If you plan to stay in Japan longer than three years, you will have to renew your license at some point if you would like to continue driving in Japan (without serious consequences, of course).
Sometime a few months before your license expires, you should receive a postcard in the mail telling you that your license is nearing its renewal period. The renewal period is going to be two months around your birthday. Be sure to read this postcard thoroughly (using Google Translate if you have to) so that you know what you need to do in order to renew your license. The process is slightly different depending on where in Gunma you live.
- If you live in Maebashi, Takasaki, or [insert other select places here, I forget sorry]: Congrats! You only need to go to the Maebashi Traffic Center and get everything done in one day! Skip ahead to renewal period.
- If you live in another part of Gunma: Be prepared to have to go to a different place first to process your paperwork before you can go do the driving safety class at the Maebashi Traffic Center. This process may also take several weeks, so plan accordingly.
Because I live in Takasaki, I can’t speak for how the process is in other places, however, here is a friend from Kiryu’s personal account of how the process was different for them:
On [the postcard] is a list of places you can go depending on your region.
So for me, I went to Kiryu and they processed my paperwork on the spot and then booked me for the review course a week later.
If you have to go to Maebashi, I don’t know what the wait time for that is. You should call them to confirm when, BUT it can all be done in a single day, whereas mine was split over the three.
From what I saw, when I went to Maebashi (by accident lol) you just go into the small building to process the postcard, then into the main building to watch the lecture.
You’ll need Japanese for the first part, but honestly not the second, just tune out for the lecture lol
Since when I went and arrived for the lecture five minutes early, they were like OH GO HURRY PROCESS YOUR POSTCARD not realising I had already done it all in Kiryu, so I’m 99% sure you could just rock up and do it. Maybe more than five minutes before the lecture lol.
If you don’t go to Maebashi it cannot be done in a single day. And it can take a few weeks. Just bear that in mind if you’re cutting it close. Like, I went to my first visit on November 5th, went to Maebashi on the 16th (but I should have gone to Kiryu again); the earliest pickup date for my new license from Kiryu was the 28th. But it was just an hour each Kiryu visit. Maebashi will be a whole day, but just one day.
Do not let the renewal period lapse before you renew your license. I am told there is a 6-month grace period in which you can still renew your license without extra steps, but you will have to pay a lot more (I don’t know how much more; don’t find out the hard way). If you do not renew your license within this grace period you will have to start the entire process all over again including the practical test.
Luckily, the renewal process is A LOT easier to do than the initial acquisition of your Japanese license, so there’s no reason to worry unless extenuating circumstances prevent you from renewing your license within the renewal period (in which case you will have to contact the traffic center and provide proof of your extenuating circumstance in order for them to make an exception for you).
Unlike your multiple attempts at passing the practical test (if you had to take it several times), you shouldn’t have to use Nenkyuu to renew your license. Most, if not all, BOEs/COs must give you Tokkyuu for license renewal, since it’s something Japanese people also have to do on a regular basis if they drive. Make sure you ask about using Special Leave for this process if needed. There is a specific word for it in Japanese, which escapes me, but I just presented my postcard to the admin staff at my work and they immediately understood what I needed to do. [ETA: this special word might be 職免 shokumen]
Making an appointment
When you go to the Maebashi Traffic Center, you do NOT need to call in advance to make an appointment unless you want to go on a Sunday. Just bring your postcard, license, and ~3,000-5,000 yen in cash (unless you already processed the paperwork ahead of time like our friend in Kiryu).
The hours of reception at the Maebashi Traffic Center are listed on your postcard. I arrived right at 8:30am and meandered my way through the process.
You are probably going to be very confused, and I very much was. The steps are generally as follows:
- Go into the little building NEXT TO the main building. Yes, your postcard appears to only tell you to go into the main building, and yes you do go there. Eventually. Go to the LEFT of the main entrance to the little building on the side. There should be a person waiting right inside the door to direct you to where you need to go. It’s okay, don’t be shy.
- The person by the door will tell you which window to go to. Follow their instructions.
- In my experience, I was asked which um… “license package” I wanted to purchase–I’ll be honest, I panicked and just went with the more expensive one because I had no idea what I was doing. I ended up getting a bunch of extra little things, some kind of rewards card with a fancy case, some stuff I have no idea what to do with. Something about first grade elementary students and umbrellas—I am as confused as you are. Don’t be like me; relax and use your critical thinking skills.
- They will instruct you to fill out some paperwork and a questionnaire. Do that, and then head to the first floor of the main building. It helps to follow people that look like they know what they’re doing, or follow the path marked on the floor.
- The path should lead you to a little room where you do the vision test (the same place you took your vision test before getting your license). Do that, then go to the window that they direct you toward.
- After you go to the window, the person will accept your paperwork and tell you to go over to a little machine where you make an 8-digit pin number (literally any series of numbers you can come up with that isn’t something dumb like 1234 5678 or 0000 0000, etc.). The code is just for security and verification purposes. After the machine spits out a little barcode receipt, take it, sit down in the waiting area, and listen for when they call your name.
- When they call your name (generally they call people up in groups), they will give you another piece of paper that you must bring to the person taking your picture.
- After you get your picture taken, they will tell you to go to a numbered room down the hall. That is the classroom where you will sit and pretend to listen for the next two hours.
It’s all in Japanese and cellphones and other electronic devices are not allowed while class is in session. Good luck, have fun! :’)
Your New License
When class is finished, you can leave with the materials they gave you (you don’t have to prove that you paid attention in class, just fyi), and then line up with everyone else to receive your new license.
Before you leave
You will probably notice some people stopping by some machines near the exit to place their license on an IC card reader thing. Remember that 8-digit code you made? This is your chance to use it and verify that the license you received is, in fact, your license and not someone else’s by mistake. At least… I think that’s what was happening…?
Enjoy your renewed license!