Are Left Hand Drive Cars Legal In Japan?

Japan continues to fascinate motorists from across the world.

As the birthplace of many legendary, desirable cars such as the Toyota Supra and the Nissan Skyline GT-R, many are interested in anything to do with Japanese motoring.

There is a certain “mystery” to the workings of the Japanese automotive industry, thanks to all kinds of quirks like the former 276 horsepower limit, or the fact that cars produced for the domestic market are limited to 180 km/h. If you’re not familiar with the unique nature of the Japanese domestic car market, then read our guide to the meaning of JDM here.

As most will be aware, Japan has cars with right hand drive (the steering wheel is on the right, and you drive on the left hand side of the road; the opposite way to America).

Certainly, any vehicle produced for the Japanese domestic market is going to be right hand drive.

But are left hand drive cars legal in Japan?

Eager eyed, attention-to-detail oriented readers may have noticed in the past that left hand drive cars occasionally turn up for sale at Japanese auctions.

For example, it is not all that uncommon to see European sports cars like Lancias and Alfa Romeos (read our article here on whether or not you should buy a used Alfa Romeo) for sale in Japan for export back to Europe or other countries.

An example of a Lancia Delta Integrale that was sold by auction in Japan, with LHD. From https://japancardirect.com/listings/lancia-delta-integrale-1995/

So what is the legality of left hand drive in Japan?

To cut a long story short, left hand drive cars are legal in Japan.

Japan allows both left hand drive and right hand drive vehicles on the road. Right hand drive vehicles are obviously far more common, as that is the way that cars are built for use in Japan.

However, you do see a reasonable number of LHD cars in Japan. What’s more, toll roads in Japan will sometimes even have special ticket machines and booths designed specifically for left hand drive cars.

It’s more common to see a left hand drive car in Japan than it is to see a right hand drive car in America, for example.

As a general rule, you will not see LHD Japanese cars in Japan (with the exception of rare, desirable cars that may have been imported back to Japan from America or Europe for collecting purposes). However, the LHD cars you do see in Japan are more commonly European models, especially higher end or classic European cars like the Lancia in the image above.

If you’re thinking of importing a car from Japan, make sure that you read our guide to doing so here.

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