Driving in Japan
The information contained in this section of the Japan Insurance website is designed to help you prepare for all aspects of driving in Japan. Gathered from a variety of sources, this information covers everything from an overview of transport in Japan through to tips on buying a car, understanding the road signs and the traffic rules, and even some simple tips on what to do if involved in an accident. We have also included some ideas for day trips in and around Tokyo to help you experience the fun of Driving in Japan. Happy driving!
➊ Types of Insurance
Compulsory Automobile Liability Insurance (CALI)
Automobile insurance can cover some or all of the following items:
Under Japanese law, all registered vehicles must be covered by Compulsory Automobile Liability Insurance. This compulsory insurance is very similar in concept to that mandated in other countries, and it is designed primarily to protect third parties from injury by any vehicle in an accident. Although compulsory insurance is effective, it is by no means adequate in providing coverage for the insured, property damage to third parties and it does not cover any repair or replacement for damage to the vehicle itself.
In Japan, compulsory insurance covers the following basic third party costs:
Limit of liability
Death: 30 million yen
Injury: 1.2 million yen
Residual disability: 750,000 yen – 40 million yen
|Note:||Compulsory insurance covers the insured party and any individual driving with the Insured's permission. Passengers are also covered as they are deemed to be Third Parties. In addition to compulsory insurance, there is a range of optional insurance available to cover such things as injury and automobile repairs.|
Optional Automobile Insurance
There's no shortage of optional auto insurance coverage and policy types. Collision coverage pays to repair damage to your vehicle caused by a crash. In addition to the standard types of insurance, comprehensive coverage will also pay for damage to your vehicle if it's vandalized or stolen, etc. Both comprehensive and collision coverage generally require you to pay an excess (sometimes known as a 'deductible') before you can claim any money. The amount of the excess is decided at the time of insuring the vehicle, and is typically 50,000 yen, 100,000 yen etc. The point to remember is that the lower the excess you choose, the higher the premium will be. Furthermore, different policies will specify the particular circumstances under which coverage is available.
Liability coverage provides a fixed amount of coverage for damages that an insured becomes legally liable to pay due to an accident or other negligence. For example, if the insured party drives into a telephone pole, liability coverage will pay to repair damage caused to the pole. The insured party may also be liable for other expenses related to damaging the telephone pole, such as loss of service claims (by the telephone company).
Choosing the right insurance
Most people purchase automobile insurance either over the Internet, directly from large insurance companies, or from insurance agents. Each one has their benefits, so it is up to the consumer to decide carefully which one is best for their needs.
Internet insurers and Insurance companies
Typically, it is very easy to insure a vehicle over the Internet. There are no documents to sign and payment can be made by credit card online. Insurance policies offered over the Internet tend to be cheaper because of the reduced amount of direct contact with customers and a limited variety of products. Similarly, it is relatively easy to create an insurance policy for particular requirements with an insurance company.
On the down side, Internet insurers and Insurance companies generally do not offer the insurance documentation in English. If the insured party happens to become involved in an accident they must follow the standard procedures to lodge their claim and complete any necessary documentation in Japanese. In other words, it may be easy to purchase this insurance, but the claim process can be time consuming and arduous in Japanese.
Also, the internet insurance company has the customer section within the insurance company, so the customer will have to speak with a different operator all the time in order to explain the situation.
Insurance agents such as Japan Insurance represent their larger insurance counterparts by offering the same policies - but often with some kind of value added service. The agent may provide English language documents and services, with obvious advantages for the non-Japanese speaking customer. First, they offer customers high level of specialization, advice and consultation in English. The customer will be able to speak with the same customer consultant when he or she starts the policy so the customer can feel more secure to speak with the person directly. If the customer is involved in an accident, the agent becomes directly involved to help with accident reporting, assisting with the claim documentation, and arranging for any necessary repair and replacement car services.
Tips on how to save money on your insurance premium
1. Don't let your existing insurance policy lapse.
If you currently have an automobile insurance policy in Japan, don't let it lapse before you renew it - even when changing to another insurer. No matter how long you've been driving in another country, when you first arrive in Japan you are given a discount rating of '6'. This rating will improve with each year of continued policies and safe driving, allowing you to get a bigger discount - no matter which insurer you switch to. The key is that you cannot allow your policy to lapse between insurers!
2. Request higher excess
When you lodge a claim against your insurance policy, the 'excess' (sometimes known as a 'deductible') is the initial amount of money you must pay before your insurance policy takes effect. Therefore, by selecting a higher excess amount you will lower your premium considerably. For example, by increasing your excess from yen 50,000 yen 100,000 yen on collision coverage could reduce your premium Accordingly. This is particularly useful if you are a low mileage driver or if you have a long accident-free driving history.
3. Remove collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older vehicles.
If your car is worth less than 500,000 yen, covering the vehicle for collision damage, etc. is probably not worth the cost of the premiums you are likely to pay. Check the value of your car before you decide to cover it for collision coverage.
4. Buy a common car.
It may not be as exciting or as exotic as some of the cars on the road, but the more common your car, the more likely it is that spare parts are readily available. This can help to considerably reduce your insurance premium.
➋ What to do if you're involved in an accidente
Below is a list of the things you should do if involved in an accident
1. Contact the Police (Telephone: 110)
The individual at fault is required to contact the police, however it is also necessary for the other party to contact the police - particularly if it is an accident involving injury to the other party. In such cases the injured party can lodge a form notifying the police of the injury (jinshin atsukai). It is also important to go to the Japan Safe Driving Center (http://www.jsdc.or.jp/) for a traffic accident certificate (kotsu jiko shomei-sho).
2. Confirm the details of the other party
3. Get the details of any witnesses to the accident
If a person happened to see the accident, try to take down notes of what they saw, together with their name, address and contact details in case they need to be contacted in the future.
4. Take photos of the accident for your own records
If possible, take photos of the accident scene soon after the accident occurs. Also take the photo of the other party’s vehicle.It is also advisable to draw a diagram of the accident scene for future reference.
5. Be sure to consult a doctor
Even if you believe your injuries are minor, you should visit a doctor to ensure that the injuries aren't more serious.
➌ Useful Links
Government or official sites
Driving information / Weather conditions
For a detailed quote specific to your vehicle, go to our Free Car Insurance Quote section
➍ Basic driving rules and licenses in Japan
When driving in Japan, be very careful that you have the appropriate license, because driving without a valid license may void your insurance coverage.
Some basic facts
In Japan, cars are driven on the left side of the road and most cars have the driver's seat and steering wheel on the right. The legal minimum age for driving is 18 years. Road signs and rules follow international standards, and most signs on major roads are displayed in both Japanese and English. Drinking and driving in Japan is strictly prohibited in Japan, so anything above a blood alcohol level of zero is not tolerated. The police are active in setting up random breath-checks on major roads at night and on the weekends, so please take extra precaution when planning a trip out that may involve alcohol. When in doubt use public transport. One final thing - it is against the law to use your mobile phone while driving, so please pull over to the side of the street at the safest location in order to make or receive a call.
The typical speed limits are generally lower than in western countries. Typically the limits are between 80 to 100 km/h on expressways, 40 km/h in built-up urban areas, 30 km/h in side streets and 50 to 60 km/h elsewhere. Speed limit signs are often not posted, so please be cautious and use common sense when in narrow streets. Bicycles in particular have a tendency to use both the road and the footpaths, so they may suddenly swerve into traffic without paying attention.
Most roads in Japan are toll free with the exception of highways, most expressways and some scenic driving routes. Road conditions tend to be good, although side streets in the cities can be rather narrow. Traffic congestion is a common problem in and around urban centers. During the peak holiday traffic seasons such as obon in summer it is not uncommon to hear of traffic being backed up for 50 kilometers (30 miles) or more. If you plan to drive into or out of Tokyo during these peak times, the best advice is to leave as early as possible to avoid the rush. Most people leave well before dawn.
It's not all negative news, however! Drivers are generally well mannered and considerate to fellow drivers and pedestrians, and you won't often hear the horn being used. On the other hand, two of the most common infringements of the law are surely speeding and ignoring traffic signals (many cars continue driving through intersections despite the fact that the light has turned red). Annoying rather than dangerous are the many people - particularly taxis - who suddenly pull over or park at the most inconvenient of locations, effectively blocking traffic on busy roads. These problems are only exacerbated by the lack of street parking and narrow roads often with only one lane. As mentioned above, cyclists, too, can appear from nowhere and seem to be almost completely oblivious to the presence of vehicles.
International Driving Permits
Foreigners can drive in Japan and hire rental cars for a period of up to one year using a recognized international driving permit. These permits are valid for only one year from the date of issue, and must be obtained in the home country before arriving in Japan.
Obtaining an International Driving Permit is generally quite a simple process that can be done through a national automobile association.
Japan recognizes only international driving permits, which are based on the Geneva Convention established in 1949. A few countries, including Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, however, issue their own international driving permits which are based on different conventions. The permits issued by those countries are not valid in Japan.
Instead, holders of a French, German or Swiss driver's license are permitted to drive in Japan for up to one year if they produce an official Japanese translation of their driving license, which can be obtained from the respective country's embassy or consulate in Japan. People from other countries whose international driving permits are not recognized in Japan must attain a Japanese driving license in order to drive in Japan.
Japanese Driving Licenses
The law governing the use of International Driving Permits changed in June 2002. Until that time, many foreigners simply renewed their International Driving Permits multiple times, however it is now restricted for foreigners to drive using such permits for a maximum of 12 months, after which time they must apply for a Japanese driving license.
"Residents" in Japan are expected to either convert their license to a Japanese one, or obtain a Japanese drivers license. If you a caught using an International Drivers Permit but have lived in Japan more than one year you may be subject to fines or arrest. In theory there is a fine line because of the different interpretations of "resident" and "not resident". In practice, however, it seems to involve more than just the visa status, category of employment or length of stay in Japan - and is usually determined arbitrarily by the police.
Converting your license
To convert your home license into a Japanese driving license take your license, you personal stamp (called a hanko), your Alien registration card, passport and approximately 3,000 yen to the nearest office of the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF). You can either wait for the translation or have it posted to you. Once you have your license translated, go to the nearest Driver Licensing Centre (listed below) with your Alien registration card (simply called a Gaijin card by most people), passport, original license and translation, two passport photos taken within three months, and glasses if required for driving. The cost ranges from between 4,000 to 6,000 yen.
Japan has concluded agreements with more than twenty countries to ease the process of converting a valid foreign driving license into a Japanese one. Among these countries are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. If you hold a valid driving license from one of these countries, you can get a Japanese license without taking a written or driving test. If you can provide the official translation of your existing overseas license, all that is required to receive a Japanese license is an eye test and some proof that you lived in the overseas country for a minimum of three months after that license was issued.
If you have a driving license from a country which has not concluded an agreement with Japan yet, such as the United States, China or Brazil, you will have to take both the written test and the driving test in order to obtain a Japanese driving license. This process typically takes several attempts even in the case of experienced drivers.
|Note:||You must lodge your license application in the same prefecture as you obtained your alien registration card (Gaikokujin Tohroku Shomei-sho).|
License Centers in and around Tokyo
Mon-Fri 8:30-11:00 & 13:00-15:00
8:30-10.30 & 13:00-14:30
Koto Unten Menkyo* Shiken-jo
Koto-ku, Tokyo 136
Saitama-ken Unten Menkyo* Centre
Konosu-shi, Saitama-ken 365
Makuhari Unten Menkyo* Shiken-jo
Chiba-shi, Chiba-ken 260
Futamatagawa Unten Menkyo* Shiken-jo
55 Nakao-cho, Asahi-ku
Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa-ken 241
License Centers in other regions
Kadoma Unten Shiken-jo
Kadoma City, Osaka 571-8555
Kyoto-fu Unten Menkyo* Shiken-jo
Hazuka-shi, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto 612-8486
Hyogo-ken Keisatsu Kohtsu-bu Unten Menkyo* Shikenjo
Akashi City, Hyogo 673-0842
Komyoike Unten Menkyo* Shiken-jo
Izumi-shi, Osaka 594-0031
Nara Unten Menkyo* Shiken-jo
Kashiwara-shi, Nara-ken 634-0007
Aichi Unten Menkyo* Shiken-jo
2845 Kuroishi, Hirabari, Tenpaku-cho, Tenpaku-ku
Nagoya-shi, Aichi. 468-8513
CLOSED: Saturdays, Sundays, National Holidays, and New Year's Holidays
Japanese license renewal and change of details are the only services offered on Sundays.
Information regarding driver's license is also available in English by telephone and facsimile.
(03-5463-6000 or 042-334-6000)
Japanese law provides that all persons who drive in Japan are held liable in the event of an accident, and assesses fault in an accident on all parties. For example, that a given accident was 80% the fault of Driver A, and 20% the fault of Driver B. Fines, penalties and the like would then be split in the same way, i.e., 80-20.
Drivers stopped for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol will have their licenses confiscated. Persons found guilty of what is deemed to be "drunken, speeding or blatantly careless driving resulting in death" are subject to up to 15 years in prison, which is three times the length of the previous maximum sentence. The arm of the law also extends to financial institutions - the police are permitted to contact your banks, etc. directly to determine your financial status in order to ensure that you won't try to evade payment for traffic violations.
Common Road Signs in Japan
Most road signs in Japan follow international standards, and are fairly easy to decipher.
For more information, the Rules of the Road booklet, produced by the Japan Auto Federation (JAF) explains traffic rules in plain English. It is good value for money at only 1,000 yen.
JAF in Tokyo can be contacted at 03 5976 9777.
➎ Buying a car in Japan
Buying and Owning a Car
Buying a new or a used car in Japan can be a relatively easy and inexpensive affair. This is, after all, the home of the companies that made the mass production of cars an art form. A brand new kei car, the smallest car type with an engine capacity up to 660cc, sells for less than one million yen (approx. US$9,000).
The costs of owning and running a car, however, can quickly add up because of the various mandatory expenses. These include the compulsory inspections (shaken) every two to three years (depending on the age of the vehicle), various taxes, the mandatory and optional insurances, high parking costs in cities, and expensive tolls on the inner-city and inter-city expressways and highways.
'Shaken' and Taxes
The shaken (pronounced sha-ken) is a compulsory safety inspection, which cars in Japan must undergo every two years. New cars are exempt from this inspection, until its first inspection after three years from purchase. To pass a shaken and be deemed roadworthy typically costs between 100,000 and 200,000 yen. Apart from the costs of the actual inspection, there is also a weight tax (typically 8,000 to 50,000 Yen) and a mandatory insurance charge of approximately 30,000 Yen.
Because this mandatory insurance does not provide full coverage, it is highly recommended that car owners purchase additional, optional car insurance from a company such as Japan Insurance. Furthermore, there is an annual 'automobile tax', which is calculated depending on the vehicles' engine size. This typically costs between 10,000 and 50,000 yen. One other tax to remember is a recycling tax, which is designed to pay for costs related to the safe recycling of the vehicle's components at the end of its useful life - This is not completely enforced at present, but may become necessary in the near future.
Finally, there is an 'acquisition tax' (shutoku-zei) which must be paid when you buy a car.
During the purchasing process, there are numerous documents that must be filled out, including forms to register your car and to even to verify that you own or rent a parking space for that vehicle - this proof of parking space is called a shako-shomei. These monthly car park spaces typically cost anywhere between 15,000 yen to 60,000 per month, depending on the location or proximity to major train stations, etc. If you buy a used car, the process is further complicated by additional forms that regulate the transfer of ownership. If you purchase your new or used vehicle through a car dealer, the dealer will handle most of the paperwork for you, leaving you to simply sign the necessary forms and stamp the documents with your officially registered, personal stamp (inkan) if you have one.
Each week thousands upon thousands of used cars, many of them in pristine condition, are sold to domestic and foreign buyers at auctions around the country. If you are considering buying a car in Japan, one of the easiest ways to do this is to contact a dealer and arrange the purchase of a car from an auction. You can simply provide the dealer with a 'wish list' of makes, models and optional extras to look out for and wait for the right car to come to you. This can save you a lot of time and money because you have the advantage of a huge national pool of stock with a rapid turn-over rather than a local car dealership.
For more information about buying or searching for a car through a used car dealer or auction specialist.
➏ Overview of transport in Japan
The transport system: trains, buses, planes - and cars!
Transport in and around Japan offers a huge variety of choice that is both safe and convenient.
Trains: Outside the major population centers (Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Fukuoka, etc.), people rely much less on public transport and tend to use their own cars for most commuting and shopping. In Tokyo, however, the train and subway systems in and around the city are the epitome of punctuality, safety and reliability. Their convenience and comparatively low fares make train travel an appealing option for short distances within city areas, and a must for the millions of commuters who use the lines each day. Trains in Japan are generally operated by Japan Rail (JR), or private rail companies (Keio, Odakyu, Hankyu, etc.) in addition to the vast subway networks criss-crossing many of Japan's larger cities. The Shinkansen, the bullet-train that started operation in the 1970s, is a marvel of high-speed transport for long-distance travel. The Shinkansen connects cities such as Fukuoka and Hiroshima in the far west of the country through Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo to cities such as Nagano, Akita and other cities in the north of the country. Long distance train travel, although convenient and efficient, is often quite expensive when compared with air travel because few discounts are offered to travelers.
Air travel: Consider this. The Tokyo - Sapporo route is the busiest air traffic route in the world, attracting business travelers and holiday-makers alike throughout the year.
Deregulation of the airline industry has brought huge change, allowing new airlines to enter the industry and ushering in an age of competitive pricing and improvements to service.
The major national airlines are Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA), however they are facing ever-increasing pressure from rivals such as Air Do and Skymark which typically offer fares about 20% cheaper than their bigger rivals. The cheapest flights can often be found if you book well in advance or are willing to fly early in the morning. For the best deals, ask for the discounted seats, often referred to as 'Toku-wari'.
Buses: Bus travel in Japan is very similar to that in other countries. Local bus lines in the cities are often operated by the train companies. Their bus routes generally supplement the train lines by carrying passengers to and from the train stations from the surrounding suburbs. It is interesting to note that many of the suburbs around Tokyo, particularly since the 1960s, were developed and sold off by the train companies. These companies were able to build the railway lines, the suburbs and even shopping and entertainment centers and department stores to service their ready-made populations.
Some local buses require passengers to pay in advance - usually costing a fixed fee about 200 yen. Other buses require passengers to pay at the end of the journey, charging for the particular distance traveled ? the amount you pay will be displayed on a board at the front as you exit. Either way, the bus service is generally hassle-free and convenient.
Cars: Last but not least, the automobile! For anyone living in Tokyo the automobile can be both a blessing and a burden. The freedom of sitting in air-conditioned comfort listening to your own music without the hassles of public transport… On the downside, it can be relatively expensive to own and run a car in Japan. For example, the streets of Tokyo are crowded and comparatively narrow, there is little street parking, street signs can be confusing, and a single accident on the famous 'elevated highways' within the city can bring traffic to a complete standstill for hours. On top of all of this, fuel prices are high by world standards, highway tolls between major cities can cost more than a discount airfare, and car owners are obliged to pay a variety of taxes that make owning a car less attractive. It can be a paradox at times - cars, particularly secondhand ones, are relatively cheap to buy, but the cost of owning and maintaining one can be prohibitive.
Finally, one thing that you must remember about driving in Japan - use the left lane! Most of the world may drive in the right lane, but Japan's left lane system was influenced by the British many decades ago, meaning that people from the UK, Australia and New Zealand in particular will feel right at home. Another interesting point to note is that drivers are not limited to right-hand drive cars (steering wheels on the right side of the car). In fact, many imports, particularly the luxury cars, have the steering wheel on the left side for status rather than practicality. In order to accommodate these vehicles, you'll often notice that most parking stations and highway toll booths have automated collection facilities on both sides of the lane.
The address system
The address system in Japan can be truly perplexing, even leaving many locals scratching their heads when trying to find a building or a house.
Let's look at an example below. For a start, the way an address is written down is the opposite of accepted Western norms. The seven-digit postal code is written first, followed by the country or region name, and then the town, the local area and street numbers. The name of the individual comes at the very bottom. So, your address in Japanese could look like this:
Tokyo, Chuo-ku, Ginza, 1-2-15
Green Tower Apartments 2202
As you will have noticed, there isn't a particular street name to indicate where the building is located in Ginza. In fact, there is no logical system of numbering for individual buildings - the concept of odd numbers starting from '1' on one side of the street, and even numbers starting from '2' on the other side of the street do not apply here. What you will find is a block 'number' which will help you narrow down your search.
So, if you were looking for Mr. Matthews' apartment building in the example above, how would you go about it? The secret is entirely in the numbers following the smallest 'area' in the address. In this case, it's Ginza. Again, go from biggest to smallest. The '1-2-15' shows you that you are looking for zone 1 in Ginza - this zone is called a 'cho-me'. Within that cho-me you'll find block '2', and from there you can search for the building occupying space '15'. This should lead you right to the front door of Green Towers Apartments - with a bit of luck and a couple of trips around the block. It can be frustrating at times, but don't worry, most people get lost at first. That's why car navigation systems, and even satellite navigation in mobile phones, became established so quickly in Japan. The best rule of thumb is to always prepare maps of the location you wish to visit in advance so that you don't have to rely solely on the address.