Is it Safe to Drive in Japan? Road Safety Tips

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Thinking of driving in Japan? Find out how to get around safely, and what driving license you require in Japan.


The way to terminal of Tokyo Haneda International Airport in Japan Photo © Getty Images/Taro Hama @ e-kamakura

The cities, especially Tokyo, experiences chaos, closeness of bodies all around you and stimulation of all your senses. You may find this, probably in equal parts, overwhelming and exhilarating.

Crowds and chaos in Tokyo

One recent American traveler described Tokyo, one of the largest cities in the world, as "too much" because of it's sounds, flashing lights and colors.

There are people rushing around everywhere, filling up streets and shops, and most roads are very narrow, squeezing people together like sardines.

There's music blared all day along with JumboTrons, pachinko parlours and sales people who constantly yell out the specials each day.

If you like noise and crowds, check out Tokyo's "electric" city, Akihabara. This is a truly crazy area, but it's also a buzz to experience. It's packed with the latest technology for sale. You can even find "antique" Walkmans and other toys from your youth in this techy palace.

Driving around Tokyo (and beyond)

Walking with even an inch of personal space is a feat in itself, so you can imagine what driving is like.

What's more, people like to speed on these strips of street, so whether you're a pedestrian or a motorist, be extra alert.

  • Cities are congested, which can cause you to spend a few hours going 30km
  • Typical dangers include drivers speeding through red lights at intersections and blocking traffic and people riding bicycles on the wrong side of the road
  • The rules of the road are also quite complex even if you do speak Japanese
  • Tolls on highways are expensive, and you're not allowed to park on the side of the road if you encounter car trouble
  • Inclement weather may shut down rural roads all together.

If you do decide to give driving a go, the Japanese drive on the left and the legal age to operate a vehicle is 18.

Driving license for Japan

While the country does recognize certain international driving permits, several nationalities are required to get a Japanese license to drive.

Getting around Tokyo

Possibly only the mad/brave would drive in Tokyo. Luckily, and despite the rush-hour crowds, the Tokyo subway is very well-maintained.

Remember this is the country where station attendants pack commuters into carriages until there's not an inch left unfilled. However, everyone acts in a civilized manner, so the situation is merely claustrophobic, not completely maddening.

Still, it's best to travel out of peak hours to avoid the situation.

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