Ultimate Guide to Japanese Road Signs

By Team Japan Switch + Hei Kin Wong | May 29th, 2022 

It’s easy enough to spend all of your time planning your Japanese trip marking out hot tourist attractions for you to visit. However, if you’re planning on traveling through Japan by car, it is important for you to familiarize yourself with the Japanese road signs you may encounter.

Just as you would spend some time learning and understanding the local signs and rules for driving in your country, it’s vital that you do the same when preparing to drive through a foreign country. This ensures that you steer clear of accidents or fines which might turn your Japanese experience from a delight to a nightmare. So in this article, we take a look at what different Japanese road signs mean, and how best to follow them.

This article is a part of our extensive series on learning about Japan through Online Japanese Lessons at Japan Switch.

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    5 Must-know rules before you hit the road

    Before we get to the actual road signs you need to know, let’s take a look at some basic must-know rules about transport in Japan. These are the basics that both drivers, and pedestrians, need to know, in order to avoid accidents. Most of these rules you’ll find are pretty basic common sense, so it shouldn’t be too hard for you to stick to them.

    1. Keep Left

    Usually, when driving through Japan, you will notice that pedestrians walk on the right side of the road, while automobiles (as well as bikes, scooters, etc.) are required to stick to the left.

    2. Pedestrians have the right-of-way.

    As with most countries, Japan traffic is ruled by road signs, crosswalks, lights, and so on. However, if you are in a situation where you have to decide whether you (the automobile) should cross, or a pedestrian, remember that pedestrians have right-of-way.

    So always allow pedestrians to cross before engaging in crossing the road with your vehicle.

    3. You can’t drink and drive.

    As in pretty much any other country out there, Japan has strict laws regarding drunk driving. So if you are under the influence of alcohol or any other rationality-altering substance, take public transport, instead.

    Also, this should go without saying, but it’s forbidden to drive without a driver’s license.

    4. Buckle in your passengers, especially the very young ones.

    Before you start driving, it might be a good idea to make sure your passengers have all fastened their safety belts. Of course, you should also make sure the number of passengers in your car doesn’t exceed the maximum allowed for your vehicle.

    If you are transporting children under six years of age, it’s recommended that your car have a special child’s seat, to ensure the child’s safety.

    5. Be wary of crossroads.

    Of course, you should be careful and pay attention throughout your journey, but be extra careful around crossroads. When making a left-hand turn, make sure you watch out for vehicles, but also bicycles and scooters continuing straight-ahead. When turning to the right, make sure you watch out for vehicles and pedestrians, and try not to disrupt the flow of traffic.

    View of oncoming traffic

    What happens if you don’t follow Japanese road signs (and get caught)

    Obviously, the number one worry that drivers who break the rules have is - what happens if the police catch me? We believe it’s important to be familiar not only with the rules that you need to obey, but also with the potential consequences of not obeying them, just to make sure you’re not tempted to do a bad thing.

    So what happens if you don’t follow Japanese road signs and get caught? Well, Japan actually has a tricky punishment system when it comes to traffic laws. 

    In Japan, each mistake you make, from failing to wear a seatbelt to driving under the influence, gets you demerit points.The more demerit points you receive, the higher the risk of having your driver’s permit suspended or revoked.

    Each infraction has a set number of demerit points:

    • Using a cell phone while driving (without accident or danger) - 1 point
    • Using a cell phone while driving (involved in accident or endangering of others) - 2 points
    • Not stopping at a blinking light - 2 points
    • Running a red light - 2 points
    • Park in a no-parking zone - 2 points (3 pts for no stopping and parking zone)
    • Speeding ( more than 20kph over the speed limit) - 1 pt
    • Speeding (between 20-25kph  over the speed limit) - 2 pts
    • Speeding (between 25-30kph over the speed limit) - 3 pts
    • Speeding (30-50kph over the speed limit) - 6 pts
    • Speeding (more than 50kph over the speed limit) - 12 pts
    • Driving under the influence (Blood Alcohol Content < 0.25) - 13 pts
    • Driving under the influence (Blood Alcohol Content  > 0.25) - 25 pts
    • Driving without a license - 25 pts

    It’s worth mentioning that if you own an international driver's license, you won’t get demerit points, per se, but you will still get tickets (or fines, suspensions, etc.) according to the point system outlined above. However, even if your license is revoked or suspended under Japanese law, bear in mind that this would not affect the status of your license in your home country.






    Tickets for driving offenses

    White Tickets

    White tickets generally cover very minor offenses, such as driving without a seatbelt, parking in the wrong area, and so on. Although they do carry demerit points, white tickets are not associated with a fine, typically.

    Blue Tickets

    Blue tickets are a tad more serious, and are associated with violations in the 3-6 demerit points range. So you might get a blue ticket for speeding, or parking in certain areas. Luckily for you, the Japanese legal system is designed in such a way so as to avoid unnecessary hassle in court, and avoid overcrowding.

    So basically, with a blue ticket, you will also receive a fine, but if you pay that fine within seven days of receiving the ticket, then there will be no criminal prosecution or responsibility. The ticket, once you’ve paid the fine, will have no power to affect your driving record. Paying the fine can be done at a local bank or postal office, and ought to be paid in full, and in cash.

    However, if you decide to contest the ticket, or fail to pay within the allotted time, you will have to go to court over the blue ticket, and await a verdict.


    Read BFF Tokyo's Ultimate Guide to Japan's Driving Test here!

    Red Tickets

    Red tickets, as you’ve probably guessed, are for more serious driving offenses, usually from 6 or more demerit points. Red tickets require a trial, without exception, and can warrant serious punishment, from fines, to community service, or even jail time.

    Also, once you receive a red ticket, your driver’s license is automatically revoked. Depending on the gravity of the offense, as well as your track record, this can also result in your driver’s license being permanently revoked in Japan (so you won’t be allowed to drive anymore).

    Yellow Notices

    Nowadays, Japan uses more and more traffic cameras to keep an eye out for misdemeanors. If one of these traffic cams catches you doing something bad, like crossing a red light, for instance, you will receive a yellow notice.

    With this yellow notice, you need to go to the police station, and they will issue the appropriate color ticket, instead. Depending on the color you’ve received, you will need to act accordingly, as outlined above. 

    So now that we’ve seen what can happen if you are caught breaking the rules or not observing the road signs in Japan, it’s time to talk about the signs themselves, and what they mean.

    We certainly hope you never find yourself in the situation of having to deal with one of these tickets... BUT, just in case, you might find it useful to go through our custom list of Useful Japanese Phrases here!

    The Basics - Speed Limits

    Japanese speed limit road sign for 10kmph
    Japanese road sign showing speed limit of 20kmph
    Japanese speed limit road sign for 40kmph
    Japanese road sign showing 60kmph speed limit

    While some road signs will be exclusive to Japan, and are bound to confuse international drivers (don’t worry - we’ll talk more about them below!), others are pretty much the same as in other countries. So these will be pretty easy to follow.

    Let's start with your average speed limit signs. These are fairly obvious, with the maximum speed limit in big letters. Mostly, Japan speed limits fall in four categories:

    • Basic: 50 to 60 km/h (or 31-37 miles/h);
    • Urban Areas: 40 km/h (25 miles/h);
    • Side Streets: 30 km/h (19 miles/h);
    • Highways: 80 km/h (50 to 62 miles/h).

    Other driving rules that are the same in Japan as they are internationally include the traffic lights, which are just like in the USA, with green meaning “go”, yellow meaning “prepare to stop”, and red meaning “stop”.

    Types of Japanese road signs

    Cautionary/warning road signs

    You’ll know these by the traditional yellow color, and diamond shape. These signs are usually used to tell you what to expect ahead. They can indicate a slippery road, constructions or roadwork ahead, falling rocks, strong winds, or sharp curves. They will also alert you to steep ascents or descents ahead, narrowing roads, double curves, or the presence of roundabouts, rail crossings, and traffic lights ahead. These warning signs are very obvious and pretty much the same internationally, so you should have no trouble reading them.

    Mandatory road signs

    These are round and blue for the most part, and we’ve already covered them above. These mandatory signs generally tell you the direction you should follow (e.g. ahead only, turning right or straight mandatory, etc.).

    Mandatory traffic signs that show a circle made of arrows indicate the direction followed in the next roundabout. Interestingly enough, you may also encounter a mandatory sign that’s outlined in red, and has a number written in blue underlined inside the circle. This is a “minimum speed limit” sign and it’s mandatory that you drive faster than the indicated speed.

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    Japanese Speaking

    Right of way / priority road signs

    These are a mishmash of cautionary, mandatory and informational signs. Since driving is on the right hand side of the road in Japan, you’ll have to follow the driving rules and priorities of other right-hand driving countries like the US, and most European countries (aside from the UK).

    Prohibitory road signs

    These road signs are also round, but usually bright red, and include the “no entry”, “overtaking prohibited”, “no parking”, and traditional speed limit indication. As with the other categories outlined above, the prohibitory road signs in Japan are much the same as in most European countries, or the US, so you should have no trouble understanding the road signs as you travel through Japan.

    No one is telling you that Japanese road signs aren't important. However... What's the use in reading the signs if you've got nowhere to go? Read out Ultimate Guide to Tokyo at Night and plan a night out with your classmates, colleagues, friends, or that someone special!

    Japanese road signs to be extra careful of

    There are some traffic signs that are particular to Japan and are bound to cause some confusion for US or even for European drivers. So here they are, explained:

    Green Arrow: In some cases, you will see a traffic light, and underneath it, a green arrow (either left or right). This means that even if the color is red (for going straight ahead), you may still turn left/right, according to the arrow.

    No entry permitted Japanese sign

    One-way exit: this sign is similar to many European countries and signifies a one-way street, so if you find this at one end of the street, it means you can only drive in the opposite direction, and can’t enter this street.

    Japanese Road Sign for closed roads

    Red Diagonal Line: Similar to the red X sign, this one only means that the road is closed to automobiles. So if you’re traveling by foot or bicycle, you may still go ahead. You might also find a road sign with a crossed out car which indicated that only two-wheel vehicles are permitted

    Road completely closed sign

    Red X (進入禁止) : This means that the road is officially closed (to everyone: pedestrians, bicycles, automobiles, trains, etc.)

    Japanese road sign for no u-turns

    No U-turn: it’s prohibited to make a U-turn for the foreseeable portion of the road, until specified otherwise


    Read our Ultimate Guide to Planning a Day Trip from Tokyo to find out! 

    Japanese sign for no overtaking

    No overtaking: this can be quite confusing, since in most European countries, at least, the sign for “no overtaking” usually shows pictograms of two cars. Well, in Japan, the road sign for “no overtaking” will show a straight arrow, and a larger curved arrow, with a diagonal line crossing them out. However, the “no overtaking” sign has two variations: one simply shows the two arrows, and means you are allowed to overtake other cars on the right, as long as you don’t cross the line in the middle of the road; the other version also has a Japanese word (追い越し禁止) written underneath, and means you can’t overtake at all.

    Japanese Road Sign for Slow

    Slow Down Sign (徐行) - this Japanese road sign can also end up confusing a lot of international travelers, largely because the inverted red triangle is similar to the US sign for “yield” (as well as the “yield” sign in some European countries). In Japan, this sign is telling you to slow down to a safe speed, at which you are able to stop immediately, if necessary, whereas in other countries, it usually means to only slow down and yield, if necessary.

    Left Arrow: similar to the “one-way” sign (though with a blue arrow over a white background), this left arrow tells drivers they may make a left turn, even if the traffic light is red

    Japanese road sign for one way left only

    One-way: this one is also just an arrow on a rectangular road sign, and is indicating the only permitted direction

    Japanese street sign indicating designated directions

    Only designated directions are permitted: here, we’ve got two types of round traffic signs, one with an arrow pointing straight ahead, and one breaking off to the left or right. This, again, shows us the only allowed directions on that specific road or lane

    Japanese road sign for pedestrian and bicycle use only

    Pictograms of peoples or bicycles (or both): these tell us that only pedestrians and/or bikes are permitted on that road.

    Japanese road sign for stop with Japanese and English

    Stop sign (止まれ) - last but certainly not least, we’ve got the red inverted triangle that means quite simply “stop”. Although in some parts of Japan, you will find this sign with only the Japanese word written on it, more and more popular tourist destinations are changing these stop signs to also display the word “stop” (in Latin alphabet) to make it easier for international drivers.

    What should I do if I’m in an accident?

    It’s never pleasant to imagine that you might be involved in an automobile accident. However, it is important to be prepared for such situations, so let’s see what you need to do, in case of an accident.

    First of all, try to move your car out of the way of other vehicles, if you are experiencing a breakdown or malfunction, as this may help prevent an accident. Call for assistance (from the JAF Road Service) from the side of the road, and await help.

    If, however, an accident is unavoidable, here is what you need to do:

    • If possible, move your vehicle out of the way, so as not to disrupt traffic, and cause further accidents
    • Turn off your engine to avoid any secondary mishaps

    Next, accidents usually fall into one of two categories - either with injured parties, or without. 

    • If someone is injured, it is vital that you call 119 immediately, and try to comfort or offer assistance to the injured person/people, until the ambulance arrives. However, don’t try moving the injured person, or doing things you are unsure of, as these may worsen the situation. Instead, await assistance, and attempt to offer first aid if it is an emergency.
    • Then, call the police by dialing 110 and report the accident. Give all the required information, such as the location of the accident, degree of damage, and number of injured people. If there are no injured people implicated in your accident, just call the police directly, and follow the police officer’s instructions. This call can be conducted in English. 
    • Do not leave the premises of the accident, or else you will be liable for further penalty, as a hit-and-run.

    A quick note about insurance

    When driving in a foreign country, it’s smart to have insurance, to protect both yourself and other drivers, in case of an accident. When renting or buying a car, you will be forced to take out the basic mandatory insurance that will cover some of the damages sustained in a traffic incident. However, if you are looking for extra insurance, you may also take out voluntary insurance that can prove more beneficial for you, as well as the other party involved in the accident.











    15 Driving + Japanese Road Signs-Related Words to Know

    When driving in a foreign country, it might also be a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the more basic related terms in that language. For instance, if you are driving in Japan, you may want to learn the words for “car”, “intersection”, “road”, and so on.

    Below, you will find the fifteen most interesting and used terms related to road signs and to driving in Japan, in general. These may also be useful when requesting local assistance.




    車 or 自動車

    kuruma or jidousha










    traffic light


    gasorin sutando

    gas station






    driver’s license









    parking area


    hill / slope





    sokudo douro







    Want even MORE JAPANESE VOCABULARY? Head over and check out our Top 1000 Japanese Words You Need to Know!

    Final Thoughts

    Hopefully you have enough here of Japanese road signs to help you feel a little more comfortable when driving. As we’ve seen there are a lot of road signs in Japan that also display the word written in Japanese (such as the stop sign), there are a number of familiar shapes, both on the sign and the shape of the sign itself, to help guide you.

    If you’re preparing to drive through Japan for the first time, try not to worry too much. Basically, what you really need to do is make sure you understand the handful of traffic signs specific to Japan, because as we’ve seen, a lot of the others are the same internationally. So as long as you’re a good driver in your own country, it’s quite likely you’ll be alright in Japan, as well.


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