For the most part, if you already know how to drive in your home country, driving in Japan is not much different. However, it never hurts to brush up on the driving and traffic laws.
General Traffic Rules
- Traffic runs on the left.
- Speed limits are in kilometers per hour (and may be much slower than you are used to).
- Left turns on a red light are forbidden.
- Stop at all railroad crossings, regardless of if a train has just come by.
- Pedestrians and bicyclists ALWAYS have the right of way. Look before turning.
- Do not use a cellphone while driving (even if your vehicle is stopped).
For a more detailed explanation of Japanese driving rules, you can purchase JAF’s English Rules of the Road booklet in digital or print format here.
Japan has a variety of road signs and markings which may be confusing at first, but are actually quite informative once you become familiar with them. This PDF from the Yokota Air Base contains a very detailed listing of the signs you’ll come across.
There is ZERO TOLERANCE for drunk driving in Japan. If you get caught driving after having had any alcohol (even just half a glass of beer, say), you can be fired, lose your license, thrown in jail, and forced to pay huge fines. You can also be held responsible if you are a passenger in a vehicle or if you let someone who has been drinking drive. Don’t risk it.
For those who feel the commute home from the bars would prove too tiresome, and ultimately inconvenient without a vehicle, the “Daiko” system in Japan offers drivers a safe, legal means of returning home after a night of drinking.
“Daiko” involves a hired driver, driving you and your car home. A second car will follow behind to collect the driver once you have arrived at your destination. Thus, personally driving your own vehicle somewhere for a night on the town does not require leaving your vehicle parked overnight, thanks to this service.
All you need do is request an employee at the establishment you’ve been drinking at call for “Daiko,” and you’ll have an efficient means home. The cost is slightly higher than simply calling for a taxi and can vary from place to place, but it’s better than risking a drunken drive home!
If you are involved in an accident, call the police immediately (110), and an ambulance if necessary (119). Also contact your insurance company. You will need to have your license, proof of ownership, shaken form, and passport or residence card.
If you incur a traffic violation, the police officer may ask you to accompany them to the nearest koban (police box), where they will explain the reason for the ticket and what to do after. They should have a book with English translations to help.
If you have an accident or get a ticket of any kind, please report it to your Supervisor (and Vice Principal for high school ALTs) as soon as possible. They will find out whether you tell them or not, so it is best that they find out from you first.