Learning to Drive .. in Japan!

Ufufuf.. hey everyone! It has been a while.. let me share some exciting news!

I decided to learn how to drive .. in Japan! That’s right – I have enrolled in a Japanese driving school, to take lessons and eventually take the test so I can have a full Japanese license. I don’t even own one in my home country, but after 2 years here and being fed up of relying on others to get me around, I thought it was worth taking the challenge and not letting the language barrier put me off.

I’m going to share my experiences of the process and my progress in the hopes that it might be informative for anyone who is interested in taking lessons here too!

A bit of background for my language – I am currently not JLPT certified. I actually failed the N4 in July, by 1 point, haha. But I am decent conversationally, especially if spoken to slowly. I’ve lived here for 2 years, and recently started learning some driving and vehicle related vocab prior to enrolling to help prepare a little.

So – don’t be put off if you aren’t a very high level. I’ll cover some of the language stuff another time.

Choosing a School

In Japan, a big difference to the process in the UK is that generally you enroll in a driving school and take a number of theory classes and lessons with an instructor at the school itself.

I believe there are other ways (like learning with a licensed driver privately then taking a test) which apparently is immensely cheaper. However, no matter how willing my friends are they are just far too busy for me to take up their precious time. They are awesome though and have been teaching me useful terms and phrases for my classes which is making things smoother.

If you’re in or close to Tokyo I hear there are schools which have English speaking teachers. Also, other bigger cities may have some people who have some English ability.

However, after several weeks of research I discovered that there were unfortunately no schools with English teachers nearby me. Short of taking the 50 minute train to the city (and almost 2000円 in train fees!) for every visit, it was pretty impossible to find anywhere where language wouldn’t be an issue.

Did that deter me? No! It did not!

Luckily, I live in a pretty cool city. Even though it’s small-ish we actually have one of the main driving schools in the prefecture which is pretty lucky for me! Only a 15 minute bike ride away, I could easily ride on over after I return from work meaning I wouldn’t be limited to the weekends.

So, I decided to go with the Driving School route, and popped on over to enroll with them this last weekend. The awesome thing about enrolling at a school is that I am officially a student and I get to call out “はい~!” when the register is called!


Enrolling at a Driving School

I was really nervous at first about whether or not I could enroll at the school. I’m so fortunate to have lovely supportive friends out here and I asked a friend to accompany me and assist with the initial process and translate what I wanted to do. My fears were all diminished the moment we arrived as the staff were all welcoming and friendly! I’m really grateful to my friend as she helped make the initial process very smooth.

To enroll at a school you need:

  • 4 recent application photos (you can get the right size done in a proper photo booth for about 800円, or go to a photography studio)
  • Your inkan to stamp your form
  • A 住民票 (juuminhyou) – a residency certificate which you can obtain from your local city hall for a small fee
  • Your Residency card
  • Glasses, if you wear them (they’ll test your eyes on site)

The application process is straightforward. You need to tell them which kind of automobile you want to take classes for and what transmission. I enrolled for a 普通自動車 (futsuu jidousha) which is a regular car, and in Automatic transmission. I wanted to go for Manual, but worried about the language barrier enough already so opted for AT!

It helps to know your address well as well, so bring something to copy it from if you aren’t confident when writing.

They’ll also ask you how you want to pay – whether you want to take a loan from the school or if you’ll pay from your savings. I opted to pay from savings, and the way it works is that I will pay half of the fees part-way through my course, and the rest upon completion. It’s.. expensive. I believe by the end of my course, I’ll be paying around 300,000円. But in my opinion it’s worth it since I’m not looking at returning to the UK anytime soon.

At my school you also get to choose which teacher you’d prefer to have! The very apologetic staff informed me they had no English speakers, but I felt more sorry for anyone who ended up with me as it would be a challenge. So, we told them to make a note on my form that anyone who felt up to the task could choose me and I decided to let fate take the reigns there!

Once the documents are all done and your eyes tested, you’re all good for 入学式, the school entrance ceremony!

..Unfortunately for me mine was a little delayed as in my first visit I didn’t have my actual 住民票、only a notification number that I was registered for one. But they let me fill in everything else, kept it all safe and once I was able to get a copy of the paperwork I popped on down on the 7th October, and finished enrolling at the school!

Honestly, I was shocked at how painless the whole process was, with the only hiccup being my own misunderstanding about the 住民票。

So.. that’s all for now. Next time I’ll write up about the entrance ceremony (入学式)、and my very first driving lesson!


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