Hey gang, I recently got my licence converted and thought I’d share some of how I went about getting it. I wrote most of this as I was going through the process so please forgive the jumping in tenses. Let’s get into it:
The year is almost up for my international drivers permit and that means it’s time to get stuck into some paperwork. As a South African citizen, I am legally obligated to convert my licence to a Japanese one once my international drivers’ licence expires. Now, this wouldn’t be a bad thing if all it meant is that I head into the licencing department, hand over a few papers and I get a licence, but it’s not that simple.
As a South African my process is slightly different from those from other countries who have solidified friendlier relations with Japan. As we speak, I’ve sent off my documents (passport, drivers’ licence, proof of South African residence and Japanese residence card) to be translated so they can be given over to the licencing office. Once everything checks out, I’m going to have to go in for a verbal interview. So for reference on timings, I sent my paperwork through on the 6th of February to the translation people. The price for translation when I did it was 3500 yen.
On the 17th of February, I got an email from my coordinator telling me that the translation had come back and she wanted to set up an appointment for my first interview at the licencing department. After checking my schedule and hers, we decided on the 28th of February.
So on the 28th, I prepared to go to the interview. What a bizarre experience. I went to the licence centre with my co-ordinator. She was going to give me a lift and help me with translation. My time slot was for 3 pm which meant I had to take 2 hours of nenkyu (leave but I use nenkyu because any ALT will tell you that this time off has more t’s and c’s than a bank account). She kindly picked me up at 14:30 and we made our way to the licence centre. It’s corona season now so the first thing we did after walking through the electric glass doors was to sanitise our hands. I couldn’t help noticing the high school-aged looking people lining up outside one of the rooms. I assumed this was the room for the written test as they all had a sheet of paper in their hands. We walked past this group and went to what I can only describe as the eye testing station (slightly different from the ones back home in that these are meant to be used while you stand). My coordinator told the person manning the station that we had arrived for our interview appointment. The tall bald man smiled and pointed us to the nearest bench. We probably waited less than two minutes before another masked man emerged from the offices just behind the eye testing stations. Going into the process, I was a little apprehensive because I had heard how tricky it can be to get your licence converted here. This man put all those fears at ease. He had such a happy and friendly face that shone from even behind his mask. He led us into the offices behind the eye testing stations, to a room in the corner past all the desks and towers of paperwork that made up the office. In the office, there was a desk and 4 chairs. He asked us to sit down and relax for a moment while he fetched the paperwork. It was a strange room. As I sat chatting to my co-ordinator about what would come next, I noticed a car sitting in the corner of the room. I don’t think it was a real car because even though it was life-sized, the body only started from behind the driver’s seat. It didn’t look like a car had been hacked up to create this masterpiece, but rather it had been made like this. Next to it on a large table, there was something draped in a silver-blue cloth. The man came back with a form in hand, sat down and proceeded to explain what I had to do in Japanese. My coordinator translated most of the technical stuff but I could tell from his gestures how he expected me to fill in the form. Before showing up for the interview I had been told by my coordinator that it would just be an interview test so I didn’t expect to be filling in forms.
Anyway, so the man proceeded to tell me how I would now be left alone in the room to fill in the form. My coordinator had to take my phone and purse (I assume if I had brought a bag they would have needed to take that). So I filled in the form as instructed. All the questions had to do with how I had acquired my licence back home. The questions where very specific so I was worried because I took my licence back in 2012 and most of my memory of that time has faded. I did my best to fill the form honestly, anyway. After writing for what felt like an hour, I got up to notify the licence department man that I was done. The tall bald one who had met us earlier rushed up to take my form before directed me back into the small room. I sat there awed by the strangeness of this process, a part of me regretting not having a good look at my licence before coming to the appointment because my memory of the dates and timelines were probably wrong.
I waited another 5 minutes before the bald man came back accompanied by my coordinator. We sat down together and went through my form verbally, adding and making changes where I had missed a detail or date. At some point they asked me to draw the car that I was tested in, which I found super awkward and strange and having asked a fellow ALT about it who recently took the test, I am almost absolutely convinced this isn’t conventional protocol. After this, the bald man took my form and said the friendly-faced man would be with us shortly. It was maybe five minutes before the friendly man came back again. He announced that everything had gone well and that I could now set a date for my driving test. He gave back all my paperwork and after picking a date for my test we were free to go.
I picked the 17th of March to do my test so I went home that day knowing I would need to sign up for driving school immediately. Luckily my coordinator took care of setting that up for me too. I did a lot of research into the driving test leading up to my first driving school appointment. Some websites I used include:
One for getting a rough idea of the whole process:
One for brushing up my knowledge of roadsigns in preparation for the written test:
Next week I’ll go into a breakdown of my driving school adventures. Thanks for reading.