheet at the dealership, and the dealer will register your car for two years. If you purchase a car without plates, you must get a JCI inspection done, but if you purchase a car with plates, you can transfer the JCI. If you are purchasing a Y-plated car and want to change it to a kanji plate, the car will first need to be deregistered. The main thing when purchasing a kanji-plate is that you must have a parking area to be able to register your car. After your car is deregistered and you can prove that you have a parking permit, a dealership in town will do the rest of the conversion for you.

JCI -- whatís that?
JCI stands for Japan Compulsory Insurance and is an inspection you must have every few years to make sure your car is in tiptop condition safety-wise. The company that does your JCI inspection will check the tires, brakes, lights, horn and other parts of your car to be sure that they arenít hazardous. The cost of a JCI inspection for a Y-plated car is usually between •14,000 and •16,000, but other fees also apply. However, you can save some money by heading over to Camp Fosterís Vehicle Registration in building 5831. Call them at 645-3963 or 645-7481 for more information. They will give you an inspection for only $18, and then you can fix the car yourself rather than paying someone a large amount of money to do it for you. Vehicle Registrationís inspection will tell you exactly what needs to be fixed in order for you to pass the JCI inspection.

Surprisingly, a JCI inspection on a kanji-plated car is significantly more expensive, but the steps are the same. Take your car to a company that does JCI inspections, and they will tell you what needs to be repaired. Once you fix it, bring it back and go through the inspection again, and they will give you insurance that says your car has passed. This insurance is good for two years. If you change cars from Y-plates to kanji-plates, you will have to get a new full two-year JCI, which is very costly, so it is in your best interest to buy an already kanji-plated car if you are not SOFA status. If you do buy a Y-plated car and want to change it to kanji plates, you can be reimbursed for the already existing JCI. Fees for JCI for your kanji-plated car will likely be between $400 and $1,200.

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