Special Feature 「Japanese Culture that Amazes the World」Vol.4. Transportation

07/01/2016 (mm/dd/yyyy)



Even after living in Japan for a long time, there are still things that foreigners have questions about.
Please feel free to ask us for information about life in Japan.

I just got my driver’s license. Please tell me about traffic regulations.
I don’t know the meaning of hazard light and flashing headlight.


I often see a lot of foreigners driving and using cars to get around. I think a lot of those who ride bicycles are either students or trainees.

If you have a driver’s license issued by your home country and wish to convert to a Japanese driver’s license, you must submit the necessary documents to the Driver’s Licensing Center and must take a test.

If you previously had a Japanese driver’s license or your country has an agreement with Japan, you are exempted from taking the test.

Applicants, who take lessons at authorized driving schools or practice on their own, must take the written test and actual driving test at the Driver’s Licensing Center. Test versions in Japanese, English, Portuguese, and Chinese are available to test takers.




Please drive safely once you get your driver’s license. When you buy a car, you will have to purchase the mandatory vehicle liability insurance and do not forget to purchase the voluntary insurance as well.

According to the police, the most common traffic accidents are rear end collisions and collisions at intersections. It is dangerous to tailgate as the car in front might make a sudden stop. Also, accidents can occur if you don’t stop at intersections without traffic light or you don’t check and look to your right and left before proceeding. What might have been okay yesterday might not hold true today as there might be bicycles or pedestrians. It is too late to regret after.




Vehicles must stop if pedestrians are waiting to cross the pedestrian lane. Bicycles also travel on the left side of the road and must observe traffic safety rules.

In addition, you must not drink and drive. Violation carries a stiff penalty. Penalty will not only be imposed on the driver, but the person who served the alcohol, the person riding with the drunk driver and the person who provided the vehicle will be punished as well.


Compared to other countries, you often do not hear honking of horns here because one can be penalized for indiscriminate honking. It is illegal to honk at the vehicle in front that doesn’t move immediately or at a vehicle that cuts thru, so let us refrain from doing so.

Hazard light is used when the vehicle needs to park or stop due to an emergency, when traveling at a slow speed while pulling another vehicle, and when the vehicle at the end of a line of vehicles in a highway signals the vehicle behind it to reduce speed due to traffic. It is also switched on when a big truck wants to reverse and when travelling during a heavy downpour and foggy condition. It is also used to express gratitude to the vehicle that yielded the right of way.

Flashing headlight might refer to a vehicle warning an incoming vehicle of a speed trap (policeman monitoring an area for speed violation) or police inspection ahead. It could also mean ‘your headlight is bright’. At intersection, it means ‘please give way’ or at areas near a pedestrian lane, it means ‘please stop and yield to pedestrians or if a vehicle behind is flashing its headlight, it means [Get out of my way].

These are non-verbal means to convey one’s intention, thus it might be difficult to decipher its meaning.




For more information, please read [Transportation] in the Lifestyle Guide section of our website.

May 2016 Takako Tomita