Life in Japan

Passing the Japanese Driving Test (Fuchu, Tokyo)

30 January 2015

It’s been exactly one week since I took my driving test and if you still haven’t heard the news yet, well…


Yes, I am to pass today’s test :D

I told just about the whole world (and then some) the moment I got the news and although it sounds like I’m bragging, but truly, I’m just ecstatic and thankful more than anything else.

It’s something of a miracle that a first-timer at the test can pass it. More so if said first-timer did not even practice on the test route, or any route, for that matter, since the last time she was driving was on the opposite side of the road in USA :O

While waiting to take the test, this is an extremely common conversation:

A: So what attempt is this for you? This is my second try.
B: This is my third attempt. I really hope I pass today! *sighs*
C: This is my fifth time. I failed just yesterday *sighs*

14 of the 18 people present for the test were on their 2nd to 5th attempts, and several also quoted friends who still haven’t passed on their 7 / 8th attempt o_O

I hope I’ve sufficiently established that passing this driving test on the first try is no mean feat.

This is not a buildup to exclaim how awesome and how much of a natural genius driver I am, although I wouldn’t mind being known as that either ;D

I think I just had astonishingly good luck. Seems like my 必勝 (certain victory) omamori that I bought on New Year’s Day is working its wonders! :D

My test was at 8.30am and I woke up at 5.30am -_- Usually 5.30am is the time I sleep rather than the time I wake up, so as you can imagine, it was considerable torture for me. I arrived at the test center at 7.45am and to my horror, the test center was closed and people were queuing outside the doors!

It was a bloody cold morning and the winds were whipping relentlessly. One minute into queueing, I decided I might just freeze to death before I even take the test.

Thank the heavens the doors opened at 8am. Enough time for me to resuscitate the frozen lumps connected to the end of my arms. They’re kinda important when handling the steering wheel, you see.

I tell you, I really think I was meant to pass the test! Signs that the stars were aligned for me to pass:

Sign 1: The tester

We were eventually divided into 2 groups and the moment the tester for my group introduced himself as being “the nicest tester in this facility”, I had a good feeling. Humor is always a good sign!

Sign 2: Order of taking the test

This is important because Japan conducts the test in a rather interesting manner.

Person #1 in line will go behind the wheel while person #2 will sit in the backseat, simply to observe the test! During this time, person in backseat can use the opportunity to see the route, obstacles and note the things to do (or not do).

Once person #1 has finished the test, he will immediately be told if he passed or failed. Then person #2 will take the wheel while person #3 gets in the backseat.

So yes. It sucks to be first.

Very luckily for me, he placed me as the very last person! Which means I get to observe all the people driving off before me! :D

Sign 3: The route

There were 2 routes and my group got the easier route!


The test got underway and I had a bit of a shock when I saw the cars the Fuchu driving center was using. I wryly recalled Fu’s words “Don’t worry la! You think they’ll give you new cars to use meh? Surely give you some lao pok car one!” as I looked at the spanking new Toyota hybrid Prius’ before my eyes -_-

Foot brake + engine start button + “P” button instead of gear shift. Ok, no problem. I can do this. I can work this new information into my memorised-to-death routine.

Starting routine:

  1. Check front and bottom of car.
  2. Check back and bottom of car.
  3. Check for traffic before walking to driver door.
  4. Check for traffic before opening door.
  5. Check foot brake is engaged and car is in “Park”.
  6. Adjust seat.
  7. Adjust mirrors.
  8. Put on seat belt.
  9. Ask if can start engine.
  10. Step on brake, release foot brake, put to “Drive”.
  11. Check over right shoulder, signal right, check again.
  12. Drive.

In the days leading up to the test, I image-trained every night while lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. At other random times during the day, I would practice lane-changing routines. For instance, while halfway through a conversation with Fu.

Lane-changing routine:

  1. Check rear mirror.
  2. Check side mirror.
  3. Check blind spot.
  4. Signal (at least 3 seconds).
  5. Check blind spot again.
  6. Look forward.
  7. Move. NAO.

Overcoming obstacle routine:

There was a obstacle (left section of the road cordoned off with cones) and there was also a routine to it -_-

  1. Check right side mirror.
  2. Check right blind spot.
  3. Signal right.
  4. Check right blind spot again.
  5. Move to the right.
  6. Turn off signal.
  7. Check left side mirror.
  8. Check left blind spot.
  9. Signal left.
  10. Check left blind spot again.
  11. Move left.
  12. Turn off signal.

SO MANY LITTLE THINGS. Seems like I’m spending more time checking for things than focusing on the road in front of me!!!

But I decided not to look for reason in the rules. I just thought of them as game rules that I had to adhere to in order to pass.

When I was about to turn into the crank course, the tester was all “Ok, be careful, the road is very narrow. Go slowly. Slooooowly.”

Usually in crank and S-courses, I just rely on my gut feeling. I was doing the same that day, but it seemed to freak the tester out.

He started guiding me “No no, don’t turn yet. A bit more, a bit more, yes now.”

In that moment, I was going “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” in my head. Why are you doing this?! Stop it stop it stop it! I can do it myself!!!

Because we all know that testers NEVER say anything apart from giving directions on where to turn. The instant they say anything else, it’s THE END.

But I couldn’t possibly tell him to shut up, so I just continued saying “Hai”.

I mentally sighed at failing the test, but decided to just continue pretending I still haven’t failed yet and take the remainder of the test as practice for the next test.

The tester ended up guiding me for both the crank and S-courses =_=

Towards the end of the test, I had to do a right turn, and I instinctively turned into the rightmost lane, but the tester jumped as if someone just jolted him with an electric shock and said “Keep to the left!”

Another mental sigh, although I just responded with a (what sounds to my ears) calm “Hai”.

As I reached the end point, I gave the barest of peeks sideways at what color slip of paper he was holding. Pink = pass. White = fail.

Could it be…???


With that, my tester officially passed everyone – yes, all 9 in my group. That is nothing short of a miracle in itself. Fu said that he must have struck the lottery the day before and it was his last day of work therefore he decided to pass everyone since he’s in such a good mood lol.

What I learned was: It really boils down to which tester you meet with and his mood for that day. In short, it’s all luck.

You could have done everything in the prescribed rules but the tester could still nitpick.
You could have ran a red light and still pass. True story. It happened for someone on the same test day as me.

I had to wait for 2.5 hours after the test for my driver’s license to be issued, but I’ve never been happier waiting for something! :D

I have to stick this on the car for a year:

Sign of a beginner driver on Japanese roads

I’m just SO SO SO GLAD I’m done with this whole driver’s license conversion thing! Now, to NEVER forget to renew my license or else I’ll have to re-do the entire procedure, right from the documents submission!

Alrightey, time for car shopping, perhaps? ;D


  • Reply Wanping 3 February 2015 at 8:03 am

    Next time let’s stick this on our cars and go somewhere fun!!!!

    • Reply Rin 3 February 2015 at 6:04 pm

      Heh, yes! :D

  • Reply Buying a car in Japan • tripleRIN 18 February 2015 at 6:00 pm

    […] We started shopping for a car two days after I got my Japanese license haha! [read the story of how I passed here!] […]

  • Reply Lin 26 March 2016 at 2:35 pm

    I’m taking my test Monday! Converting from an American license. Due to my license expiring soon, I only have one chance! I’m very nervous. I’m concerned about something though… I’m taking a couple lessons before my test and my instructor has been telling me that I have to exit the rear passenger side of the car, check under the BACK, walk to the FRONT, and check under there. But every test I’ve read about does this in reverse order. I know in the real world, checking is checking, but for the test, what should I do?

    • Reply Rin 26 March 2016 at 6:12 pm

      What I (and almost everyone else who took the test on the same day as I) did was to check the front first before checking the back. If you still have a chance to ask your instructor, you can mention it to him/her and see what his/her reply is?

      • Reply Lin 28 March 2016 at 12:32 pm

        Update: Passed! Checking is checking, so just make sure you do it and walk along the passenger side.

        • Reply Rin 30 March 2016 at 3:11 pm

          Congrats! I assumed you checked the back then the front?

  • Reply Julles 7 January 2017 at 10:31 pm

    * you forgot the seatbealt step :)))) “”

    Is it possible to pass the test in tokyo without having a drivers liscence from your country…
    I.e- just go to the test center and pass the test ?

    Or do i have to go to a school before?

    I’ve been driving outside japan for 10 years but i dont have my liscence with me ….

    • Reply Rin 7 January 2017 at 11:46 pm

      I didn’t; putting on the seat belt is under Starting routine step 8 ;)

      No, you can’t. You need to submit paperwork before the practical test and your driver’s license is one of them.

  • Reply Xiao 15 March 2020 at 1:40 am

    Hello Rin,

    Thank you for sharing the experience and tips, and congratulations on passing the test (5 years ago)!!

    I am going to have my first test in Fuchu this coming Monday, and I found your article while searching for tips on taking test in Fuchu. It’s very helpful indeed!

    I had one question while reading it, which is about the right turn you talked about towards the end of the test, where you changed lane into the right lane to prepare for the turn, and the tester stopped from you doing that.

    “Towards the end of the test, I had to do a right turn, and I instinctively turned into the rightmost lane, but the tester jumped as if someone just jolted him with an electric shock and said “Keep to the left!”

    Another mental sigh, although I just responded with a (what sounds to my ears) calm ‘Hai’. ”

    I was reading other posts too, and some people who passed the test mentioned that they did turn into the right lane before making the turn and wasn’t stopped by the tester. I noticed from Google Maps that there is no “left turn only” sign on the leftmost lane, which you ended up using to make the right turn. I wonder what is the correct action to take there? Should I stay in the lane or turn into the right lane?

    Thank you very much in advance!

    • Reply Rin 1 April 2020 at 5:54 pm

      HI Xiao,

      Apologies for the late reply as I just saw this. I hope you’ve successfully passed the test!

      Nonetheless, I’m going to reply just in case it will help anyone else in future.

      I think you misunderstood what I wrote.
      What I wrote was ” I instinctively turned into the rightmost lane”,
      which means: After I turned, I was on the rightmost lane.

      In the original post, I made no mention of what lane I was on before turning but for the record, I was also on the rightmost lane before turning.

      Hope this clarifies!

      • Reply Xiao 2 April 2020 at 4:01 pm

        Hi Rin,

        Thanks for the clarification! I did pass the test, and your blog definitely contributed a great deal to it! Really appreciated your clear documentation.

        I’m also sharing your blog with a friend who is going to take the test tomorrow in Fuchu.

        Thank you again and stay safe!


  • Reply Roy 26 September 2021 at 6:53 pm

    Enjoyed reading your article!! Taking my test soon too. Wish me luck!

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