Q. Can I drive in Japan with my own countries license?
A. No. If you are stopped by the police for even the smallest thing they will always ask to see your driving license (please don’t pretend you can’t speak Japanese, that will only get you either detained or arrested until an interpreter can be found and also these days a lot of police can speak basic ‘traffic English’)
If you can’t produce a Japanese license the police will hold you and probably prosecute you. Not having a driving license can be a serious matter if you have been involved in an accident, even if it wasn’t your fault!
You can drive in Japan on an international driver’s license (for up to one year only) but it is better to get a Japanese license. This can be done quite easily by taking your current license and your passport to the local motor vehicle office. If you have a clean license and your visa is not a tourist type visa then you should be able to simply convert to a Japanese license
Important – If you have lived in Japan for more than one year then have no choice you must convert your current driver’s license into a Japanese license.
In Japan, cars drive on the left side of the road and have their steering wheels on the right side. The legal minimum age for driving is 18 years.
Q. I really think I need some legal advice but I don’t want to go to see an expensive lawyer straight away. Is there an alternative?
A. Yes. Most town or ward office offer something called a ‘horitsu sodan’ – legal consultation on a weekly or bi weekly basis.
You should have a competent Japanese speaker with you and be able to explain your problem in clear simple terms. You will need to call ahead and make an appointment. Don’t expect much more than general guidance and possibly a reference to a lawyer specializing in the field that you are inquiring about. If possible bring a written explanation of what you are talking about
Here’s a good link for Tokyo that has more information such as places and times. If you are from another part of Japan they will tell you where to call.
Tokyo Metropolitan Foreign Residents’ Advisory Center
Q. Help. I’ve been arrested. I need a lawyer.
A. Well first thing find out if you have actually been arrested (Taiho)
The Japanese police have a wide latitude in detaining and holding suspects without actually arresting them. You might simply be ‘helping’ the police with their enquires or you are being held while you make a statement about your side of the story.
If this is the case then a lawyer will not be able to help you in any practical way. Save that step for later.
Even if your Japanese language skills are excellent it is far better at this stage for you to ask for an interpreter before answering any questions or especially making a statement. You have that right and the police have a list of court registered interpreters in most common languages.
An interpreter will be able to accurately explain to you the police’s questions and then correctly interpreter your answers. An interpreter will also assist you in checking the details of your statement before you sign it.
Remember that statement is the core document that the police and prosecutors will use to make any decisions regarding further action so it had better be a clear reflection of your story. Once you’ve signed it, don’t ever change the story that it tells.
Many non Japanese have found themselves in hot water because they weren’t able to clearly explain what happened and ended up signing a document saying something completely at odds with what they meant to say.