Step by step cheat-sheet for passing Japanese car drivers license - guaranteed!
Passing a Japanese car drivers license is no problem at all, even though many foreigners fail for a few times before they get it right. This has nothing to do with lack of skill or reluctance to let foreigners on the streets (as many people like to put it). It's all about preparation. Japanese have a procedure for everything, and as long as you follow it, you're fine. The license exam is a test whether you have prepared well and it's your showcase of responsible approach to driving. If you skip squatting behind the car to check for animals under it, you're done. It's very simple. If you appear over-confident, you might be considered a reckless driver.
Here's a step-by-step guide I got from a friend (thank you Rishat!), which assured me to pass the exam in first try without any prior preparation or school (I certainly had a license and drove before in Europe). If you can drive, but need to take the test, simply follow this and you're good to go:
Walk to the back of the car and squat down checking if there’s any animals or obstacles under the car.
Walk to the front of the car and squat down checking if there’s any animals or obstacles under the car.
Walk on the left side of the car, closer to the sidewalk.
Before you walk to the door, check the traffic around the car.
Walk to the door.
Check traffic again, then open the door (open the door as little as possible, don't do a full swing here).
Sneak into the car and before you close the door, leave about 15cm open and look back (through the opening) to check the traffic again.
Close the door.
Lock the door.
Getting into the car
Give your document to the tester. It's nice to greet and say your name.
Adjust your seat.
Adjust rear mirror.
Adjust side mirrors.
Check gear (make sure it is "P").
Check if the emergency brake is on.
Starting the car
Start the car.
Hit the break.
Change the gear to “D”.
Release the emergency brake (make sure the brake handle is all the way down).
Check traffic from rear mirror.
Turn on right signal light.
Check traffic from right side mirror.
Check traffic over from right shoulder (turn right to check traffic, at the mirror's blind point).
Slowly start moving.
Drive as usual and follow tester's instructions. Make sure you extensively check the mirrors (side and middle), and turn around to indicate you're not forgetting the blind spot as well.
Check traffic from rear mirror.
Give left signal.
Check traffic from left side mirror.
Check traffic over from left shoulder.
Stop the car close to the curb (30~50 cm).
Front of the car should be aligned with the number plate.
Change gear to “P”.
Pull the emergency brake.
Switch off the car.
Here's a Google Earth capture of Samezu Drivers License Center in Shinagawa, Tokyo. You can examine the course (all testing areas in Japan look pretty much the same):
Pay attention to the diamonds in the middle of the intersections (or triangles in case of a 3-way intersection. Don't drive over them, drive slowly and make sure your tires don't cross white markings on the floor.
S-Curve and crank
Drive extremely slowly, and if you realize that you're in a wrong position, reverse and adjust the car. Going reverse and adjusting is better than hitting the poles or falling into a ditch in any case.
The easiest way to manage the crank is driving close to the outer side of the road. Drive forward, until the wheels are aligned with the 90° angle. At that point, rotate the steering wheel all the way and drive slowly:
Pretend you're checking for bikes during the exam - but please do it for real once you drive on the real road
During the exam, keep checking all your mirrors and make sure you examine the bike (motorcycle and bicycle) area whenever you make a turn. There won't be any bikes on the test polygon, but share the road at all times once you get the license!
Release your inner coward and drive slowly!
There's no such thing as too much care and worry. Appearing uneasy and extremely careful is the way to go. You might find looking under the car, extensive mirror checking and sliding into the car with minimal door opening silly, but in the end, that's what matters to instructors checking your driving skills. Don't let lack of information cost you the license.
Follow these steps, drive as usual, and get the license!
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