There are basically two ways of getting your license here:
1. From a driving school
2. From a driving camp.
A driving camp is basically a two to three week intensive course. A lot of them offer guarantees for getting a license and they're also cheaper than a driving school, but I wanted to take my time and make sure that I had actually mastered everything, so I chose a driving school.
Learning from a Driving School
The course basically has two stages and I took roughly two months per stage.
Stage 1 was the "indoor" course and basically consisted of a minimum of 15 practical lessons and 10 theory lessons. Each lesson is about 50min long. This part of the course is to teach you the technical aspects of driving - how to switch lanes, turn a corner, reverse, avoid roadblocks, etc. I actually took 18 lessons to get the hang of everything, because I was learning to drive a manual car and the clutch gave me so many problems.
My sister is actually taking driving lessons in Singapore right now, and she told me that she's driving on the road from the start. I actually prefer the system here, because everything in this stage was done in the school's driving compound. So I didn't really have to worry about other drivers (apart from the other students) and could focus on the more technical aspect.
To graduate from stage one, I needed to first past a 仮テスト (kari test) which is basically a theory test that makes sure you were paying attention in theory class. The passing rate is 90% and luckily, I passed it on the first go.
The test to graduate from stage one is called 修了検定 (shuuryou kentei), but I'm not sure if it's a standardised name. The test consists of a practical portion (we have to drive one of three possible routes, but the examiners will be giving directions), a theory portion and a physical test. The physical test is basically to make sure you can stretch your arms and that you can see well-enough. Since I have to wear glasses, this means that me wearing glasses is a condition for driving.
After passing this test, I got my 仮免許 (kari menkyo) or temporary license, which allows me to drive on the roads for lesson or examination purposes and only if I'm accompanied by a qualified instructor.
Stage 2 is the "outdoor" stage and this consists of at least 19 practical lessons and 16 theory lessons. Luckily for me, I did not have to take more practical lessons. The practical lessons are basically for you to learn how to drive with others, and involves things like planning a route, driving on a highway (this was a special 3 hour lesson), and well, everything I learnt in stage one, but now at a higher speed and with lots more people. I actually forked out more money to be able to attend the last few lessons, and I used that to practice driving at night. I also managed to practice driving in the rain a few times, which I'm glad happened because if my first time driving in the rain was all alone, I'd be rather panicked.
I thought the theory lessons in stage two were more interesting as well. There was about three hours spent on first aid, which means that I'm supposed to know how to perform CPR, and there was one lesson on how our personality affects our driving. We actually took an OD personality test the day we entered the school, and that lesson was teaching us how to interpret the test results and how we could use that to make sure that we drove safely.
To graduate from stage 2 and the school, I had to take another 仮テスト and then pass something called a 卒業検定 (sotsugyou kentei). Unlike the previous exam, this was practical-only exam.
How I Studied Driving Theory
After I graduated from driving school but before I got my license, I had to go to the Fukuoka Driver's License Test Center and take one more theory exam. But before I took the test, I did a lot of practice using Musasi
Musasi is basically where you can practice all the past year questions online. The school did give us actual workbooks, but I preferred to use the online one and I really think that this was the reason why I could pass all my theory papers in one go. If your school has this program, I highly recommend you take full advantage of it. Apart from past year papers and letting you practice by subject, they also have a section with questions that are commonly answered wrongly, and I found that to be very helpful.
Final Theory Exam and Getting my License
I got to the test centre at 8 am and the first thing I had to do was to pay money to take the test (1,700 yen if I remember right) and then submit all my documents. You also need a piece of ID, so don't forget your gaijin card or student card or something like that.
And about the time: They actually open at 8:30 (and stop taking applications at 9 am) but my school recommended that we reach there earlier. I think it affects your number, but there wasn't really much benefit other than that.
After I paid, it was time for the test. Apparently, there were about 140 people the day I was there, but the person-in-charge said that during March, which is like the peak month, there can be as many as 400-500 people. The test took 50min and the results were released about 20min later (they also took 10min to brief us on what happens next so there was only 10min of waiting). The results were released via numbers on a board, so you have to remember your own number. Oh, and if you fail, you have to take the test again (last year, there was a guy that took it 10 times, according to the person-in-charge), which is another 1,700 yen.
So after we found out the results, they had us do a simple mobility test and checked our eyesight. After that, we had to pay 2050 yen to make our license.
And to 'pay', we basically have to buy these 'stamps' and then hand them over to the policeman that was there (and get back another document). We confirmed the details of our license were correct, went to take a picture and now it's the lunch break!
After the lunch break, we basically watched this video that stressed that:
Speeding is dangerous and you will die.
Illegal parking can block roads for ambulances and someone will die.
People are forever overestimating their abilities and that's how accidents happen and people die.
By the way, Fukuoka is the 9th most dangerous city. First is Aichi, second is Chiba and third is Osaka.
And then a presentation on safe driving while we waiting to be called to get our license. And an update on recently changed laws too. I actually kinda like that the theory aspect of driving here focuses very heavily on being considerate for others, rather than assuming that others will notice you and you only have to do the basics.
I was told that I would probably get my license around 2:30, but I got it around 2 pm. Which is really good because during peak season, it can take until 4 pm or later. I'd share a photo, but the ID photo is really terrible and I'd have to censor everything so there's not much point in uploading it.
So that's basically how I got my driver's license. This first year is going to be pretty important (if I commit three infractions, I'll get sent to a revision class, and if I make another three more, I have to retake the driving test), so I guess I'll be driving very cautiously for the foreseeable future. And hopefully I'll be driving safely forever.