Guide For People Who Plan to Drive in Japan | Part-1

Do you have any plans to drive a car in Japan? We made a list of key points that travelers and short-term visitors should know. 

Three Fundamental Things You Need to Know

  • Only those over 18 years old can drive.
  • You need to drive on the left.
  • An international driver’s license is required to drive in Japan.
    • Valid for one year from the date of entry into Japan.
    • You will also need to carry your passport and your country’s driver’s license.
    • If you have a Swiss, German, French, Taiwanese, Belgian, Estonian, or Monaco driver’s license, you can drive for one year after landing in Japan by carrying a Japanese translation of that license with you.
      Please note that the translation should be done by the institutes below.

Traffic Lights

The signal is in three colors: green, yellow, and red.

Green: Cars may go straight or turn left or right

Yellow: Cars may not move further than the stopping point. However, if a vehicle is rapidly approaching the stopping point when the signal changes to yellow, and cannot stop safely, it may continue to proceed.

Red: Cars may not proceed past the stopping point. However, cars, when already making a  turn at an intersection, may continue to proceed even if the signal light on the left/right is red.
*Please note that, unlike some countries, you may not turn left at a red light, even when there are no cars coming.

Green and yellow arrows

Green arrow: Even when the signal is red, you may proceed in the direction indicated by the green arrow.

Yellow arrow: This is a signal for streetcars only. If there is a yellow arrow at a red light, cars may not proceed. If there is a yellow arrow at a green light, cars may proceed, paying attention to the streetcar’s course.

Blinking traffic lights

At night, or on roads with very little traffic, there are times when the red and yellow lights are blinking. When the yellow light is blinking, you may proceed while paying attention to other cars and pedestrians. When it is blinking red, you may stop once and proceed if there is no traffic or pedestrians.

Traffic Signs

“One Way”

You may proceed only in the direction of the arrow.

“Exclusive Lane”

It indicates that the lane is exclusively for the vehicle (mainly buses) described on the sign. Passenger cars are not allowed to drive except when turning left. If the sign has a number such as “7-9”, the lane is for that time period only, and passenger cars are allowed to drive except during that time period.


Where this sign is shown, you must stop at the stop line or in front of the intersection. It is important to stop completely; stop for about three seconds and make sure it is safe before proceeding.

“No Parking”

Parking is “a situation in which the driver is away from the vehicle and cannot drive immediately; loading and unloading of goods for more than five minutes; waiting for people”.

“No Parking nor Stopping”

Stopping, on the other hand, is defined as “a situation in which the driver is away from the vehicle, but can drive immediately; loading and unloading of goods for less than five minutes; passenger(s) getting on and off a vehicle”.

“Road Closed to All Vehicles”

No vehicles are allowed to enter.

“No Entry”

The signs are often located at the exit of one-way streets.

“No U-turn”

“No Overtaking”

Even if there are no signs, overtaking is not allowed at railroad crossings, intersections, and within 30 meters before the railroad crossing or intersection.

For more information about rent-a-car companies, gas stations, etc., in Japan, please read Part 2.
Guide For People Who Plan to Drive in Japan | Part-2