Things are different. Now we have to:
1. Get our licence translated by either the Japanese Automobile Federation or from the Embassy. The Embassy charges 9,990 yen for this service. JAF charges 3,000 yen. I went to JAF. On the website it says you need to show them your licence and they will take a photocopy and in about a week to ten working days a translation will be posted to you. So, I was surprised when they asked me to take a seat and wait a few minutes. 15 minutes later I had a translation in my hands. SCORE! they weren't busy. Thank you JAF.
2. Get a letter from the Embassy that proves you lived in the country for more than 3 months after you got your licence. I got my licence in 1990. This letter was free, but I needed to provide my passport number.
3. Take all my old passports (you know not to throw them away, right? My wife tossed her old ones!) to show I lived in Japan with a driver's licence for longer than a year. This way you won't be forced to drive for a year with an L plate. Not sure how they worked that one out as passports only have visas.
4. One tiny photo of 1 cm by 1cm. This will cost you 600 yen.
5. Someone who speaks fluent Japanese.
And that's it for the paperwork (on the most part). The Kobe office is open only from 0930-1030 for foreign licence holders. During this time, you take a number and wait A VERY LONG TIME before you can enter the office and start clearing the paperwork.
You show the police officer all the paperwork and your licence, then you fill out another form and take that to window number 1, pay 2400 yen and they will put a stamp on it. Take that back to the officer. He gives you an eye test and a color test. In Japan green is blue, so say blue. In reality it is a bluish-green color but traffic lights are green (as in actual green but you will hear people on the street call them blue--this is only for traffic lights, every other green is green).
I passed those tests and then had to take a lecture and get a photo taken for the licence with around 250 other people. (Note: in Japan you can get a 50cc licence at the age of fifteen). I listened to the lecture (i.e. I did my best to keep my eyes open).
Next was the photo. I was last. They have a list on the board of all numbers (we all had numbers) and you stood in the line in the numerical order. One the board they had "gai" written on the bottom of the board meaning all foreign licence holders. There was only me. haha. So I waited and when it was time to get my photo, they questioned me on my name. It was spelt wrong in the Kana part. The lady who was checking noticed it and said, "Is your name plrerezusuzu?" I said, "No." She said, "I thought so, is it Pl RE SU A ZU?" "Yep." They changed it and that took another 10 minutes.
I got to the licence place at 0900. I left with my licence at 15.00
It's a full day with a lot of waiting involved. In the old days it took 45 minutes. In three years when I need to renew it will take about 45 minutes to renew and I won't need any forms.
Oh, and if you have a drivers' licence with a motorcycle licence or truck licence (like me) you will only get a car licence. if you want your truck and/or motorcycle licence, you MUST attend driving school and use their motorbikes. PS: If you can't lift the bike that's lying on the ground, then you can't get a licence for that size motor. Motorcycle licences are given according to a CC rating.