As well as the culture, driving rules in Japan are unique too. While you drive on the right side in most countries, you have to drive on the left side in Japan.
There are a lot more rules to remember, so I’m going to introduce some here.
License you need to drive in Japan
In order to drive a car in Japan, you need either a Japanese driver’s license or an International Driving Permit issued in a country under Geneva Convention on Road Traffic.
Japanese driver’s license
This is a normal driver’s license every Japanese driver has. Usually, taking a Japanese driver’s license is very difficult, so I wouldn’t recommend that a tourist visiting Japan just for a limited period to take a Japanese driver’s license.
In order to take Japanese driver’s license, most people go to a driving school first, and once you have completed all curriculum, you will be allowed to take the final exam. If you already know how to drive, you can skip the driving school and take the final exam on the spot, but I don’t think foreign tourists that don’t know the Japanese language or traffic rules can pass the test.
Unless you are planning to stay in Japan for years, you wouldn’t need a Japanese driver’s license.
International Driving Permit
An easier way to drive in Japan would be just take an International Driving Permit. If you ask the government of a country under “Geneva Convention on Road Traffic” to issue an International Driving Permit, it can issue one for you for a fee. With the permit, you can drive general cars in Japan.
If you are interested, consult with the appropriate authority in your country before visiting Japan.
Traffic rules in Japan
Drive on the left side
Japan and UK are two of the few developed countries in the world in which you have to drive on the left side.
Driving to the left side means that the driver’s seat is to the right and not to the left, and the winker/wiper levers are put the other way round.
It would be very confusing at the beginning, so when you come to Japan, try to drive as slowly as possible for the first few hours until you get used to the driving on the left side.
You have to wait until the signal turns green even if you want to turn left
First of all, turning left in Japan means turning right in the US or other countries where you drive on the right side.
In the US, you can turn right even when the traffic light is red. But in Japan, turning left while the traffic light is red is a breach of the traffic law and it could hit people.
Make sure to wait until the traffic light turns green even if you want to turn left.
Orange line means “don’t pass”
If there is one (or two) orange line(s) in the middle of a road, it means that you can’t pass the preceding car.
The tricky thing is sometimes there is one orange line and one dashed white line next to each other in the middle of a road. Such lines mean that cars on the lane with the orange line can’t pass, while cars on the lane with the dashed white line can pass.
Dashed white line means “you can pass”
As you have guessed, one dashed white line in the middle of a road means you can pass. This is the simplest line and easy to remember.
There are many other lines, road paintings and signs, but the signs are usually not too complicated and you can guess their meanings. However, as driving could hurt people, make sure to learn the traffic rules of Japan before driving on the Japanese roads.
Is “Mario Kart” allowed?
This has been a huge controversy on this topic since years, but foreign tourists that don’t quite know the Japanese traffic rules driving a vehicle on general roads is very dangerous.
From the traffic laws perspective, I hear that there is no problem in driving a small vehicle without a driver’s license, but there has been a lot of near hits since the business grew popular. Given that the traffic in Tokyo is always heavy and the traffic rules are complicated, I hope that tourists understand how dangerous it could be and withhold from participating in the tours.
Also, there are intellectual property issues in the business. I’m not a lawyer nor a specialist in this field, but I hear that a lot of Mario Kart tour operators haven’t obtained a proper license to use Mario characters’ costumes.
Again, make sure to learn the Japanese traffic rules before actually driving in Japan. I hope you enjoy driving in Japan without any troubles.