How to drive in Japan?

Basic rules of the roads and driving requirements.


Cars drive on the left side of the road (steering wheel on is on the right). Road signs & rules follow international standards, and most signs on major roads are in Japanese and English. In rural areas this may not be the case and if you are planning to drive in more remote areas, it is advisable to purchase a reliable English-Japanese road atlas. Drivers generally tend to be well mannered and considerate. Some dangers on Japanese roads include drivers speeding through intersections at a red light, vehicles stopped at the edge of the street blocking traffic, and cyclists driving on the wrong side of the road.
Japan has horizontal traffic lights, with arrows appearing beneath the main lights. The color-blind should note that the red (stop) is on the right and the green (go) is on the left. There are usually only one or two traffic lights per intersection pointing the same way, which makes it hard to see when the signals change. Prefectures, such as Toyama and Niigata, have vertical lights.


Road conditions tend to be good, although side streets in the inner-city can be rather narrow. Traffic congestions are a frequent problem in and around urban centers.
In mountainous areas, roads are often closed during the winter, and cars should be equipped with tire chains. Japan's four main islands and Okinawa are equipped with an expressway network of over 7,000 kilometers. This network boasts an uninterrupted link between Aomori Prefecture at the northern part of Honshū and Kagoshima Prefecture at the southern part of Kyūshū, linking Shikoku as well. Additional highways serve Hokkaidō and Okinawa Island, although they are not connected to the Honshū-Kyūshū-Shikoku grid.


Pedestrians have the right-of-way.


Parking can be difficult in some urban centers. Navigating within cities can be confusing and parking costs ¥300-400/hour. Larger hotels in the cities and regional hotels normally offer car parking, and it is advisable to check the parking situation before reserving.


Persons found driving in Japan without a legal license are subject to fines, arrest and possible deportation. Persons driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol will have their licenses confiscated. In addition to fines, drunk driving resulting in a death carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. Talking or messaging on cell phones while driving is also illegal.


Fuel in Japan costs approximately 100 yen per liter. Most of the gas stations are full-service.


The speed limits are; 80 to 100 km/h on expressways, 40 km/h in urban areas, 30 km/h on side streets and 50 to 60 km/h everywhere else. It is quite usual for drivers to exceed the speed limits by about 10 km/h.


Roads in Japan are toll free with the exception of expressways and some scenic driving routes. Japan has the most expensive toll system in the world. Tolls are based on distance and routes. A ticket is collected when entering the expressway and inserted, along with the fare, into a machine on the way out. There is also an electronic toll collection card system installed in many cars which automatically pays at the toll gate.


The legal minimum age for driving in Japan is 18 years old.


Foreigners may drive with a recognized International Driving License (IDL) for up to one year after entering the country.  Japan recognizes international driving permits which are based on the Geneva Convention of 1949.  A few countries, including Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, however, issue international driving permits, which are based on different conventions. The permits issued by those countries are not valid in Japan. Holders of a French, German or Swiss driver's license can drive in Japan for up to one year with an official Japanese translation of their driving licenses to be obtained from the respective country's embassy or consulate in Japan. Other countries, whose international driving permits are not recognized by Japan, must attain a Japanese driving license in order to drive in Japan. A Japanese driving license is required for all drivers staying in Japan for more than one year.


Insurance is mandatory for all automobile owners and drivers in Japan.


Driver and passengers are required to fasten their seatbelts.


Safety seats are compulsory for all children under the age of 6.


Helmet are mandatory when riding a motorbike.


Police 110
Ambulance 119

Sources: Japan / Embassy of United States in Japan / Japan Automobile Federation / Japan National Tourist Organization / Metropolis Tokyo / Wikitravel