Learning to Drive in Japan – Vocabulary

For most people coming to live in Japan, driving will simply be a case of changing one’s existing licence to an International Driver’s Licence. Sometimes though, depending on which country you hail from, you may be required to take a test. For others who never learned to drive at all, the process is much longer and more intensive.

For me, that’s exactly the situation I’ve found myself in. Never needing a driver’s licence at university, I passed up the opportunity to learn before coming to Japan. Yet now I find myself wanting to drive; wanting to share the effort on long car journeys with friends and travel to remote locations that aren’t really accessible by public transport. But learning to drive in Japan is not easy. There are few English materials available outside of a select few driving schools, and the schools themselves cost an incredible amount of money to attend. So I’ve opted to learn by myself, borrowing books form friends and practising in vacant car parking areas.

The process is in roughly 4 steps. First you must take the written and practical tests in a test centre for the provisional driver’s licence, and following a suitable amount of practice, you must then also take another written and practical test out on the road to gain the full licence. Without English materials to study from though, it’s necessary to learn all the knowledge a driver needs from Japanese textbooks. So today I’d like to begin with the first in a series of posts for helping you learn to drive in Japan. There are few good resources out there on the internet to help foreigners in Japan learn to drive form scratch in Japan, so hopefully this will go some way to filling the gap.

To begin the series then, we’ll be looking at the basic terminology and key terms you’ll encounter when reading through the textbooks. Let’s go!

Types of Vehicle

Each of the below terms refer to something quite specific, and these are important for beating the trick questions in the exam. Learn them well!

Note: The word 車 is usually used to refer to ‘car’, but it actually means ‘wheel’ or ‘wheeled vehicle’. In the driver’s licence test, 車 refers to various types of vehicles like regular cars, mopeds and bicycles. 自動車, on the other hand, only refers to motorised vehicles, such as regular cars and motorbikes.


くるま など

Cars (etc.)

車と路面電車。 – Cars and street trams.


くるま (しゃりょう)

Cars (vehicles)

自動車・原動機付自転車・軽車両・トロリーバス。 – Cars, mopeds, light vehicles and trolley buses.



Motor vehicles

原動機(エンジン)で、レールや架線を使わずに運転する車。 – Vehicles with an engine that do not travel along rails or by using overhead wires.
注意: 原動機付自転車は含まれません。 Caution: does not include mopeds.


げんどうき つき じてんしゃ


総排気量50cc以下のミニカー以外の車。 – Vehicles other than mini cars with an engine displacement of up to 50cc. (For most purposes this refers to two-wheeled mopeds).



Light vehicles

自転車(電動含む)、荷車、リヤカー、そり、牛馬など。 – Bicycles (including electric), carts, wagons, sleighs and cattle.
注意: 身体障害者用の車椅子、歩行補助車、小児用の車は含まれません。 Caution: Wheelchairs, vehicles to assistant walking and prams are not included.

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9 Responses to Gakuu. Studying with Real Japanese

  1. Sabrina September 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    This is pretty cool! Right now I’m studying on Textfugu which is great! I belive Gakuu can be really helpul too. What I like most is that its for pre-intermediate to advanced level students. So you can’t say its the same thing over and over again… students can actually improve their knowledge here. Thank you very much for creating this site. Have a nice day :)

    • Gakuranman September 30, 2010 at 1:09 am #

      Hi Sabrina! Thank you for your comment :).

      That’s definitely our aim. I love Textfugu for beginners and really getting students a solid grounding in the language, but afterwards (and even while) studying the basics, it can really help to encounter raw Japanese material. You don’t have to understand everything at first, but feeling challenged and picking up little bits here and there that are extra to your learning the basics helps expand your mind. Let me know if you have any more questions! More demonstration material will be up soon! We are currently having a special launch sale price for early adopters, so check out the pricing page if interested :).

      • Sabrina September 30, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

        Thanks for your reply. :) Unfortunately I’m even still miles away from the intermediate level. But I’ll definetly return to Gakuu when I get to this point. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the extra demonstration material. :) Keep up the good work.

        • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 12:21 am #

          Sure thing :). Let me know if you have any other questions or suggestions for things you’d like to see on Gakuu!

  2. missingno15 October 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    When I looked at this, I first thought to myself, “aw hell no, gakuranman is doing the same thing as koichi…even the website layout is similar”. But then I realized “it’s aimed at pre-intermediate to advanced level students” which is perfect for my situation right now because I now really want to excel way past beginner. So basically, Gakuu really complements Textfugu. Can’t wait for more lessons to see how this is gonna be like so I can decide if its worth getting.

    • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

      Hey there! Thanks for dropping by :). No way – Koichi and I are buds. I’ve always loved teaching the more advanced stuff so it worked out perfectly. I’ll be adding more stuff in the coming days, so please stay tuned!

      • Lee Aloy October 23, 2016 at 5:20 am #


        I am sorry to ask this silly question. Are you Japanese?
        am hoping to find a Japanese friends here please shot me an email:

  3. DumbOtaku (percent20) October 3, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    This is really cool. I am glad to see more online content going beyond just teaching hirigana and katakana. That is what I try to do on my blog, but with to little consistency. Glad to see an expert do it, btw already a signed-up paid member now. :)

    • Gakuranman October 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

      Glad to have you man! Look forward to hearing any suggestions you have for the site and future lessons :)

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