Monthly Archive January 2011

ByRay Proper
Jan 13, 2011

Get a Scooter License in Japan

Japan-driver-licenseIf you live in a major city in Japan you do not need much in the way of a car or scooter to get around. The public transportation system is pretty convenient, and will generally get you where you need to go.

There are times in the city when a scooter is convenient, such as when lugging a weeks’ worth of groceries home on the subway, but if you live in a small town simple scooter can make a huge difference in your quality of life and the good news is; getting a 50cc or smaller scooter-only license is fairly painless.

If getting licensed to drive a car is your aim, this is not the article for you, but you can find more information on that subject at Japan Drivers License.  If you are already licensed to drive a “regular car,” the standard driving license in Japan, you are already licensed to ride a scooter of the size discussed in this article; 50cc or less. Congratulations, you are now free to move about the country on your scooter.

If that is not the case, you will need to get licensed to ride a scooter.  For the purposes of Japanese law, a scooter is a two wheeled vehicle with an engine size of less than 50cc.  Anything else is a motorcycle, and you need a separate license that is much harder and more expensive to get.  The “large scooters” you see cruising the streets are not classified as scooters, but “automatic transmission motorcycles,” and you will need a special license to drive one.

Getting a 50cc engine or below scooter license requires somewhere between 4,000-12,000 yen, and depending on where you are about a half a day of your time.  Getting a motorcycle license, on the other hand, will cost 10x that amount to start with, increasing in increments of time and money based on engine size.

Getting Your Scooter License in Japan

To start with , you must take a 50 question written test at the local driver’s licensing center.   The test is not especially difficult, but they may or may not be available in English depending on where you live.  If they are in English, understanding exactly what they are asking can often still be a challenge as many prefectures use  direct or “automatic” translations of the questions.  The best way to prepare for this exam is to read “Rules of the Road”, available from the Japan Auto Federation.  Many of the questions are common sense, but there will also be some very specific questions about basic rules of the road, and some specific to proper scooter operation and safety.

After passing the test , you will be taken to a classroom for a driving safety class. It takes about an hour, and is conducted in Japanese. Just nod and smile; they will probably assume you do not understand but it wont matter, this is not a graded exercise and as long as you stay awake you should be OK.

After the class you will be taken to a driving course for your 3 hour Safe Driving Course,  where you will be introduced to the basics of the scooter: how to use the kickstand, start it, accelerate, brake, etc.  At the conclusion of the class you will get your license if you have managed not to hurt yourself or others.

Requirements for Riding a 50cc Scooter


  • Regular (car) driver’s license holders are also licensed to drive a scooter of 50cc or less
  • Be 16 years or older

Required Tests

  • Written test
  • Generally there is NO driving test
  • 3 hour Safe Driving Course

Required Documents

  • Alien Registration Card and 1 photocopy
  • License Application Form
  • Passport Photo (head shot, 30mm x 24mm)
  • Inkan / Name stamp
  • Proper riding clothes



ByRay Proper
Jan 11, 2011

The Luckiest Man is at Tōka-Ebisu Festival in Hyogo Prefecture

Nishinomiya Jinja is a Shinto shrine in Nishinomiya, in Hyogo Prefecture near Kobe, Japan. Nishinomiya Jinja is the main shrine representing the Ebisu sect of the Shinto religion and its 3,500 shrines.  It is known locally as “Ebessan,” and more broadly as “Ebisu Jingu.” Two parts of the shrine itself are of note historically: the front gate (omote-daimon), colloquially kmown as the “Aka-mon, or red gate,” and “oneri-bei,” a large plaster wall  are both designated Important Cultural Properties in Japan to be cherished and protected.  While the original date of establishment has been lost to history, the shrine has been mentioned in documents since at earliest the Heian Period, between 794 and 1185 C.E

Every January 10th Nishinomiya Jinja hosts its most famous attraction, the annual “Luckiest Man,” or Tōka-Ebisu Festival, as a part of New Year festivities to pray for good business opportunities. The race’s traditions began during the Edo period, in celebration of one of the seven gods of fortune, Ebisu. Every year more than 6,000 contestants gather at the main gate of the shrine on a crisp winter morning to await the drums that signal the opening of the shrines main gate. Once the gate is opened, the assembled masses rush the 230 meters to the main hall of the shrine. Traditionally, the first three to the hall are bestowed the title “lucky men,” while the first person gets to be the “luckiest man.” I am not sure what that brings you perk wise, but it sounds pretty cool.

Take a look at the video below; it gives you a pretty good idea of the mad scramble that is this festival, and makes it so famous!

ByRay Proper
Jan 05, 2011

Magome Tsumago: A Glimbse of Edo Japan Near Nagoya

One of my favorite day trips from Nagoya is to Magome and Tsumago in Nagano Prefecture. They are two restored and preserved Edo-period way stations on the Nakasendo in Nagano Prefecture. Nakasando is similar to the more famous Tokaido, both very old roads that connected Kyoto with what is now Tokyo. The two and half hours it takes to walk between the two stations is filled with very historic buildings and scenery reminiscent of the Edo period, except for the slightly more touristy feel of Magome, which boasts a plethora of good places to eat and buy knick knacks.


  • From Nagoya Station take the Shinano Express on the JR Chuo Line to Nagano and get off at Nakatsugawa. From there take a local train (futsu) to Nagiso or an hourly bus to Magome.
  • There are buses from Nagiso to Tsumago and an infrequent bus runs between Magome and Tsumago.
  • There are Meitestu Highway buses from Nagoya Station to Magome (90 mins)
  • By car take Route 19 to Nakatsugawa and Nagiso or by Chuo Expressway the journey is about 1 hour 15 mins in normal traffic.

See a longer article about this destination on the Japan Visitor Blog

Here is a video that will give you some idea about what you can see on a trip to Magome and Tsumago.