Renewing a License in Japan

Highway Junction

After getting my driver’s license converted from a Canadian license to a Japanese one in 2007, I had two years to keep it until it expired.  The following post is information about my trip to the Driver’s License Office in Toyocho, to renew my license.  Do note that a lot of my information is almost exactly the same as Japanese Pod 101 by Daniel.

The first thing to do when renewing your license in Tokyo is to go to the correct License office.  When I converted my license from a Canadian one to a Japanese one, I had to go to the Samezu Driver’s License Office.  This time, I had three options.  If you are renewing after the first time, you can usually head to around 17 different locations.  Many of them are just local police offices where they don’t need many staff to help you.  If it’s your first renewal, you only have the choices of Fuchu, Samezu, and Koto (Toyocho), as they are the only offices that conduct long lectures.

Some windmills between Misawa and Mutsu

Upon arriving in Toyocho, you have to figure out what to do and where to go.  There are no English signs to be seen, so you are left to guess what to do.  The easiest thing to do is head straight for the information counter where they’ll instruct you on your first stop.  For me, it was “window 0”.  From there, I presented my renewal card, which I received in the mail, and my license.  From there, they print out a license renewal form.  I had to write down my name, address, birthdate, and phone number.  Incidentally, I didn’t add my phone number as I didn’t know what number they were actually looking for until later in the process.  After that was complete, I headed to the cashier’s booth, “window 1”.  4250 Yen lighter, I had my payment stamp and I was ready to complete my next task.  Rather than just rubber stamping the form saying I paid, they gave me a physical stamp which I had to moisten and affix to the back of my form.  Afterwards, I was off to “window 4”.

Window 4 is more of an area than a window.  This is where you choose your personal PIN number which is linked to your card.  You must choose two numbers, and they can be anything you’d like.  As Daniel mentioned, it could be the same number.  You’ll be given a “receipt” with your numbers on them and a barcode.  You should not throw this away.  You then head to a line-up which resembles entering a secured area of an airport.  You enter a door, from which you stand in front of an eye chart.  If you have glasses, they ask you to remove them and do some sort of test.  Since I had lasik surgery last year, this wasn’t necessary, although I had to inform them that I did have surgery.  The actual eye exam was simple; just look through the lenses for your eyes, and say which way the “C” is facing: up, down, left, or right.  It’s a Landolt C chart, but with only four options.  Once you are past “security”, you meet the inspector.  He will make sure you have your form filled out properly and stamp the appropriate locations saying you paid.

At an unknown dam along route 55.

The next process takes a little more time for foreign nationals.  You line up and give your license and form to one officer.  He invalidates the old license by placing it in a small box which punches a hole through it, removing the IC chip embedded into the card.  From there, he does whatever paperwork is required.  In my case, he had to write my name, which took a LONG time as he probably writes English once a month, if at all.  He had to copy my Alien Registration Card information, including my visa information onto the form, which was then given to another woman who proceeded to input some information and print it out.  After checking that my name and address was correct, I was off to the photo “booth”.  At this point, they take the pin number receipt from me, take my photo, and instruct me to head to the second floor with only a small part of the renewal form left.  Note that this is your receipt saying you paid your fee and you went through all of the mandatory checks.

This is where things start to get boring.  On the second floor, they hand me a package of three books and an envelope.  They also instruct me on where my class will be held.  I believe they hold all classes on the third floor, in rooms 10 and 11, but don’t quote me on that.  Be sure to check with the person giving you the information.  I was in room 11.  By this time, I had spent about 15 minutes at the License Office.  I took my seat and waited for the class to start.  The class is two hours long.  The rough breakdown of the class is as follows.  15 minutes to instruct you on what you should have, what your renewal form should say.  The instructor pretty much went over basic procedures two or three times before he started the actual “lesson/lecture”.  I use this term very loosely.  He proceeded to inform us about the changes to the license structure, I think, and then showed us a video.  It was a heart wrenching video of what happens if you drink and drive.  The main character killed a little boy and severely injured his older sister.  He confessed after a few days and he was sentenced to five years in prison.  His wife had to apologise to the victim’s family, but they wouldn’t accept it.  She also had to get two jobs to support the drunk driver’s two children.  They had an older son who became a punk and disobeyed his mother.  In the end, the drunk driver’s wife killed herself and he was left alone.  The video itself has a serious message, but I had a tough time taking it seriously.  It felt like an after school special, or an in school version.  I’d hope that all adults know the consequences of their actions and don’t drink and drive.  After the video, we had a quick break to stretch and get a drink.  The last part of the lecture was a talk about recent statistics on accidents and deaths related to driving.  He also informed us to not use cell phones while driving, be attentive, and direct us to the important parts of the books that were handed to us before we entered the lecture.

Tsurusu PA. Unagi is very popular.

Once finished, everyone rushed to the exit, unless they were half asleep, and up to the fourth floor.  This is where we could pick up our new licenses.  Since we had a two hour lecture, everything was ready for us.  Just hand over what’s left of your renewal form, pick up your new license and off to the card reading terminal.  Place it on the screen, enter your PIN numbers, and you are done.  Don’t forget to check that all the information is correct, but who really does that?

Please do note that many things are bound to change.  The window numbers themselves aren’t guaranteed.  The machines that I have described can change.  The floor where you pick things up, or take a lecture can also change.  The lecture itself will change as the statistics change, and what I have described is based on my poor ability with Japanese.  It can also depend greatly on who is giving the lecture.  They may feel seatbelts are more important, where another will talk about how women are bad drivers.  Mine decided that talking on the phone and highlighting defensive driving techniques were important.  I feel I have understood the basics of the lecture, but I am sure that many of the things that I described in the lecture portion could be wrong.  This is only a guide to give you more information on what to do and what will happen so that you aren’t worried if you ever have to perform this task.

To read more about Renewing a License in Japan (2009), please visit the following posts on Dru’s Misadventures:

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