How to Drive in Japan: A Guide for Foreigners

Driving in Japan can be quite intimidating, especially for foreigners who are not familiar with the country’s traffic rules and regulations. However, with a few tips, driving in Japan can be a breeze. In this guide, we will explore some of the essential things you need to know before hitting the roads in Japan as a foreigner.

Table of Contents

Obtaining a Driving License

Before you can legally drive in Japan, you need to obtain a Japanese driving license. Japan does not recognize foreign driver’s licenses, so you must have an International Driving Permit (IDP) or a Japanese driving license to drive legally in the country.

To obtain a Japanese driving license, you need to take a driving test at one of the designated driving centers. The test consists of a written exam, a driving test, and a vision test. The written exam is available in English, so you can take it without any language barriers.

Renting a Car

If you are not planning to stay in Japan for an extended period, renting a car might be a better option for you. Many rental car companies in Japan offer services in English and have cars with automatic transmission, making it easy for foreigners to rent and drive a car.

To rent a car, you need to have an IDP, a valid credit card, and a passport. You also need to be at least 18 years old to rent a car in Japan.

Understanding Traffic Rules

Before you start driving in Japan, it is essential to understand the country’s traffic rules and regulations. In Japan, cars drive on the left side of the road, and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car.

Speed limits are strictly enforced in Japan, and you can be penalized for exceeding the speed limit. The general speed limit on expressways is 100 km/h, while the limit on regular roads is 60 km/h.

It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving in Japan, and you can be fined if caught. It is also mandatory to wear a seatbelt while driving, and children under the age of six must use a child car seat.

Using GPS

Navigating Japan’s roads can be quite challenging, especially if you are not familiar with the area. Using a GPS device or a smartphone app can be helpful in finding your way around.

Google Maps is an excellent option for navigation in Japan, as it provides accurate directions and real-time traffic updates. However, if you don’t have a reliable internet connection, it might be best to invest in a GPS device.


Finding a parking spot in Japan can be quite challenging, especially in cities where parking is scarce. Many parking lots in Japan require you to pay a parking fee, and the prices can vary depending on the location.

Street parking is not allowed in most areas of Japan, and if you park illegally, your car might be towed away. It is essential to follow the parking rules and regulations to avoid getting fined or having your car towed.

Dealing with Roundabouts

Roundabouts, or traffic circles, are not as common in Japan as they are in other countries. However, some areas might have roundabouts, and it is essential to know how to navigate them.

When entering a roundabout, you need to give way to the cars already inside the circle. You also need to indicate your intention to exit the roundabout by using your blinkers.

Dealing with Traffic Jams

Traffic jams are common in Japan, especially during rush hour. If you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam, it is essential to remain patient and avoid honking your horn.

It is also essential to leave enough space between you and the car in front of you, as sudden stops are common in traffic jams. If you need to use the restroom, most rest areas on the expressways have toilets and vending machines.

Dealing with Toll Roads

Japan has an extensive network of toll roads, and using these roads can be quite expensive. However, toll roads are usually faster and less congested than regular roads.

To use a toll road, you need to take a ticket at the toll gate and pay the toll fee when exiting the toll road. The toll fee is calculated based on the distance traveled, and the prices can vary depending on the time of day and the day of the week.

Dealing with Emergency Vehicles

If you hear the sound of an emergency vehicle siren while driving in Japan, it is essential to pull over to the side of the road and let the vehicle pass. It is also illegal to follow an emergency vehicle or block their path.

Dealing with Pedestrians and Bicycles

Japan has many pedestrians and bicycles on its roads, especially in residential areas. It is essential to be cautious when driving in these areas and give way to pedestrians and bicycles.

It is also illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol in Japan, and the penalties for drunk driving can be severe. If you plan to drink, it is best to take public transportation or a taxi.

Final Thoughts

Driving in Japan as a foreigner can be a challenging but rewarding experience. By understanding the country’s traffic rules and regulations and following them, you can have a safe and enjoyable driving experience in Japan.

Remember to be patient and courteous to other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists on the road. With a little bit of preparation and caution, you can enjoy the beauty and wonder of Japan’s roads.

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