Driving in Japan

Traffic laws and road rules

Unless you plan on moving to the countryside, owning a car in Japan is not a necessity the way it would be in the United States, as all major cities are served by a highly efficient public transportation system. However, if you need to use a car, you should know that Japan is a country bound by rules, and driving does not escape these in any way.

To drive in Japan, it is necessary to adapt to and comprehend the basic rules – people drive on the left like in the United Kingdom, the roads are usually very small, and although highway signs are indicated in Japanese and in the Latin alphabet, rural signs are not.

The legal driving age in Japan is 18, although 16 year-olds can obtain a motorcycle license. Twenty is the required age for the medium-sized motor vehicle license and 21 for the large-sized motor vehicle license.

Drinking and driving is completely forbidden, as well as using a telephone while driving.

In Japan, it is customary to slow to a complete stop before a pedestrian crossing, as one would with a stop sign. It is also recommended to stop at all railroad crossings, regardless of flashing lights or barriers.

Should an accident happen, you are expected to pull over and call 110, the emergency number for all incidents.

Road signs and traffic lines

Traffic signs are only indicated in Japanese kanji, providing no translation. As such, it is recommended to study them prior to driving in Japan. Indications can also be written on the road itself. The most common signs you might encounter include stop (tomare) and slow (jokou). For a list of road signs and their corresponding images, visit the Japan Driver's License website. 

Lines in the middle of the road can be rather confusing in Japan, as a large combination of white, yellow, solid and dashed lines exists. In general, dashed white lines indicate the possibility to overtake, whilst solid white lines indicate that although overtaking is allowed, one should exercise caution in doing so. Yellow lines should never be crossed, unless if there is also a white line on your side.

Further reading

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