commuters in Tokyo rely on public transportation which is the sanest
option since conditions and cost-efficiency do not make driving worthwhile.
Those who really want to be behind the wheel should be prepared to have
close encounters with a constant stream of mopeds and delivery bikes
weaving in and out in front, taxis cutting in where there was obviously
no space, long traffic jams, a maze of one-way streets, streets blocked
by delivery vans and illegally parked cars...Cyclists mostly stay on
the sidewalks but have to veer out onto the road when it narrows and
also when the sidewalk disappears. Driving is supposed to be on the
left but keeping in lane is unheard of, and speed limits largely ignored.
You need a spirit of adventure, patience and good reflexes (or driving
experience in New York City).
First, get acquainted with the basic spiderweb pattern of the roads--they
form concentric circles out from the Imperial Palace and radial routes
cross them. For example, the circular Meiji Dori crosses route 246 at
Shibuya and route 20 at Shinjuku. The Metropolitan Expressway is laid
out in a similar pattern, with roads radiating out of the central loop
and running parallel to routes 246, 20, and other major roads.
Get a copy of "Rules of the Road" from the license office
or from the Japan Automobile Federation (5395-0111 for road service).
JAF is like the AAA in the States; it costs 2,000 yen to join and 4,000
yen a year. An English handbook on traffic rules and regulations also
available for 1,000 yen.
most cases, car dealers will take care of registration and other details.
What you need: a certificate of alien registration (different from the
card), a certificate of your signature from your embassy, proof that
you have a parking space at home (shako-shomei) and a Japanese driver's
Getting a driver's license
you already hold a driver's license from another country, you can have
it converted into a Japanese one only if your license is from one of
the few selected countries (mostly European).
You need a valid license from your home country that is at least three
months old, passport, alien registration card and one black and white
or color photo 3 by 2.4 cm.
Take these to the Samezu License Office, 1-12-5 Higashi Oi, Shinagawa-ku,
(Offices also at Fuchu, 0423-62-3591, and Koto Ward: 3699-1151.)
At Samezu, applications are made at window 23. Forms are in English.
They give all applicants an eye examination. Motorcycle licenses can
also be endorsed. The license application takes 2 or 3 hours to process
and can be sent on to you by registered mail. Total cost is around 3,900
yen. Valid until applicant's 3rd birthday after issue.
If you are from the U.S or China, you may have to take a brief written
and driving test. Keep in mind that the demand of driving skills and
these tests are stricter than you might think. Make sure you study the
Japanese road signs.
If you have no license, you face the same stringent test as the Japanese
Japan is a member of the Convention on Road Traffic, and international
driver's licenses are honored. But because it expires in a year and
cannot be renewed in Japan, check before hand that it is still valid.
- contact the Kanto Transport Bureau Tokyo Land Transport Branch, registration
office 3458-9235. The registration card must be carried in your vehicle
at all times.
Insurance - you need to show a policy on registering your car. Many
car dealers will help you with insurance. 3rd party insurance is compulsory
and additional private insurance is recommended.
Road tax - payable every May, charged according to engine size and wheel
base. 70,000 yen up. A weight tax is also charged when you register.
Shaken - to negotiate Tokyo streets your car must be in top condition.
For new cars, after the first 3 years, periodic inspections (shaken)
must be made every 2 years. There were major changes in the shaken practice
in 1996. For details, call the Kanto District Land Transport Bureau.
space at major city centers is about 400 ~ 800 yen an hour in multistory
or underground lots. Street parking is generally for no longer than
40 minutes and the number of meters are limited. All-night parking is
prohibited. There are some designated parking areas with parking meters
300 yen for 60 minutes. Economical parking space like "Time 24",
"Repark" and "Times" charge by the hour and are
available everywhere in Tokyo. (200~ yen / hour)
Complementary parking for customers at some department stores and banks
are also available.
Major hotels may charge a parking fee.
cost you 10,000 - 15,000 yen (6 or 9,000 for a motorcycle) and 2 demerit
points on your license. If the police put chalk marks on your tires,
you have perhaps an hour to move your car before it gets towed away.
If you do not, the towing expenses must be paid on the spot or at the
nearest police box before you can get your car back.
amount is shown in the boxes on the parking ticket payment slip. Take
this to any post office to pay the fine. There is a point system for
those who violate traffic rules. If you exceed the limit over a three
year period your license will be revoked.