First, if you have not set yourself a reminder for three years after you got your first license, then look out for the small and innocuous little note you get in the post get about six weeks before it is due to expire. The only way I had to identify that it might be something important was the web site address http://www.keishicho.metro.tokyo.jp. They also give a telephone number for an English Guide 03 5463 6000.
The telephone guide very clearly explains that you only need to bring three things with you : The reminder notice, your current driving license and your residence card. However when I arrived it was clear that is no longer true. You now need to provide a Jyuminhyou ( certificate of residence) as well. This has changed since the last time I renewed three years ago due, I assume, to the abolition of the Alien Residents Card.
So I had to go back to the Driving License centre at Samezu the next day after a trip to the Setagaya Ward office. [They were very efficient and I was issued with the required piece of paper in less than five minutes.] The other item you should also bring is a recent, very small, photograph of yourself. Otherwise you have to pay 700 Yen at the machine there to get one. And this is the crazy thing: they then take their own photograph of you to put on the driving license! Quite why they need you to provide a photo for them to stick on the paper form they process I really cannot fathom.
The renewal process consists of visiting various different numbered stations: Payment is at one desk, then there's one for the very brief vision test, another station for creating a PIN code, back to the main counter, and then you get sent upstairs for the lecture. This was a sly photo I took of the inside of the license issuing office (there are a couple of small signs indicating no photographs, so don't tell anyone.. ) The last time I went it was the old building next door which was a very tired and old looking place, but it seems like they have very recently moved into this brand new building :
The lectures are given every thirty minutes, in Japanese only, during the morning and last just over an hour. I have very little idea what they cover, but mercifully there is no test at the end, so you just need to stay awake. There is a short video about avoiding accidents; I think they covered what to do if driving during an earthquake, and they explained the four different stickers you might see on the back of a car. I did a quick google search when I got back home to find out what they all mean and the second link in the search results is a great post from the prolific Japan blogger Tofugu about them.
Finally you get to pick up your new license, and there is the very last station where you get to configure it with your PIN code, [Does anyone have any idea when or what you might actually use the PIN code for? ] and you are free to go:
Renewal time came just in the middle of Movember, so my moustache will stay with me on this card for the next three years! For those that remember I did Movember two years ago. Once again I am raising money for Men's Health issues: research into prostrate and testicular cancer, and mental health for men. So please go to http://MoBro.co/JonAllen and donate to me, or to my team the Miso Strainers, thanks.