If you’re living in one of the many urban areas in Japan, chances are you may choose to live car-free since we enjoy access to one of the best public transport systems in the world. Even then though, there are times where you may wish to come and go as you please and not be tied to the strict timetables of the trains and buses. Or perhaps like me, you may be looking for an easy way to jet out of town and hit the beaches or mountains without being tied to a hard schedule. Unlike the headache of owning and maintaining a car in Tokyo, finding parking is usually way easier than for a car, and because they are common sights around “Everywhere Japan” (everything from pizzas to the mail is delivered on motorbike), other drivers are looking out for two-wheel traffic more often than their foreign counterparts in other nations.
Of course, in order to operate a motorbike, you’ll need to be properly licensed. You’re able to ride in Japan on a motorcycle license from most countries if you also have an International Drivers License accompanying it, however this is only valid for one year. If you plan on staying in Japan longer, you must obtain a Japanese license. If you already have a motorbike license from most of Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the states of Washington, California and Hawaii in the USA, and many parts of Asia, you may simply go have your license translated officially at any JAF office, then head to the Driver Testing Center in your part of Japan to take a short written exam (in your mother tongue of course), and pick up your new Japanese license. If you aren’t from any of the places where full reciprocity is in place, you will have to take a much shorter version of the standard Japanese road test in addition; this is the exact same rule as for those getting passenger car licenses as well.
Motorbikes are grouped into three different classes:
In addition to these, there is a Moped class (原付) for bikes and scooters with a 50cc engine or less:
Check our “Getting a Scooter License in Japan” article for more details.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the two classes, Ordinary and Heavy.
If you find you must do the Japanese road test, it’s difficult, but not impossible.
Of course if you don’t have a motorbike license from your home country, you can always get one here in Japan, but similarly to a passenger car license, the examination is rigorous with a long written test and two track riding exams that an infinitesimally small amount of people pass even on the third try. Even if you know a thing or two about riding on two wheels, it’s prudent to be like the natives and go to a driving…er— riding school. Many of the larger schools offer the course in English, and it has the added benefit of not having to take an actual road test after completion. But it can be pricy; usually ¥200,000 and up for most courses.
However you are licensed, you’ll next need something to actually ride, yeah? Of course you could simply head to a dealership and purchase a new or used bike, but also check out motorcycle exclusive retailers like Red Baron and online with sites like Goo Bike, WeBike or even Craig’s List to find a deal.
— By Jason L. Gatewood