Public transportation in Japan is amazing, but sometimes you just need to get a car and hit the road. This can be an incredible experience for finding Japan's hidden gems, but the biggest roadblock visitors face is not having the right kind of license. This is especially true for motorcycle rental, as Japan has different kinds of licenses for different bike sizes. Be sure you have what you need before you arrive!
You need an International Driving Permit (IDP)!
Unfortunately there aren't many exceptions to this rule. A few select countries allow drivers to have their own license plus a Japanese translation only, but the most common option for people is to get an IDP in your home country. If you come to Japan without it, you won't be able to get the IDP here.
Where to get the permit
Every country is different, so please check your own local rules for getting the IDP, but it's usually very simple to obtain. For example, United States citizens can get theirs from AAA by just submitting two pictures and paying $15 at a local AAA office.
Who can use an IDP in Japan?
Even if you can get the IDP in your country, it won't necessarily be valid in Japan. That's because only citizens of countries that signed the Geneva Convention can use an IDP in Japan. Before you rent a car, be sure to check the list of countries that has signed the Geneva Convention, and make sure you'll be allowed to rent. The rental car companies are quite strict on this matter. However, if you are from Switzerland, Taiwan, or Slovenia you need an official translation of your license instead of an IDP.
What kinds of cars can I drive?
There are different boxes on the IDP that are stamped based on the kind of vehicle you can drive. Box "B" is for passenger cars up to 9 passengers, and the "D" box is for vehicles with 10 passengers or more. If you plan to rent a motorcycle you need to have a motorcycle license from your home country.
An International Driving Permit is only valid for one year. If you plan on staying longer than one year you will need to apply for a proper Japanese license.
In order to make a new IDP after one year, you need to be outside of Japan for at least three months.
When you rent a car and are Driving, always have the IDP as well as your passport on-hand.