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Japan’s large metropolitan area around Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya are served by highly efficient public transportation. Consequently, the residents do not need to own a car, if they do not want.
However, public transportation tends to be inconvenient or infrequent outside the big cities, and most people rely on cars to get round.
<Roads and rules>
Cars drive on the left side of the road in Japan and have the driver’s seat and steering wheel on their right side. You can get a driving license after you are 18 years old in Japan. Road signs and rules follow international standards, and most signs on major roads are in Japanese and English.
Drinking alcohol and driving is strictly prohibited. The speed limits on expressways are 80 to 100 km/h, 40km/h in urban areas, 30km/h in side streets and 50 to 60 km/h elsewhere, as a general. However, drivers tend to go a little over the posted speed limits.
You have to pay toll on expressways and some scenic driving routes. Road conditions tend to be very good, although side streets in the cities can be rather narrow or even impassable to larger vehicle. Traffic retardation is a frequent problem in and around urban centers.
Drivers tend to be well mannered and considerate, as a general, however some common dangers on Japanese roads include drivers speeding over intersections even well after the traffic light has turned red, people stopping their vehicles at the edge of the road in a way in which they block traffic, and careless cyclists, especially those who ride on the wrong side of the road.
<International driving permits>
Foreigners can drive in Japan with an International Driving Permit (IDP) for a maximum of one year, even if the IDP is valid for a longer period.
It is not possible to drive on an International Driving Permit again, if you return to your home country for at least three consecutive months in between. International driving permits are not issued in Japan and should be obtained in your home country in advance. You usually get the permit through your country’s national automobile association for a small fee. Japan only recognizes international driving permits based on the 1949 Geneva Convention, which are issued by a large number of countries.
Belgium, France, Germany, Monaco, Slovenia, Switzerland and Taiwan do not issue permits based on the 1949 Geneva Convention, but they have a separate agreement that allows drivers from these countries to drive in Japan for up to one year with an official Japanese translation of their driver’s license.
A translation can be obtained from the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) or some of the respective countries’ embassies or consulates in Japan. People from other countries where international driving permits are not recognized by Japan and people who stay in Japan for more than one year, must obtain a Japanese driver’s license.