There are several efficient types of public transportation in and around Japan. As a result most of the Japanese do not own cars or driving licenses. However, outside the big cities it can get troublesome without a car.
In Japan, cars move on the left hand side of the road while traffic overtakes from the right. The minimum age for driving is 18 years. All roads are well equipped with road signs that have internationally recognized symbols. All of these signs have instructions in both Japanese and English. It is illegal to drink and drive in Japan.
Speed limits vary depending on where you are driving. On expressways the speed limit is 80kph. In urban developed areas, the speed limit is 40kph. On side roads the speed limit is 30kph. Although the road conditions are good, the side streets can be narrow. Traffic and congestion is a big problem in the major cities and urban areas.
Japanese drivers are usually well mannered and polite. However, there are still a few hazards you should know about. Sometimes drivers tend to cross red lights at intersections without warning. People might also park their cars on the side in such a way that it blocks traffic. Avoid cyclists, as they sometimes tend to move on the wrong side of the road.
You are allowed to use an International Driver’s Permit in Japan which must be issued from your country of origin. This is permitted for up to one year only. Japan only recognizes International Driving Permits issued in accordance with the Geneva convention. Besides this, other countries issue International Driving Permits as well which Japan does not accept. If you are planning to stay in Japan for more than a year, you must obtain a Japanese driving license. In order to get your license, you must have an official translation of your original license and should take this to the local license center. You do not need to sit for a practical exam or a written test.
Always make sure that you are carrying important documents with you. You must always have your driver’s license, certificate of insurance, vehicle registration along with your passport. If the car is not owned by you, you must carry an official letter from the owner giving you permission to drive the car.
The compulsory insurance required in Japan does not cover everything. Therefore it is recommended that you purchase optional insurance as well. Every two years, Japanese cars undergo inspection known as Shaken. This is compulsory and you need to pay anywhere between 100,000 and 200,00 yen. Japan has very expensive tollways so be prepared.
Buying a car is relatively not that expensive in Japan since most of the good car manufacturers are based here. Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Mazda are sold for less than 1 million yen.
If you keep all the road regulations and traffic laws in mind, you should have absolutely no problem getting around Japan. Try to avoid rush hour though – you can get stuck in traffic for hours!