Passing the Tochigi Driving Test isn’t about driving skillfully or safely. It’s about nothing more or less than playing by the precise set of rules, both written and unwritten, that the examiners set. I certainly don’t know all the rules. This guide merely lists all the rules I was able to pick up on the long road to passing the test myself.
In addition to reading this guide, I recommend reading other guides, speaking to other examinees, and perhaps even taking a lesson at a local driving school. Just make sure all the information you get is directly applicable to the Tochigi test, as different regions have different tests and different rules.
At no point during the test should you be sticking to the center of your lane.
Unless otherwise specified, you want to stay as far left within your lane as possible. This is especially true when making left turns. Approximately one meter from the curb should be good enough.
When you’re preparing to make a right turn, you should be as far right as possible in your lane. You should be within half a meter of the right-hand line.
These rules apply in the S-turn and Z-turn as well. Don’t go overboard staying close to the curb in these turns, or it’ll be extremely difficult to get through them. Just be conscious of staying left of center.
When there are multiple lanes heading in the same direction, stay in the leftmost lane unless you’re preparing to make a right turn, in which case you’ll change to the right lane.
The process for changing lanes is as follows:
Make sure your signal was on for at least three seconds before finally changing lanes.
You’ll only be changing from the left lane to the right lane on the test. Before changing lanes, you’ll be far left in the left lane. After changing lanes, you should be far right in the right lane.
The FULL procedure for turning is very similar to the process for changing lanes:
There’s alternatively a QUICK procedure you should do when there’s an immediate turn following another turn:
Unless otherwise specified, turn into the leftmost lane and stay as far left as possible. On roads where you’ll be making an immediate right turn, turn into the far right of the lane.
Make sure your turns aren’t shallow. In other words, there should be a smooth, well-rounded curve to your turn, rather than driving in a path that’s like a diagonal line. If there’s a diamond painted in the middle of the intersection, get close to the diamond without driving over it.
Once you’re in the intersection, do not do any kind of safety check. Keep your face looking solely in the direction you’re driving in.
Whenever you’re approaching an intersection, whether you’re turning or passing straight through, look right once, left once, and then face straight again. This process should be complete before you enter the intersection. Remember not to keep looking from side to side once you enter the intersection.
Always slow down gradually before a stop sign. Stop about a meter before the white line. Let the car come to a complete stop. Wait a second or two. Check right and left. Then proceed.
If the light is green, proceed normally.
If the light is red, stop one meter before the white line. Once the light turns green, check right and left, then proceed.
The only obstructions on the course are two walls.
Check right and left before you reach the obstructions. Before you enter the intersection, come to a complete stop. Don’t stop again after this. Lean as far forward as you can. Slowly move your car straight forward as you constantly look right and left. As soon as your view is no longer obstructed, do a final right and left check. Then turn.
I’ve heard that you should pump your brakes three times when slowing down. I don’t believe this is something the examiners are looking for. Just brake in a smooth and gradual manner.
I don’t believe steering technique is scrutinized. You should be fine steering with your hands in a 10 & 2 or 9 & 3 position. Whether your cross your hands while turning is up to you.
On straight stretches around the course’s outer loop, you should speed up. Otherwise proceed slowly.
I’ve heard that dressing well and having extremely polite manners will help you pass. This isn’t really true. It’s more the case that dressing like a slob and being rude will help you fail. Just follow common sense rules for both dress and behavior. Dressing casually (jeans, t-shirt, etc.) is fine as long as you don’t wear anything tattered, skimpy, or offensive. Don’t wear sunglasses, or the examiner will have a hard time seeing how diligently you’re checking the roadways. I’m not sure if a cap is fine, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Don’t chew gum. A simple greeting when you step into the car and thank you when you get out of the car should be more than polite enough.
The Kanuma Center has been using the same course for several years, and it’s unlikely to change.
You’ll have the opportunity to walk through the course during the lunch break. I strongly recommend it. Do it twice if you have time.
In addition to taking the test yourself, you’ll be sitting in the back seat while another examinee takes the test. Pay close attention to that person’s driving and the examiner’s reactions.
Unless you’re the first person taking the test, you’ll be sitting in the back seat immediately before taking the test yourself. When that person’s test is over, you’ll get out of the car and step onto the sidewalk while the previous examinee gets advice from the examiner. When all that’s finished, the examiner will signal for you to begin your test.
This part of the test isn’t scrutinized heavily. Just do all the steps in this approximate order and you’ll be fine. You don’t need to do them with particular grace or precision.
Look right and left before stepping off the sidewalk. Circle around the car while looking at it to assess that it’s in proper driving condition. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be. When you’re behind the car, crouch down and look under it for cats, debris, etc. When you’ve gone around the car once, approach the driver’s side door. Open it and get in. While closing the door, look out through the door to make sure you won’t be hitting anything. Close the door halfway, pause, then finish closing it.
Give your examiner a simple greeting. Onegaishimasu should do the trick. Hello or konnichiwa would be fine as well.
Put on your seatbelt. Adjust your seat. Adjust the rear-view mirror. Adjust the side mirrors. Give the gear stick and hand brake a quick jiggle to make sure they’re in their proper positions. Look back and ask the person in the back seat if he has his seatbelt on. Simply saying seatbelt? is fine.
The car will already be on. At some point earlier during the preliminary check, the instructor will have said you can take off whenever you’re ready. Put your foot on the brake. Shift the gear into drive and release the hand brake. Check your rear view mirror and right-side mirror. Signal right. Check your rear-view mirror, left-side mirror, and over your left shoulder. Then check your rear-view mirror, right-side mirror, and over your right shoulder. Assuming everything is clear, take off. There are usually 2 or 3 cars doing tests at the same time. If another one is about to take off as well, the examiner may tell you to wait before taking off.
From one of the parking lanes, you’ll merge into the course’s outer loop. Proceed slowly but don’t stop. Do the lane change procedure. Merge into the leftmost lane and stay far left in this lane.
Accelerate to around 30-35 kph. Don’t go over 40 kph. This is the fastest you’ll go on the test by far. Once you hit your top speed, ease off the accelerator and do the procedure for changing to the right lane.
Once you’ve moved over to the right side of the right lane, prepare to do the FULL procedure for a right turn. Turn into the right side of the lane, because you’ll have to do another right turn almost immediately. This time do the QUICK turn procedure. Make sure you’re on the far left side of the lane you turn into.
Prepare to turn left into the S-Curve. Unfortunately, S-Curves don’t exist in the real world, so unless you go to a driving school you won’t be able to practice it. The good news is that you should be able do to fine playing it by feel. The entry is the only part that’s a little tricky. Once you’re in, it’s easy to navigate through.
To enter the S-Curve, do the FULL procedure for turning left. Make sure you’re on the far left side of the lane before turning into the S-Curve, but don’t get too close to the curb or the entry will be unnecessarily difficult. Give yourself about one meter of breathing room. Turn slowly and sharply into the S-Curve.
Once you’re in, just stay generally left and drive through it nice and slowly. Don’t do any signaling for the bends of the S. If you hit the curb and go over it, you’ll fail. If you hit the curb without going over it, you’re allowed to back up and retry up to three times. Unfortunately, I don’t know the proper procedure for backing up, as backing up isn’t tested unless you hit a curb. You could lose points for backing up incorrectly, so just do your best to get it right the first time.
After the final bend of the S-Curve but before reaching the exit, do the QUICK left turn procedure.
When coming out of the S-Curve, you’ll be in the middle of the course with intersections all over the place. Make sure you check these intersections for traffic before passing straight through them.
You’ll be told to turn right at a stop sign with a wall slightly blocking your view off to your right. Follow the FULL right turn procedure outlined above. Then do the stop sign procedure followed by the obstructed intersection procedure. Make sure you end up on the left side of the leftmost lane.
You’ll pass over a crosswalk. Don’t stop. Just slow down a little and look right and left for pedestrians. There won’t be any.
Stay in the left lane and follow the curve around the edge of the course. As you’re coming out of the curve, speed up a little bit, but don’t get anywhere close to the speeds you hit before.
You’ll have to change lanes and make a right turn. Do the same exact procedure you did for the first lane change and right turn. You’ll have another right turn coming up quickly, so make sure you turn into the right side of the new lane.
You’re making your way back through the middle of the course, so make sure you’re checking all the intersections before you come anywhere close to passing through them. Do the QUICK right turn procedure and turn right. Make sure you end up on the left side of the lane.
Do the FULL left turn procedure before turning into the Z-Curve. As with the S-Curve, don’t get too close to the curb before turning in or the entry will be needlessly difficult.
Proceed very slowly and carefully. Unlike the S-Curve, the Z-Curve doesn’t get any easier once you’re inside. Be conscious of staying left in the Z-Curve, but don’t overdo it. You can back up if you hit the curb, but it’s best to avoid that scenario entirely. Be careful of not just your front wheels hitting the curb but your back wheels as well. You’ll fail if you hit any of the yellow poles hanging about a foot behind the curb. Don’t signal for the inside bends of the Z.
On the final leg of the Z, move over to the right side, as you’ll be exiting with a right turn. Do the QUICK right turn procedure when coming out of the Z. Check the intersection at the exit of the Z well before you reach it.
Turn right out of the Z-Curve. Make sure you’re on the left side of the leftmost lane. Make sure you check all the intersections you come across.
This time you’ll be driving right in between the two walls. You’ll be making a left turn at the walls, so do the FULL left turn procedure. Then do the full obstructed intersection procedure.
Make sure you end up on the left side of the leftmost lane. Follow the lane around the curve. Speed up a little coming out of the curve. You’ll eventually have to turn left. Do it with a FULL left turn check. Turn into the left side of the left lane. You’ll be driving back into the center of the course, so be sure you’re doing all your intersection checks.
You’ll be turning right at the traffic light. If the light is red when you first see it, it’ll probably be green by the time you get there. Likewise, if it’s green when you first see it, be wary of it turning red by the time you get there.
Do the FULL right turn procedure. If the light is green when you get to the intersection, you’re good to go. If the light is red, wait until it turns green, then do a right/left intersection check before moving out into the intersection and turning right. You can check for oncoming traffic while you’re in the intersection. It’s highly unlikely there will be any.
Once again, you’re in the middle of the course, so do all your intersection checks. Stay on the left side of the lane. You’ll have a left turn coming up.
Do the FULL left turn check. You’ll have a quick right turn coming up, so turn directly into the right side of the lane and do the QUICK right turn check. You’ll turn right into the left side of the lane.
A stop sign will be coming up. Do the FULL right turn procedure. By the time you get to the stop sign, you should be on the right side of the lane. Do the stop sign procedure. This stop sign is followed by a one-way left street and a one-way right street. Pass straight through the one-way left street and turn at the one-way right street, being sure to check both of those intersections before passing through them. Make sure you’re on the left side of the new lane.
You’ll be merging left into one of the parking lanes. Do a QUICK left turn check and head for the parking space called out by your examiner. The examiner will call out two numbers. For example, you may park in lane 3 at pole 1. Park about a foot from the left curb and within a meter of the pole. Pull up the hand brake and put the car into park.
The examiner will signal for the person in the back seat to get out. Then the examiner will likely give you some feedback on your test. He’s not required to give you a list of everything you did wrong, just a point or two, even if you passed. Get as much info as you can. When the examiner is finished, say arigatou gozaimasu, or a simple thank you, and leave the car. Open your door slowly, checking for any cars that might be coming.
Go back to the waiting room and wait for your results. If you fail, you’ll get a score. I’m not entirely sure how the test is scored, but it’s done in 5-point increments from 0 to 100. There are no scores below a 0, and it’s common to get a 0 the first time you take the test. I’m not sure exactly what the passing score is. I believe it’s a 70. Getting a 50 or above tends to mean you’re close, and anything 40 or below means you have several points to work on.
Each time I’ve been to the center, about 15 people have take the test. The most I’ve seen pass on a day was 3, and fewest was 0. Some of the people who go there are legitimately terrible drivers. Throwing them out of the picture, it’s probably safe to assume that the typical examinee is taking the test about 4-6 times.