The driving test itself is not difficult, but there are many simple sequences and processes that the examiners are looking for, and, if you are not aware of them, you will not pass. It is not uncommon for foreigners to take the driving test 6 times or more, only for the lack of a little knowledge, rather than a lack of basic driving skills. Passing the first time you take the test, un-assisted is the exception rather than the rule. Considering that each attempt requires nearly a full day at the testing center, fees and lost wages can make converting your license on your own time consuming, expensive, and frustrating experience.
The procedure at each driving center varies, so your specific process may be different from what is detailed here. On test day, show up as early as possible to walk the course before the testing begins. It is highly recommended you take advantage of that opportunity to refresh your memory of the course route and the skills they will be testing for. Depending on the license center, you may be required to pay a car rental fee for the test. Be aware, you will spend a lot of time waiting on test day.
When your turn comes, you will get in the car and drive the prescribed course with an examiner, who will speak only in Japanese. Their commands are simple or non-existent; many test centers do not give any instructions at all, other than to start. They expect you to have the course memorized. With some basic knowledge of Japanese (left, right, stop, go, etc.), you should be OK if the examiner does give you instructions. However, it is best to memorize all the turns and elements of the course in advance so you will not necessarily need to understand commands. If you make a “major” mistake, you will fail on the spot. The examiner may tell you it’s over at that time and instruct you to return to the starting point without finishing the course. If you keep driving, he will assume you do not understand, stop the car using his brake, and direct you more clearly to return. Do not worry; you are not in trouble if this happens.
Whether or not you passed, you will go inside and wait for the results with the other test-takers, be warned it could be a long wait. If you are not successful, you will be given a paper with your next scheduled test date. You may be able to change this schedule on the spot or over the phone later if required.
Passing the driving and written tests will depend on knowing the laws of Japan, most of which are in the book “Rules of the Road,” which clearly explains traffic rules in Japan. The Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) publishes and sells foreign-language versions of the Rules of the Road to help foreign motorists understand Japanese traffic rules. Studying that book is the best way to prepare for the written and driving test, but our practice tests are a good place to start too.
If you pass the driving test successfully, you should receive your new license that day, after paying more fees, getting your picture taken, and other assorted tasks.