Tokyo Life Navigator!
Basic Information R&R We want you
Driving For Starters
Parking and Fines

Most 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.

For Starters

Buying a car
In 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 license.

Getting a driver's license

If 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, tel. 3474-1374.
(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 candidates.

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.

Car Regulations
Registration - 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. (5461-2288)

Parking and Fines

Parking 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 for
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.

Parking Violations
Will 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.

Paying Fines
The 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.

Copyright by IMA Co., 1999