What Side of the Road Does Japan Drive On?

Driving rules and regulations vary across countries, and one fundamental aspect of road travel is the choice of which side of the road to drive on. In the case of Japan, a country with a rich history and unique cultural practices, there are specific reasons behind their driving orientation. This article will explore the topic of which side of the road Japan drives on, the historical background, the advantages and challenges associated with left-side driving, and other pertinent information related to road travel in Japan.

Historical Background

To understand why Japan drives on the left side of the road, we must delve into its historical roots. During the Edo period (1603-1868), Japan imposed strict rules regarding the behavior of samurais, including their manner of passing each other on roads. The samurais, who were predominantly right-handed and carried their swords on the left side, would keep their swords from entangling when passing others on the road by walking on the left side. This practice gradually influenced other road users, and eventually, it became a common tradition for pedestrians and later for vehicles.

Driving Orientation in Japan

The tradition of left-side driving in Japan continued even after the Edo period, and it became the standardized practice. Today, Japan is one of the few countries that still adheres to left-side driving. This orientation applies to both the driver’s seat position and the side of the road on which vehicles travel. It is essential for residents and visitors to be aware of this unique driving practice to ensure road safety and smooth traffic flow.

Transition to the Left Side

In 1872, Japan enacted a law that officially mandated left-side driving. The transition from right-side to left-side driving took place on September 10, 1872. This significant change involved numerous adjustments, including replacing carriages, modifying traffic rules, and updating road signs to reflect the new driving orientation. While the transition posed initial challenges, it eventually became ingrained in Japanese culture and continues to be followed today.

Advantages of Left-Side Driving

Left-side driving offers several advantages, including enhanced safety and improved traffic flow. One primary advantage is that drivers have a better view of oncoming traffic, allowing them to react more effectively and reduce the risk of accidents. Moreover, left-side driving provides a consistent standard across the country, simplifying road design and minimizing confusion for both drivers and pedestrians.

Challenges and Adjustments

Despite the benefits, transitioning from one driving orientation to another is not without challenges. During the transition period in Japan, people had to adapt to the new rules and adjust their driving habits. For example, changing the side of the road required modifications to infrastructure, such as traffic signals and road markings. Additionally, drivers had to reorient themselves to different rules of the road, leading to a temporary increase in traffic accidents. However, with time and education, these challenges were overcome, and left-side driving became the norm.

Road Signs and Traffic Rules

To facilitate safe driving and navigation, Japan has a comprehensive system of road signs and traffic rules. Road signs play a crucial role in providing guidance, indicating speed limits, directions, and potential hazards. The signage is typically in Japanese, but international symbols are also used to assist foreign visitors. Understanding these signs and rules is essential for drivers in Japan to navigate the roads smoothly and safely.

Safety Measures and Regulations

Ensuring road safety is of utmost importance in Japan. The country has stringent safety measures and regulations in place to minimize accidents and promote responsible driving. These include regular vehicle inspections, strict enforcement of traffic laws, and the promotion of driver education programs. It is crucial for drivers in Japan to adhere to these regulations to maintain a safe and secure driving environment.

International Driving Permits

Visitors to Japan who wish to drive during their stay are required to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). This permit serves as a translation of the individual’s driver’s license and is valid for one year. It is important for foreign drivers to acquire an IDP before arriving in Japan to comply with the country’s driving regulations and avoid legal issues.

Public Transportation

While driving in Japan is a viable option, it is worth noting that the country has an extensive and efficient public transportation system. Trains, buses, and taxis are widely available, especially in urban areas, offering convenient alternatives to driving. Utilizing public transportation can be a practical choice for visitors who prefer to explore Japan without the hassle of driving or for those who do not possess an IDP.


In conclusion, Japan drives on the left side of the road due to historical reasons dating back to the Edo period. Left-side driving has become deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, and the country has developed an efficient road system to support this orientation. While the transition from right-side driving presented initial challenges, it eventually led to improved road safety and traffic flow. Visitors to Japan should be aware of this unique driving practice and adhere to the country’s traffic rules to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience on the roads.


1. Is it difficult for foreign visitors to adjust to left-side driving in Japan? Adapting to left-side driving in Japan can be challenging initially, especially for individuals accustomed to right-side driving. However, with awareness, practice, and adherence to traffic rules, visitors can quickly adapt to the new driving orientation.

2. Do I need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in Japan? Yes, if you wish to drive in Japan as a visitor, you are required to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). This permit serves as a translation of your driver’s license and ensures compliance with Japanese driving regulations.

3. Can I rent a car in Japan as a foreign visitor? Yes, foreign visitors can rent a car in Japan as long as they possess a valid driver’s license and an International Driving Permit (IDP). It is advisable to familiarize yourself with local traffic rules and road signs before driving.

4. Is public transportation a reliable option in Japan? Yes, Japan has an extensive and reliable public transportation system, including trains, buses, and taxis. Public transportation is often a convenient and efficient way to travel, especially in urban areas.

5. What are the safety measures in place to ensure road safety in Japan? Japan has strict safety measures and regulations, including regular vehicle inspections, traffic law enforcement, and driver education programs. These measures are in place to promote responsible driving and maintain a safe road environment.

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